The exposition is the description of the king and the trial system.
Exposition is the beginning of a story. It is where a story’s setting, characters, and inciting incident are described. In this story, the author describes the kingdom and the king. The king’s personality is very important. He is described as “semibarbaric.” We do not know exactly when the story takes place, but we are told it was a long time ago.
In the very olden time there lived a semi-barbaric king, whose ideas, though somewhat polished and sharpened by the progressiveness of distant Latin neighbors, were still large, florid, and untrammeled, as became the half of him which was barbaric.
From this, we can gather that the story took place a while ago, and that the kingdom is not near Latin America. We also learn that the king has some very original ideas. The word “semibarbaric” basically means that he is at war with himself. He wants to be civilized, but he also has a savage side.
The king’s personality results in a very unique system of justice that he thinks is quite clever. It is important to the exposition of the story that this system of trial be described, because the plot will turn on the trial’s unique format. In this system of justice, an accused person is sent into an arena to make a choice. The outcome of the choice determines if he is considered innocent or guilty.
Directly opposite him, on the other side of the enclosed space, were two doors, exactly alike and side by side. It was the duty and the privilege of the person on trial to walk directly to these doors and open one of them. He could open either door he pleased; he was subject to no guidance or influence but that of the aforementioned impartial and incorruptible chance.
Behind one door is a tiger, which will instantly maul the contestant. Behind the other door is a lady, who has been chosen specifically for the accused. Apparently all accused are men. The lady then marries the man, whether or not he was already married. The king cares not for such trivialities.
The inciting incident is the last part of the exposition. It occurs right before the rising action, and it serves to introduce the story’s problem. In this case, the problem is the king’s daughter.
This semi-barbaric king had a daughter as blooming as his most florid fancies, and with a soul as fervent and imperious as his own. ... Among his courtiers was a young man of that fineness of blood and lowness of station common to the conventional heroes of romance who love royal maidens.
Naturally the king did not approve of the match, and so the princess’s lover is about to be thrown into the arena. This is a problem, because as the story progresses we learn that she is going to find out what is behind what door, and will tell him. But will she tell him the right door to save his life?