Entrances and exits both signify and effect change. When someone comes onto the stage they change it: they populate an empty stage; they bring new information; they cause an emotional reaction in the onstage characters; they interrupt, advance, reverse, slow down, hasten, stop what is already happening. When someone leaves the stage they change it: they cause an absence; they suggest what will happen off stage; they give the remaining characters a chance to reflect and to focus on their subsequent actions. Entrances and exits, therefore, are one way by which the dramatic trajectory and impetus of a play might be charted (indeed, a common rehearsal technique in the Stanislavskian tradition is to divide the play into smaller units than scenes, often marked by entrances and exits). Furthermore, this notion also points to the way that carefully scheduled stage traffic can shape an audience’s affective response to a play in performance, something understood most clearly, and metonymically prefigured, by those of Shakespeare’s characters who plan, plot, devise and scheme. Shakespeare’s schemers know, perhaps better than most, this potential of well-orchestrated entrances and exits to effect change. They know — somehow intuitively, or via an unholy dramaturgical alliance with their author — that timely comings or goings can alter what other characters see and know, or what they think they see and know, and thus, what they feel and how intensely.
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