Compare the role of set and setting in two plays that you have studied


In Equus set is used to move away from conventional theatre styles of naturalism and realism, and frame the play in an environment that is inherently abstract and unconventional for the audience. At a basic level, the unorthodox set serves as a tool of increasing the dramatic power of the performance, but the framing of the set is also used to reinforce one of its primary purposes, to make the audience question social norms and to delve into the human psyche of what is :normal;. The set in A View from the Bridge (.View・) stands in stark contrast to the set of Equus as it is very naturalistic, and attempts to frame the performance in a realistic setting.  While it may not have the same captivating power of the rotating set of Equus, the way that the characters are able to interact with the set highlights characterization, strengthening the emotional connection the audience is able to form with the characters, and finally, it reinforces Miller・s idea that tragedy can indeed be found in the common man.


In Equus the set is described as :A square of wood set on a circle of wood;. Visually, this is a very captivating set piece in terms of the sheer aesthetics. However, the two sections of a rotating disc and the square of wood also allows for the possibility of dynamic and engaging proxemics on stage. This can be seen when in scene 4, the nurse leads Alan out of the square to a bench on the outside and he tells her to :fuck off; and the scene then promptly ends and goes back to Dysart who is located in the center of the circle. This division of focus as a result of the different areas of the set that the actors may direct themselves to makes the play more engaging and exciting as at one moment, the focus is by a bench outside of the circle as a teenage boy curses at a nurse and at the next moment the focus shifts back to the center of the set. Therefore the abstract nature of the set allows for dynamic staging which makes the performance more captivating to watch. Ultimately this could also reflect the chaotic nature of the plot progression and of the exploration of the human psyche, reinforcing the idea that our mind is intricate and complex.


In .View・ the way the characters interact with the set does not necessarily enhance the captivating nature of their performance, however it does help characterize them and emphasize certain traits about characters. The set is naturalistic and depicts a small section of a neighbourhood and a house with a skeletal frame where the audience can see into the living room of the apartment. Eddie is frequently seen resting comfortably in his armchair at home, and his interaction with this piece of set highlights how he wants to settle into the role of the traditional male in the building, who wields control as the women of the house work, and this typically :male; image is reinforced by the fact that in act 1 he smokes a cigar at the same time as he settles into his armchair. In Equus contrasting to .View・ characterization of characters through actions is mostly seen through mimed gestures as when Alan strokes the horse in the stables harder and faster when Dysart asks him about Jill. In Equus, a similar type of characterization is seen, of interacting with set or objects around the characters. However in Equus these are always imaginary or mimed as opposed to the interactions that we see in .View・ where they are rooted in objects and pieces of set that reflect what they may look like in real life. Therefore it is arguable that the characterization as a result of gestures, actions, and interactions with set is more effective in .View・, as it is easier to understand what it reveals about the character because there is no need to imagine what they are interacting with.


In Equus by Peter Shaffer, set is also used to reinforce the purpose of making the audience question normality in our society. It is initially described as being :like a dissecting theatre; the setting where autopsies would be performed when our biological knowledge had not progressed to the point that it has today. It had tiered seating so that many people could watch from above a doctor dissect a cadaver for scientific purposes. This parallel between the set and a dissecting theatre is used to communicate that this play is in fact a metaphorical autopsy, a dissection of the human psyche. Shaffer is exploring what・s fundamental about our human nature through presenting :normal; religion and faith and challenging it. Therefore the parallel between the set and the dissecting theatre is meant to convey that the purpose of this play is to explore and understand something deeply inherent about humans. 

Furthermore the very unrealistic setting that can be :rotated; makes no attempt to suspend disbelief or immerse the audience in the reality of the scenario presented in the play. This effect known as the alienation effect in Epic Theatre allows the audience to focus more on the figurative values or social issues that the characters represent, which in this play allows the audience to focus on being critical of what it is we consider :normal; in our society. 


In A View from the Bridge (.View・) set is also used to reinforce one of the purposes of the play, to convey that there is tragedy that can be experienced by the common man. In A View this is done through extremely realistic setting as it depicts the :street and house front of a tenement building;. The skeletal frame of this very common, underwhelming setting allows us to look directly into the everyday life of a common man, Eddie Carbone. The use of realist setting therefore allows the audience to see the struggles and conflicting forces acting upon Eddie Carbone in a realistic setting. This establishes the message that the sense of tragedy that is evoked as a result of a struggle between higher conflicting forces and Eddie・s own passionate desires is one that can be experienced by a common man, in a common setting. In terms of reinforcing the message of the play itself, the striking nature of Equus・ set itself establishes a sense of wonderment and questioning in the audience from the very beginning. The effect that the naturalistic set should reflect the fact that any common man might experience what the characters in .View・ do might not be as universal as the sheer shock value of the set of Equus. Therefore in terms of reinforcing its message, the set of Equus is ultimately probably more effective, as not everyone would recognize or empathize with the naturalism of the .View・ set, due to individual background, whereas almost everyone would be shocked by the mere appearance of Equus.


It is interesting to note that although the sets are almost polar opposite in terms of their naturalism, they are both attempting to address a universal part of our humanity: in Equus that we should not blindly follow the orthodox establishments of our society because our minds are so diverse, and in .View・ that tragedy can be experienced by any man in any setting. Much like the fact that the issues that are presented don・t seem to have a clear answer or approach to them, the fact that these different types of sets both manage to address something fundamental about human nature also might suggest that there isn・t necessarily a single most effective way of making a statement regarding all of humanity. Ultimately however, because of the fact that Equus・ set seems to enable for more overall dramatic power throughout the piece as well as the fact that it reinforces the major message of the play more effectively, Shaffer employed set and setting overall more effectively.



Knowledge & Understanding

There is great knowledge of the two plays displayed here and a good insight into the main issues and themes that are explored. There is also a nice point but not excessively explored point about the influence of Brechtian epic theatre on Equus.


Response to the Question

There are clear and detailed comparisons woven in throughout this essay and some nice evaluations, although it was unnecessary to choose one play as the most effective overall as this undermined the more subtle exploration of how the two plays were effective in different ways.


Literary Conventions

There is some excellent treatment of this play as a play this is evident, for example, when the candidate explores how the audience・s attention might move around the stage after Alan swears at the nurse. This demonstrates a lovely awareness of the fact that the play is meant to be performed rather than just read but it would have been great if similarly convincing points could have been made for View.


Organisation & Development

The overall organisation of the essay is clear, with a good alternation between the two texts and a sense that the arguments are building on one another in a logical and clear fashion. There is a crisp and clear start to the intro and the conclusion draws the ideas together nicely at the end ... although the power of the final paragraph is a little undercut by the decision to offer one definitive answer with regards to which play has the most effective set which, as above, undermines the idea that they are both effective in different ways.



The language is clear and beautifully concise at points, especially in the introductory paragraph. This kind of clarity and focus needs to be maintained all the way through the essay and slightly awkward phrases like .In Equus, a similar type of characterization is seen, of interacting with set or objects around the characters.・ need to be avoided.




21 = 6