Describe the Opening Scenes of Shakespeare Play?
Just as a good book or movie uses its opening paragraph or opening shot to draw you into the story, so Shakespeare uses the opening scene of his plays to draw you in while getting you to notice his main concerns.
In nearly every play, only MINOR CHARACTERS appear in the first scene. Don’t let this fool you into not paying attention. Shakespeare does this deliberately so that we will pay MORE attention to what they say and do, than to who they are. These characters will distract us less from what’s important.
In the plays with an obscure story, Shakespeare may use this opening scene to provide some necessary BACKGROUND INFORMATION—so pay attention to those details. For example, at the beginning of Romeo and Juliet, we find out about the feud between the two families; at the beginning of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, we find out about the Duke’s impending marriage; in Love Labour’s Lost we find out about an important pact the men have made with each other, and so on. So keep your ears OPEN!
Shakespeare many times uses his opening scenes to introduce patterns that he will repeat later in the play. Here in the opening, it occurs among the minor characters; we may see another version played out with the major characters later. Take the opening of Romeo and Juliet, where the Capulet servants pick a fight with the Montague servants. The same will happen between Tybalt and Romeo later.
In general, Shakespeare is careful to introduce the main themes and conflicts for this particular play.
On the one hand, the characters may only HINT at them, as in the opening of Hamlet, where the watchmen are obviously upset about something "rotten in Denmark" and then we meet a ghost who doesn’t say anything.
Or the characters may come right out and state the problem, as in Antony and Cleopatra or Julius Caesar, where the opening characters talk among themselves about the general opinion of Antony, or of Caesar, and what these great men have to struggle against.
Pay special attention to LONG opening scenes that have 2 or more parts—that is, they have an "interruption" or "shift" to something new. For example, often Shakespeare will have us "overhear" two characters talk at length about the title character of the play, and so prepare us for understanding some trouble that they face. Then that character comes on stage a few minutes later, and we can better evaluate them.
But sometimes Shakespeare joins two seemingly unrelated scenes together into one, as in the long opening scene of Romeo and Juliet. Here the near-deadly feud shifts to a discussion about Romeo’s melancholy, and we meet and hear him talk to Benvolio about his frustrated love of Rosaline. As we’ve noticed elsewhere, this scene enables us to sense the conflicting themes of family violence and the love story that will develop between Romeo and Juliet. At first, Romeo’s peaceful lovelife seems remarkably far from the explosive violence of the feud—but by the end of the play, the peaceful lover Romeo will have killed two men. Perhaps love and hatred are not so far apart after all…
SO: Once you have read the play and have a good sense of what happens and what Shakespeare’s main themes are, GO BACK and reread the opening scene, and see what you can notice!