In an examination of Shakespeare’s dramatic methods, discuss how effectively you think Act 1 arouses the audience’s interest?
In your answer consider:
Significant aspects of staging
Language including imagery and symbolism
The opening scene, in which there is nothing light – hearted or humorous, is completely expository and contrived but fulfilling its function of revealing the plot line to the audience. The fact that Shakespeare uses this kind of dramatic technique in the first scene twice shows that he wants to make the wickedness of Oliver perfectly clear. The action starts when Orlando, the younger brother decides to rebel against the oppression of his older brother, who is treating him like a common pheasant. He tells Oliver:
‘The spirit of my father, which I think is within me, begins to mutiny against this servitude. I will no longer endure it, yet I know no wise remedy how to avoid it.’
Orlando’s complaints are completely justified, as Oliver is mean spirited and malicious in the treatment of Orlando, which the audience can clearly see from this opening scene. Oliver appears cold and distant when he speaks with Orlando:
‘Now, sir, what make you here?’
-And this contrasts greatly with the ‘sisterly bond’ between Rosalind and Celia. Orlando approaches Oliver with defiance and a confrontational attitude, arousing the audiences interest at this quarrel, and establishing his character: assertive, honest and bold, a character that every audience will like and take an interest in. Oliver also shows that he is adept in the wordplay matches the play holds. Orlando and Oliver exchange much verbal sparring in the first scene, including when Orlando seizes his brother by the throat, Oliver exclaims,
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‘Wilt thou lay hands on me, villain?’
Orlando picks up the root meaning of these words, that he is a person of ignorable birth and replies,
‘I am no villain: I am the younger son of Sir Rowland de Boys; he was my father, and is thrice a villain that says such a father begot villains.’
Shakespeare uses an artful device to portray information to the audience by using the two quarrelling brothers. In Oliver’s soliloquy we can almost anticipate that he is planning something against Orlando:
‘I hope I shall see an end of him’
The opening scene begins with conflict and tension, which arouses interest in the audience. It also presents us with strong character interactions and strong feelings: jealousy, hatred and wickedness, all of which are appealing for anyone watching the play. The theme of injustice also entices the audience and the fact that Oliver is planning against his younger brother is particularly interesting.
Scene 2 starts with introducing the two principal women, Celia and Rosalind, who is in a melancholy mood, due to the banishment of her father. This scene interests an audience as it has a great variety of tone, character and action. When Celia bids her merry, her reply:
‘From henceforth I will coz, and devise sports. Let me see what think you of falling in love?’
-Reveals a character who will deliberately use her wit and intelligence to triumph over misfortune; and also reveals her sportive nature. We can already see from her character that she would be a fine match with Orlando, and the audience almost anticipates love between the two, further adding to the intrigue that has been developed from the first scene. The sportive nature of the women is intensified when Touchstone enters; who is funny himself, but also funny because of the jokes made at his expense. Rosalind gives us the impression that he is a simpleton:
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‘Natures natural the cutter off of Natures wit.’
We can see that Touchstone will be the truth speaker and the ‘wise fool’ from early on:
‘The more pity that fools may not speak wisely what wise men do foolishly.’
He is the test or measure of genuineness, and the audience will know to look out for his opinions and views in the future.
The comedy is diversified with the entry of Le Beau, whose actions make him the butt for more jokes and mockery;
‘Here comes Monsieur the Beu.’
He has the function of creating dramatic interest and appeal by telling the ladies about Charles, the wrestler, creating a scary image of him and making us wonder what will happen when Orlando fights him;
‘Which Charles in a moment threw him, and broke three of his ribs.’
With the theatrical entry to the wrestling and to the Duke, the tome changes, preparing us for the serious business of the scene and its dramatic climax. The emphasis is put on Orlando’s youth, which again holds the audience’s interest, as they would be fearful for him;
‘Alas, he is too young; yet he looks successfully.’
Orlandos character is revealed even more so here, as he proves himself to be determined, courtly in language, but world weary;
‘I shall do my friends no wrong, for I have none to lament me; the world no injury, for in it I have nothing.’
The serious action of the fight and which Orlando is in danger but triumphs establishes him as a man of courageous action as the opening scene had shown him to be verbally adept, and therefore a fully worthy suitor of Rosalind, and this fact lets the audience anticipate their developing relationship, once again. Indeed we are told that he seem overwhelmed with Rosalind;
‘O poor Orlando, thou art overthrown!’
Another character the audience will want to look out for is the Duke. He makes harsh decisions, is paranoid and has extremely inconsistent behaviour;
‘I would thou hadst been son to some man else.
The world esteemed thy father honourable,
But I did find him still mine enemy.’
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Scene 3 contrasts greatly with scene 2 as it is more like a tragedy, than the lighthearted humour as before. Rosalinds love for Orlando is revealed;
‘No, some of it is for my child’s father.’
More dramatic tension is created as the Duke approaches;
‘With his eyes full of anger.’
We can anticipate that he is going to do something rash and unjust and he does, by banishing Rosalind from the court;
‘So near our public court as twenty miles’
Thou diest for it.’
This is an extreme threat, but it brings out Rosalind’s respective, innocent character;
‘Never so much as in a thought unborn
Did I offend your highness’
He is shown in the same light as Oliver, as a character whose actions reflect the darker side of human nature. By contrast Rosalind, who defends herself gracefully and with dignity, and Celia, who generously vows to share Rosalind’s exile, are characters of worth and integrity.
Shakespeare establishes the dramatic device of disguise in this scene, as the women pretend to be Ganymead and Aliena. This is undertaken for practical reasons, and also to be the main source of comedy throughout the play:
‘That I did suit me all points like a man?’
The final line of this first act, in which Celia says:
‘Now go in we content
To liberty, and not to banishment’
-Highlights one of the main themes of freedom from the court and the pastoral, but it also serves the function of the scene ending in optimism and giving the audience something to look forward to.
Overall, Act 1 presents the play to the audience in an interesting, exciting way. There are many developing plot lines to look out for, and many good and evil characters. Whilst the starting scene is conflict and tension filled, the preceding scene is light hearted and humorous, while the third scene has an element of tragedy in it, presenting a wide variety of emotions to the audience, therefore holding interest and developing intrigue into what the unfolding plot lines contain.