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First of all, “rising action” is a term limited to the entire play’s development; it cannot accurately be applied to each act. A play’s “action” (a term complex to define) begins with the “exposition,” which, as the term implies, exposes the audience to the situation before the curtain rises (in Romeo and Juliet the action and discussion of the long feud between families is exposition; it sets the “mise-en-scene” (the physical place and time of the play) and tells the audience about the main conflict about to be “developed”; at the first “complication” (here, the fight of the two factions in the streets) the action “rises” toward a conclusion (called a “resolution”) demanded to satisfy the audience – “Oh, these two families have a long feud – I wonder how it will be resolved!” In the balcony scene, the main “plot” unfolds – how can Romeo’s and Juliet’s love transcend the family feud? As each “complication” is introduced, the action “rises” – eventually, the “development” gets more and more complex, until it reaches the “final complication,” (the deaths of the lovers) and the audience anticipates a “resolution” of the main conflict (the families, in their grief, reconcile) – this is how the lovers will reconcile the families. On the way, subplots and complications move the play forward. All the parts of the play’s structure are common terms (in quotations here) used as metaphors for the movement of the action. A play is formulaic in the psychological sense of anticipation, suspense, and resolution – the elements of any narrative. Critics use these terms to discuss the effectiveness or creativity of the parts, toward explaining and assessing “how the play works” – just as you would take a mechanism (a clock or an engine) apart to see how it worked.
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