As the play opens, the first monologues or dialogues introduce the situation. Be sure to note this information since the place or location may tell you something about the characters and the atmosphere of the play. You will want to consider the time (of the year, of the day), place (region, city or rural), and other concerns, such as language, culture, and socio-historical contexts. It is important to know as much as possible about the setting so you can imagine the characters and interpret what they say and do.
A play generally includes stage directions, which are notes in the text of the play that are not spoken during the performance. These directions instruct the actors and director about various aspects of the performance, such as when characters should exit and enter the stage and where props should be located. Stage directions often include the most detailed account of a play’s setting. You might be tempted to skip over or just scan the stage directions; however, they are crucial for attaining a full and nuanced understanding of the play.
Ultimately, the setting can simply function as a backdrop for the events of the play or it can have a profound effect on them. Settings sometimes symbolically represent plot and character issues. For example, a locked door could represent an emotional or spiritual obstacle within a character’s life. At other times, settings play an active role within a story, limiting or permitting the characters’ actions.
When considering the setting of a play, try to identify the details that seem most important. In what ways does the setting influence the events and characters? How does the setting reflect the central ideas of the play? Does it constrain or liberate the characters? Does it produce certain responses from the audience?