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The Building and Release of Tension in a View from the Bridge

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A VIEW FROM THE BRIDGE – Tension Essay
MEG DUNCAN

Arthur Miller’s play ‘A View from the Bridge’ is an edgy, modern adaptation of ancient Greek Theatre, in which drama and tragedy are release though the build and release of tension.
Told through the eyes of Alfieri, we follow the demise of our protagonist, Eddie, whose love for his niece results in conflict and eventually his death. Tension is present throughout the entirety of the play, as it is critical to the play’s success that the audience feels the true extent of tragedy. Three scene’s highlight perfectly the different theatre conventions used by Miller to express tension.

Nearing the end of the first act, we reach a scene in which Eddie implies that Rodolfo is homosexual, a claim that spreads a tension across the rest of the characters and the audience. Before the claim is made, an edgy presence is already existent, however it crescendos as until it reaches breaking point. The build of tension is a result of a number of things. The first thing is movement on the stage. Everyone is relatively still besides Catherine and Rodolpho, who are dancing to Paper Doll. It is clear that the dancing makes Eddie angry when the stage directions read, “EDDIE freezes,” and “EDDIE’s eyes on his back”. It is also apparent that Catherine is deliberately dancing with Rodolpho to defy Eddie, as she proposes the dance “flushed with revolt.” The song also serves as tool to build tension as it voices Eddie’s struggle in his love for Catherine with lyrics such as, “it’s tough to love a doll that’s not your own”. Tension is also built via Eddie’s language. “He sings, he cooks, he could make dresses …” Beyond the fact that this phrase is patronising, Eddie insists on repeating it over and over, drilling his point so it cannot be brushed off. Each time is says it, it becomes more degrading, more obvious that Eddie is suggestion Rodolpho’s homosexuality, and more awkward and uncomfortable for the audience and other members of the scene. Finally, Eddie crosses the line, saying “the water-front is no place for him”. At this, the dancing stops, the music is switched off, and the stage falls momentarily silent. This stillness allows the full effect of tension to be felt by the audience. As Eddie continues to degrade Rodolpho, he unconsciously twists the newspaper he was previously reading. “He has bent the rolled paper and it suddenly tears in two.” This action symbolizes Eddie’s profound hate for Rodolpho and his growing drive to humiliate him in front of everyone. The paper also denotes the growing tension in the room. When the newspaper rips in half, the tension breaks and Eddie changes the subject. In this scene, Miller has used movement, music, expression, props, pauses and language to create and eventually release tension.

Different theatre conventions are used to display tension in a scene between Alfieri and Eddie found at the beginning of Act 2. Miller plays with the universal theme ‘Reason vs. Temptation’. Alfieri, the corresponding character to a Greek chorus, serves as ‘reason’, and a phone booth glowing on the opposite side of the stage acts as ‘temptation’. Alfieri’s rationality is evident in his warning, “the law is nature … Let her go”, and temptation is present in Eddie’s attraction to the slowly brightening, eerie blue glow of the phone booth. These polar opposites add an immense tension to the scene, as they are constantly conflicting. The lighting also plays an enormous role in the build of tension. The glow of the phone booth foreshadows Eddie’s call to the Immigration Bureau, which goes against the will of the audience. However, the call is a drawn out process, looming at the end of the scene, and the audiences’ hate of the concept makes it all the more excruciating. Teamed with the “faint, lonely blue” glow, a complete lack of inclusive language suggests Eddie’s isolation. . Suddenly the whole event is more dramatic. When Alfieri rises “with new anxiety”, the jump in tension is distinct, then stabilizes with his desperate pleading; “You won’t have a friend in the world, Eddie!” As the glow grows strong and lights on Alfieri go out, we see Eddie’s determination increase as he has lost all rationality. After the call that changes everything, tension is broken by Louis’ entrance, a minor character completely unaware of the situation, when he casually asks, “Go bowlin’, Eddie?”

The very last scene in the play provides the audience with one of its highest moments in tension. “People appear outside.” Miller uses the appearance of a crowd as a dramatizing tool as increases the performance size. The characters are no longer speaking intimately, they a speaking to a crowd. The crowd also accentuates the scale of the conflict between Eddie and Marco; what’s happening is so serious it has drawn a crowd. This accentuates the severity of the situation, and notifies the audience of the detrimental potential, increasing tension. Miller also uses the crowd for sound affects, which is highlighted by the direction “a great hushed shout goes up from the people.” As humans, it’s in our nature to be alerted by other peoples’ shock reflexes. It is for this reason that the shouts of the crowd affect the audience in a way that adds to the tension build, as it is a human instinct to take it seriously. The appearance of the knife is an enormous source of tension, as people today are immediately weary of its presence, purely due to possible outcomes. Our playwright has also used the language to build tension. Eddie’s words provoke Marco, “Tell the people, Marco, tell them what a liar you are!”, and the words of Eddie’s friends and family are pleading and emotional, “Eddie, for Christ’s sake!”, a straining contrast. Exclamation marks portray the desperation in the scene. “Little bits of laughter” escape Eddie, “his eyes are murderous”, but in the dramatic peak, recognised by Marco yelling “Anima-a-a-l!”, the knife is thrust upon him. Tension is released when the lights dim, spotlighting Alfieri for closure.

Arthur Miller uses a multitude of theatrical conventions to build and release tension throughout ‘A View from the Bridge’. This has a tremendous effect on the play’s overall tone, making it renowned as one of theatre’s best modern tragedies.

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