Opening Scenes
Quick revise

After studying this section you should be able to understand:

  • why the opening is important
  • techniques that Shakespeare used for opening his plays
  • how these techniques are used in specific plays.

Why The Opening Is Important
Opening the play at the right point in the action and in the right way is important to any play because it is vital to capture the audience’s attention right away, but it is important for other reasons as well:

  • Most of Shakespeare’s openings set the scene in some way.
  • They contain the seeds of what is going to happen later in the play.
  • They do this in such a way as to capture the audience’s attention and interest.

Techniques for Opening Plays
Shakespeare uses a number of techniques to make the opening of his plays more effective. Here are some ideas:

  • The play opens in the middle of some kind of action – something has just happened or is about to happen.
  • Often the play opens with minor characters speaking to describe to the audience the situation or what has happened.
  • These characters often refer to a major character although, very often, the main character does not appear until a little later.
  • A particular mood or atmosphere is established at the beginning of the play.

Revision Tip - Shakespeare uses a variety of techniques to make the opening of his plays more effective. Think about the play you are studying and see if you can recognise any of these techniques.

Read the following opening from Macbeth.

SCENE I – An open place, Thunder and lightning.
Enter three WITCHES
First Witch: When shall we three meet again? In thunder, lightning, or in rain?
Second Witch: When the hurly-burly’s done,When the battle’s lost and won.
Third Witch: That will be ere the set of sun.
First Witch: Where the place?
Second Witch: Upon the heath.
Third Witch: There to meet with Macbeth.
First Witch: I come, Graymalkin.
Second Witch: Paddock calls.
Third Witch: Anon!
All: Fair is foul, and foul is fair:Hover through the fog and filthy air.
WITCHES vanish

What do you think are the important points about how Shakespeare opens this play? What do we learn from this scene?

  • The stage directions ‘Thunder and lightning’ suggest menace and violence.
  • Witches are associated with evil.
  • We learn a battle has taken place.
  • The witches intend to meet Macbeth.

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