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The opening scene of any play is extremely important because it can play a major role in establishing key elements throughout the rest of the performance. The main elements are the characters, themes, language, settings and plot. The audience can form a basic idea of these elements involved to spark their interest in the play. At the end of an opening scene the audience have usually had an insight into the typical mood and language of the play. It also enables the viewers to have a taster of the style of the author´s writing. In Elizabethan England, when Shakespeare´s first plays were being shown, the language in the opening scenes was particularly important. The plays were shown in open-air theatres, with no props, lighting and scenery and therefore the main factor, which could keep the audience interested, was the language. The opening of any play is always the most critical time. If a dramatist can´t grasp an audience´s attention in the first ten minutes, it´s unlikely that he/she will succeed in holding it for the duration of the performance.
The first scene of “Macbeth” by William Shakespeare is very short, but full of impact. The thunder and lightning alone give it a dramatic opening, which grabs the interest of the audience, as it is representative of evil. These dramatic sound effects help to set the eerie and supernatural atmosphere that Shakespeare wanted to create along with the witches. The witches introduce us to a dark, dangerous play, in which the theme of evil is central. The witches say little but we learn a lot about them from this first scene. The mood of the play is set in this opening scene, although the action doesn´t start until the next scene. The presence of supernatural forces in the opening scene of “Macbeth”, provides for much of the play´s dramatic tension and the mounting suspense.
“When shall we three meet again? In thunder, lightning, or in rain?”
This is the opening line of the play “Macbeth”. It immediately draws the audiences attention and captures their imagination, as the supernatural world fascinated people in Elizabethan England. At the time the play was first performed and at the time that Shakespeare was writing it, witchcraft was a great enemy of the state and people became enthralled by these peculiar, suspicious witches. Witch-hunts took place and many people were convicted of being witches and were executed. The witches fit in with the stereotypical perception of witches at that time, including use of familiars like Graymalkin and Paddock.
The use of the supernatural occurs at the beginning of the scene, with three witches explaining that they will meet Macbeth. “When the battle´s lost and won.” This was said by the second witch. The audience have yet to find out what the battle is, however they know that the battle is won by one side and lost by another. Macbeth´s fate is that he will win the battle, but will lose the battle for his soul. This ancient superstition of spirits enhances the play dramatically.
We have come in at the end of the witches meeting, just as they are arranging their next appointment before their familiar spirits call them into the fog and filthy air. From the opening scene we can tell that the witches can foretell the future, and are creating some unpleasant magic, which is to involve Macbeth. This creates suspense for the audience, wandering what is going to happen next. The fact that the witches want to meet Macbeth should raise some suspicion in the audience. The witches first talk about Macbeth in the eighth line, when they explain that they will meet Macbeth upon the heath. This shows the audience that the witches must know of Macbeth and leaves the audience assuming that Macbeth will be greatly influenced and affected by these three witches throughout the play. Perhaps the most chilling part of the opening scene, is when the witches upend the values in which we believe: “Fair is foul, and foul is fair”, this basically seems like a warning that things are not what they appear to be, as if they are referring to people, explaining that not everybody should be trusted. This adds to our trepidation about what will happen to Macbeth. These words also introduce the idea of illusion and reality.
In “Macbeth” the lines are extremely short and cryptic, this adds and indicates tension and excitement in this particular scene. A considerable section of the first scene is written in verse, with short seven or eight syllable lines, which are suggestive of a chant. The fact that Shakespeare uses very short lines and varies the rhythm in a number of ways helps the scene to interest the audience. The two successive lines at the end of the opening of the play round off and help to indicate the end of this scene. It is obvious to the audience that the witches are chanting a magical spell throughout their brief encounter. This creates a bleak and mystical atmosphere, together with suspicion as to why they are using their magical powers. The language in this very scene reflects on the fact that “Macbeth” is a dark play about evil and death, murder and ambition. The witches´ language manages to reveal their personalities as sinister, mysterious and untrustworthy.
Although the first scene is exceptionally short, it manages to tell the audience that the witches will meet again, “When the hurlyburly´s done”, after the battle, on a heath, and there they will confront Macbeth. From the second meeting we are to see their prophecies come true. I enjoyed this scene because it was very unusual and mysterious. The words were really powerful and the visual effects in the performance that I saw gave the play a very dramatic beginning.
“Romeo and Juliet” is a great tragedy written in 1594. The play is remarkable for its fine language and powerful portrayal of character. “Romeo and Juliet” has been popular with audiences for generations and has been made into several successful films.
In the heat of a summer´s day in Verona, two servants from the house of Capulet swagger around the streets looking for trouble. They meet two servants from the house of Montague and begin to taunt them – the Montagues and the Capulets have been feuding for years. The argument between the servants develops into a fight, then Benvolio, as his name suggests (‘well-wishing´), is peaceful and tries to stop the fight. But Sampson and Gregory (the Capulet servants), know their man: when Tybalt arrives on the scene he challenges Benvolio, instead of stopping the brawl. Prince Escalus, the ruler of Verona, arrives and quells the riot. He orders them all to put down their weapons and threatens Lord Capulet and Lord Montague that if anyone ever disturbs the peace again in this way they will be executed. Benvolio tells Lord Montague how the fight began and then Lady Montague asks where her son, Romeo is. Benvolio has seen him but Romeo wants to be left alone. No one seems to know what is the matter with him and when Romeo arrives his parents withdraw. Benvolio and Romeo talk for a long time and Romeo explains that he is in love and is completely confused. Romeo explains that Rosaline is not in love with him. Benvolio tells Romeo that he should forget about Rosaline and he should look at other girls. Romeo says that this is impossible, they exit and the scene comes to an end.
At the beginning of William Shakespeare´s admirable tragedy, “Romeo and Juliet”, there is a prologue to the play, which is spoken by one of the actors. A prologue introduces a play and sums up what is going to happen. The prologue to this particular play is a sonnet. By listening to this speech the audience know from the play´s introductory chorus that “Romeo and Juliet” will end in tragedy:
“From forth the fatal loins of these two foes
A pair of star-crossed lovers take their life”,
From these specific lines the audience will understand that suicide and death will be a powerful theme throughout the performance.
The prologue explains that two households of similar social standing had an old disagreement, which has led to a new conflict between the two families. It then goes on to reveal that to these two ill-fated hostile families are born two lovers who are destined by the stars to disaster. Their accidental, doomed deaths cause the two families to forget the feud. The prologue then goes on to inform the audience that the play lasts for two hours, when in fact the play is considerably longer than two hours, but the expression is probably just meant to show that the play is not going to be boring. The prologue for the play “Romeo and Juliet” helps the audience to get an overview of the play, and an idea of the main themes involved in this Shakespeare tragedy.
From the short section focused on Sampson and Gregory, at the beginning of the scene, the audience can tell that the servants of the Capulet household are in an aggressive mood. The audience would be able to notice this because the words these men are using are violent and intense. Even from this brief conversation between the Capulets, the audience would have almost immediately come to the conclusion that the two men were all-talk, big-headed and incredibly boastful. However, Shakespeare also portrayed these characters as cowardly, timid and only hostile on the surface. We can tell that Sampson is timid because when he sees two Montague servants approaching instead of fighting them himself, he backs off and asks Gregory to be the one who starts the fight:
“quarrel, I will back thee”
Sampson is definitely trying to be the most aggressive out of the two males, because he explains that he would take on any Montague, whether male or female, even though the ongoing feud between the families is between the men only:
“…I will be cruel with the maids…”
This suggests that he is going to deal with the maids in an unpleasant way. A maid is another word for a virgin, so Sampson is explaining that he would force these girls to lose their virginity to him, in other words rape the maids of the Montague household. From hearing this the audience would almost likely be feeling shocked that the feud within the two families is so serious that Sampson would do such a frightful and wicked thing. The viewers are left wondering as to whether this is just the boisterous and arrogant attitude, which Sampson tries to portray, when it is evident that he is just a timid and pathetic man.
The most dramatic section in the opening scene, is probably when the argument between the servants develops into a vicious fight. This would help the audience to become involved and interested in the play because there would be a lot of action and movement on the stage. The fight would help to grasp the audience´s full attention, because before the fight it was just several servants standing still on the stage and boasting about how rough they are, and this gets a bit tedious after a while. The conflicts between the Montagues and the Capulets seemed to divide and disturb all of Verona. Conflicts that divide whole communities in this way are not uncommon today.
When Escalus, the Prince of Verona arrives at the fight he quells the riot with a long speech. Shakespeare obviously wants to make the Prince look important and respected by the citizens of Verona, so he uses blank verse, by writing lines of ten syllables, with a repeated even pattern of weak and strong ‘beats´:
“If ever you disturb our streets again,
Your lives shall pay the forfeit of the peace.”
Blank verse has also been used from when Tybalt approaches Benvolio. These characters speak in blank verse because Shakespeare is trying to portray them as noblemen, as opposed to servants.
Shakespeare uses this effect sparingly, with strong and powerful words to help reflect the character of the Prince. For the remainder of the opening scene, the characters speak in a similar blank verse to that of the Prince, Benvolio and Tybalt. This gives the audience the impression that these characters are more civilised and courteous, than the disrespectful and awkward servants in the previous sections of the scene, who spoke in prose. Also, the fact that the fight between the two feuding households has come to an end, makes the rest of the scene appear extremely calm and peaceful.
The second half of the opening scene is a great contrast in terms of the themes, characters and language used. During this section, after Prince Escalus has broken up the street brawl, the theme of ‘Light and Dark´ becomes a primary issue. Montague and Lady Montague stay behind to speak with Benvolio. Lady Montague explains that she is glad that Romeo didn´t have anything to do with the disorder in Verona and asks if Benvolio has seen him. Benvolio begins his answer by saying:
“Madam, an hour before the worshipped sun
Peered forth the golden window of the east,
A troubled mind drive me to walk abroad…”
Benvolio then goes on to describe how he spotted Romeo in a grove of sycamore, and how Romeo, when he caught sight of Benvolio, retreated further into the woods. Montague is worried about his son and says that Romeo has got into the habit of avoiding light. Benvolio and Montague both refer and speak of sunlight as holy and healthful, they consider Romeo´s preference for the dark as a dangerous sign of depression.
Another theme, which comes into perspective later on in the opening scene, is the idea of young love. This is obvious to the audience when Romeo is presented as a young man desperately in love. It affects his behaviour so badly that even his father is worried about him. He is clearly feeling very mixed-up. The idea of having a lovesick character in the opening play was a fine thought, as love is such a strong theme throughout the play that it really sets the scene.
The theme of ‘Youth and Age´ occurs throughout the whole of the opening scene. After setting the scene and telling us that the lovers will die, the Chorus calls their fate “piteous” and tells us what the audience are going to see:
“The fearful passage of their death-marked love,
And the continuance of the parents rage,
Which, but their children´s end, nought could remove,
Is now the two hours traffic of our stage.”
A great part of our pity arises from seeing the children´s lives sacrificed to their parents´ anger. When the fight between the Capulet and Montague servants develops into a riot, both Capulet and Montague want to join in, even though they are both too old for such nonsense. When Prince Escalus is addressing an angry speech to Capulet and Montague, he explains that he believes that the old should be wise, but old people have been drawn into the brawl by old Capulet and Montague, and so he lectures them like children. All of these ideas fit in with the theme of ‘Youth and Age´.
There are many rhyming couplets in the first scene of “Romeo and Juliet”, mostly appearing after the Prince´s speech. After the prince has broken up the fight between the Capulets and the Montagues, Montague asks Benvolio who started the fight. Benvolio´s answer ends in a couplet:
“Came more and more and fought on part and part,
Till the prince came, who parted either part”
Lady Montague then asks where Romeo is, and in the following conversation most of the speeches end in couplets. When Romeo appears the, the Montagues depart in order to leave Benvolio to discover what is wrong with Romeo. After a short interchange with Benvolio, Romeo starts to talk about his hopeless love (for Rosaline although her name is not mentioned). Romeo´s poetic language is typical of a lovesick poet. He speaks mostly in couplets, beginning with:
“Alas, that love, whose view is muffled still,
Should without eyes, see pathways to his will!”
Romeo´s final speech of the scene is about how he can never forget how fair his love is. The speech is not in couplets, but three of the nine lines end with the word “fair,” and two others end in “forget”; this is probably because Romeo is talking about how he can never forget how fair his beloved is.
I really enjoyed reading the opening scene and watching the video of “Romeo and Juliet”. Although it was very long and some of the words were confusing it really gave the performance a good start. The fact that there was a complete contrast in themes also made it a little more interesting, and because there was so much action near the beginning of the scene it really helped to grab the audiences attention for the rest of the play.
There is a lot of contrast between the opening scenes of “Macbeth” and “Romeo and Juliet”, both by William Shakespeare. The play “Macbeth” is extremely short (thirteen lines long). The audience only manage to meet three characters, and they learn/gain little information from them. The atmosphere created is chilling and eerie and the audience are left feeling suspicious about these untrustworthy witches that they have just met, and they would almost likely suspect something very extraordinary was going on. There is no action in this first scene of “Macbeth”, although it is such a short scene that there really is no need for action. The audience are left feeling bewildered about what is going on, seeing as little plot has been set, and there are no further indications of possible future themes (apart from supernatural, evil and the reversal of nature) which will be occurring throughout “Macbeth”.
Completely different to “Macbeth”, is “Romeo and Juliet.” The opening scene of “Romeo and Juliet” is incredibly long compared to Shakespeare´s “Macbeth”. This gives the audience time to become involved in the scene and to understand the plot and setting of the performance. The audience are introduced to a vast number of characters from both sides of the feuding families. This opening scene keeps the audience at the edge of their seats when the street brawl takes place. There is a lot of action on the stage, which keeps the audiences attention. Then, just as the audience are getting bored, a young love-sick male talks about his love to a woman who is later identified as Rosaline. This really grabs the audiences full concentration because of such a contrast from two families hating each other and fighting, to a young, peaceful male who thinks he is desperately in love. The first scene of the play helps the audience to identify a lot of the themes that will be of great importance later on in the play. Also the language in the two opening scenes is quite different, because in “Macbeth” the lines are short and cryptic which suggests excitement and danger, whereas in “Romeo and Juliet” the lines (towards the end of the scene) are long and these may indicate peace and meditation, there is also a greater variety in the pace, tone and mood. Although the opening scenes of “Macbeth” and “Romeo and Juliet” are utterly contrasting, they are both interesting and enjoyable in their own unique ways.
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