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The Use of the Stage Directions in The Cherry Orchard and Blood Wedding

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When a play is being read instead of being watched onstage, stage directions become essential to our understanding of the play as they allow us to picture what would be happening if the play were to be acted out. As there are many types of stage directions, I will only be analysing costumes, gestures, blocking and entrances and exits. These can be used to reveal character, symbolise the relationships between the characters, create a comic effect, or even heighten the tension and therefore change the mood.

Blood Wedding is a highly dramatic play, making great use of symbolism, and the story line is heavily based on the strong feelings between the characters. The Cherry Orchard, on the other hand, is a play which incorporates both tragedy and comedy. Costumes are often described when introducing a character in The Cherry Orchard. At certain times in the play, their purpose is to give us an immediate idea of what a character is like or to create a comic effect. When Yepikhodov is first introduced, he is wearing “boots that squeak loudly”, which creates comedy and also allows us to identify him as an accident-prone character.

When Pishnik is described, he is wearing a “tight-fitting, long waisted coat in a fine material, and wide oriental-looking trousers”. This adds to the comic side of the play and allows us to see through to Pishnik’s extravagant character, which is further emphasised later in the play as he is continuously behaving excessively . Firs’ clothing is described several times, which draws special attention to it. He first appears wearing “ancient livery and a top hat”, then a “tail coat” and finally a “jacket and a white waistcoat”. This immediately strikes us as being old-fashioned, which reflects his ideals and ideas.

We can also directly see the contrast between Fir’s outfits and Yepikhodov’s “jacket and highly polished boots”. This shows how out-dated Firs is and helps to illustrate the fact that he has not accepted the abolition of serfdom, which is a main theme in the play. In The Cherry Orchard, gestures are used much like costumes, to reveal character and to create comedy, but also to help us understand the plot of the play. We find that many of the characters have particular characteristics, and that several gestures are repeated a number of times for greater effect.

Yephikhodov continuously causes trouble by “dropping the bouquet” or stumbling “against a table which falls over”. This comic flaw establishes him as “disasters by the dozen”. Gayev “makes movements with his arms as if playing billiards”. This is not only used for comedy, but also to highlight the moments when he is under pressure for he tends to do this when he is nervous or embarrassed. Firs is constantly pampering his masters by, for example, putting “a cushion under” Ranyevskaya’s “feet” or bringing “an overcoat” for Gayev.

This shows his subservience and acts as a contrast to the other servants of the estate. He also illustrates how servants were supposed to act before the abolition of serfdom. The use of gestures is further exploited throughout the play to create tension. Ranyevskaya shows constant affection for the house and the cherry orchard. At the beginning of the play she “kisses the bookcase” as she has been away from the house for so long and when it is announced that the cherry orchard has been sold she would have fallen “if she were not standing beside the armchair and the table”.

She then proceeds to weep “bitterly” and “cover her face with her hands”. All of these gestures help create tension and empathy, adding to the climax when the estate is finally sold for we realise how much she loves it. Lophakin keeps on “looking at his watch” at the end of the play as they are about to leave the house, reminding the audience that they are running out of time and thus creating a build-up in tension. When Varya learns that the estate has been sold to Lopakhin, she “takes the keys from her belt and throws them in the middle of the room”.

Lophakin then “picks up the keys”. This creates dramatic tension and also symbolises the fact that Varya is no longer the owner of the house but that instead it now belongs to Lopakhin. Many of the exits and entrances are used to create humour in The Cherry Orchard, and in doing so relieve dramatic tension such as During the ball, when Varya has a fight with Yepikhodov and tells him to go “out of the room” and then thinking he is coming back, she “seizes the stick that Firs left by the door” and hits Lopakhin “on the head” instead.

Exits can be used for the same effect. This is can be seen when Trofimov storms off after a heated discussion with Mme Ranyevskaya. The offstage sound of his “falling with a crash” down the staircase quickly lightens the mood as the style changes from serious drama to comedy. However, entrances and exits also Stephanie Duarte play a part in creating tension, changing the mood from being light to serious. There is an immediate heightening in tension, for example, when Gayev “comes in” during the ball “wiping his eyes”.

Even before he says anything we know the estate has been sold. Unlike The Cherry Orchard, Blood Wedding does not use the costumes to reflect a character’s personality, but are used much more to symbolise death. The first visual introduction to death in the play comes right in the first scene. The neighbour, just after her son has died, enters wearing “dark colours”. The theme of death is then further emphasised through costumes as the Mother appears in “black satin” and the Bridegroom in “black corduroy”.

However, this could also be foreshadowing the death of the Bridegroom and the mourning of the Mother. A much more explicit use of symbolising death is the Beggar Woman. She stands for death itself and the fact that she is “completely covered in dark green cloth” and that “her face can hardly be seen amongst the folds” adds to the mystery of death. However, costumes can also be used to reflect a character’s feelings as can be seen when the Bride enters wearing a “black dress” and the “wreath of orange blossoms”, which are worn by the brides at weddings .

The colour of her dress could symbolise her feelings just before the unwanted ceremony, while the “orange blossoms” show her defeat with respect to the situation. As in The Cherry Orchard, gestures in Blood Wedding are often used to reveal a character’s true feelings. However, they also hint at relationships between characters. We can see from the very start, as he “harshly pulls her hands from her face”, that the relationship between Leonardo and his wife is not built upon love and is not going well.

The same is true for the Bride and the Bridegroom as she pulls away after he “embraces” her at their wedding. This makes an effective contrasts to when Leonardo embraces her in the woods for she does not spurn him. Even through this contrast we can see that the Bride does not want to marry the Bridegroom and has suppressed anger and hidden frustration building up inside her. When she is left alone with her servant she “bites her hand in anger” and “grips her by the wrist”, clearly showing her concealed feelings.

As she puts the wreath of orange blossoms upon her head, she looks at herself in the mirror and “lowers her head”. This shows that she does not like what she sees and thus she “throws the wreath on the floor”, emphasising the fact that she does not love the Bridegroom and is therefore trying to deny the situation. In contrast to The Cherry Orchard, Blood Wedding uses blocking to a much greater extent than entrances and exits. When Leonardo is talking to the Bride just before her wedding, he “approaches her”, which symbolises how Leonardo threatens her marriage.

Another effective use of blocking in the play is when the Bride is talking to the girls at the ceremony and she says that she has “lots of things on her mind”. At this point “Leonardo crosses the backstage”, which implies that it is he who is on her mind. Entrances, exits and blocking are also used together to heighten the tension in the play. At the ceremony, after the Bride and Leonardo have gone off-stage, people, including the servant, continuously “enter quickly” , cross the stage and run “off via the back stage” area again.

They do this more than once, and therefore capture the audience’s attention, whom can only guess that something has happened between Bride and Leonardo. This creates tension which eventually leads to the climax of the play. In conclusion, Chekhov stage direction to reflect the style of the play. They are used to create humour, reveal the main themes such as the abolition of serfdom , and to heighten tension. They play an important role in establishing the careful balance between serious drama and comedy.

Lorca, on the other hand, uses stage directions mainly to reveal character and to symbolise themes found in the play, such as death. This allows us to have a better understanding of the plot. The different types of stage directions I have looked at serve different purposes. While costumes are useful in revealing character, gestures are mainly used to highlight particular emotions, and entrances, exits and blocking aid in the establishment of mood. By working in parallel to one another they allow us to have a greater insight and therefore appreciation of the plays.

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