The first two acts of The Tempest share a couple of inconsequential similarities and have some very contrasting differences. The similarities are, on the whole, superficial: Both acts consist of just two scenes and both acts are of a similar length. However, the similarities end there.
The lengths of the scenes in each act differ somewhat: Act 1 has one extremely short scene and one very lengthy scene; Act 2 is composed of two scenes of similar length. Also, the tone of each act is very different, with Act 1 being serious and composed, whilst Act 2 is more comic, often descending into pure farce. Analysing one scene at a time will show just how different the two acts are.
Act 1, Scene 1 is entirely unlike the other three scenes in the first two acts. It is fast-paced, exciting and uncomplicated, allowing the audience to be drawn into the play before the more complex scenes begin. The only notable thing in this scene is the introduction of Gonzalo, who is shown to be a patient, calm and optimistic person. None of the other characters are defined particularly vividly, nor need they be - this scene is supposed to be action-oriented and too much characterisation and plotting would ruin the tense atmosphere.
Scene 2 contrasts greatly with the opening scene, being lengthy and dialogue-driven, with little action at all. This scene is very important to the rest of the play, as it sets up the main background to the main characters, as well as defining some of those same characters. It is Prospero's character which is explored the most in this scene; whilst he explains his history to Miranda, we begin to see the sort of person he is.
From his dialogue, one can...
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...t to be highly entertaining. Whether one finds the first two acts entertaining or not, by the end of the second act many of the main characters and themes have already been well defined.
Works Cited and Consulted:
Garnett, Richard. "Irving Shakespeare" The Tempest (and selected criticism).
Charlotte Porter and Helen A. Clarke (eds.) Thomas Y. Crowell & Co. 1903.
Knight, G. Wilson. "Shakespearian Superman" The Tempest D.J. Palmer (ed.) Macmillan & Co. 1968
Murray, J. Middleton. "Shakespeare's Dream" The Tempest D.J. Palmer (ed.) Macmillan & Co. 1968
Palmer, D.J. Shakespeare's Later Comedies: An Anthology of Modern Criticism. Harmondsworth, Penguin, 1971.
Shakespeare, William. The Tempest. 1611. Ed. Stephen Orgel. New York: Oxford UP, 1994.
Tillyard, E.M. "The Tragic Pattern" The Tempest D.J. Palmer (ed.) Macmillan & Co. 1968
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