After studying this section you should be able to:
• understand the importance of the opening scene
• understand some of the ways in which plays can open
• appreciate the impact on the audience of the opening scene
• apply these ideas to the play you are studying
The Importance of the Opening Scene
The opening scene of a play is very important – a successful play must engage the audience’s attention right from the start. Dramatists can do this in a variety of ways, depending on the effects they wish to create.
When looking at the opening scene of a play, there are two key questions that you should think about:
1. What effect(s) does the writer want this scene to have on the audience?
2. What purpose does the scene serve to the play as a whole?
Here are some possible answers:
• The dramatist might want to create a certain mood, or present a particular background to the plot.
• The opening scene is meant to create a certain impact on the audience, perhaps to shock them, or keep them gripped, perhaps through the creation of tension.
• The opening scene provides the audience with a good deal of background information about what is going on, the characters, etc.
• Characters are introduced, and situations and relationships established.
• The opening scene can arouse the audience’s curiosity and make them want to know more, therefore sustaining interest in the play.
Example – Doctor Faustus
The following extract is from the opening of Doctor Faustus by Christopher Marlowe. Marlowe begins his play with a Prologue, using a Chorus. This was a way of beginning plays that dates back to Greek drama, but it was also sometimes used in the sixteenth century when Marlowe wrote Doctor Faustus.
Read the extract through carefully. What purpose do you think the Chorus serves?
Now the play itself begins. How does Marlowe begin the play, and what do you learn from this opening?
Example – Translations
Now look at the next extract. It is from the opening of Translations by Brian Friel – a play written in 1980.
Read it through carefully, making a note of:
• your impression of the characters
• the information conveyed to the audience/reader, and the techniques used to put it across
• the kind of atmosphere created.
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