How effective is Act 1 Scene 1 as an opening scene for Measure for Measure? .
The opening scene in a play is usually important in giving readers an initial impression of the entire play. I believe that act 1, scene 1 of Measure for Measure is effective as an opening scene to a large extent as it introduces some of the themes of the play and sets the stage for darker happenings. It also gives us the first impressions of the characters Duke Vincentio, Escalus and Angelo and acts as a precursor to other similar occurrences in later scenes.
To be effective as an opening scene, the scene should have the key features, that is, the portrayal of the main characters, relationships and the main elements and themes of the plot. This is done through several different ways in the scene.
Measure for Measure opens in a legalistic, austere tone as we see the Duke of Vienna and Escalus conversing. The Duke of Vienna is lamenting at the lavish, overindulgent and spoilt state of his city but mentions that he has to go away. He thus suggests for Angelo to take over his place during his absence and consults Escalus on his opinions about Angelo. He also mentions that by giving Angelo his position temporarily, Angelo would have to be "lent" their "terror and dressed" with "[their] love", a paradoxical sentence. This thus introduces us to the theme of mortality versus mercy, the knowledge to discern when to punish and when to forgive. We see this theme throughout the play, and especially see it lacking in Angelo, thus making him a poor and rigid judge with no space for compassion.
This short speech by the Duke also gives us an insight to his character. We find out that he is an especially wise and righteous man who knows the qualities of a good judge. However, we see the theme of ambiguity and appearance versus reality taking root in his speeches also. Although the Duke consults Escalus on his decision to make Angelo as his substitute, we realize, through his excessive extolling of Angelo's virtues, that he has long decided upon Angelo.