Beginnings, Part Two (individual scenes)

Yesterday, we talked a little about beginnings, specifically of the plays themselves, about how they could be either strong and loud (to grab the audience’s attention) or slow (building exposition at a more leisurely pace).

Today, let’s take a microcosmic look at this concept: what about the beginnings of scenes themselves.

Again, we’re looking at two different approaches:

  1. begin at the beginning or
  2. come into an already moving scene

Here’s what I mean:

A scene can be complete or not; we can see the scene begin, build to a climax, then resolve itself; or we can enter a scene that is already in progress, and watch it play out to its conclusion.

If we look at the opening scenes of The Comedy of Errors, I think the point will be better illustrated.  Act One, Scene One, begins with a presentation–in this case, of the Duke of Ephesus and the trial of Egeon.  We witness the beginning of the scene, we watch as it grows in the telling of the Syracusian merchant’s tale, and we see the resolution (Egeon’s sentence, including his chance at avoiding execution).

On the other hand, in Act One, Scene Two, we don’t see the beginning of the conversation between Antipholus of Syracuse and the merchant (heck, we don’t even know the merchant’s name–a piece of information that was probably used earlier in the conversation), we see it in mid-stream… The merchant’s (and the scene’s) first lines are:

Therefore give out you are of Epidamnum,
Lest that your goods too soon be confiscate.


The “therefore” here is the giveaway; the use of this opening word as an adverbial conjunction tells us that something, some piece of conversation, came before it…. and if something came before it, then we’ve come into a scene already in progress.

Other great examples of this are Act Three, Scene Two, in which we find Luciana in mid-interrogation of Antipholus of Syracuse (“And may it be…” [III.ii.1], again opening the scene with a conjunction), and Act Four, Scene Two where we hear Adriana ask of her sister, “Ah, Luciana, did he tempt thee so?” (IV.ii.1)–the “so” letting us know that Luciana’s reportage of her conversation with Antipholus came before this portion of the conversation.

The presentational approach can be used to “reboot” or “kick-start” the play, while the conversational method can be used to keep the pace crisp and the play moving.

Each serves a purpose, and each guides the director in his job.

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