Framing device

Framing device

The term "framing device" refers to the usage of the same single action, scene, event, setting, or any element of significance at both the beginning and end of an artistic, musical, or literary work. The repeated element thus creates a ‘frame’ within which the main body of work can develop. Two familiar examples are the settings for Boccaccio's "Decameron", where young people away from Florence to avoid the plague pass the time telling stories, and for Chaucer's "Canterbury Tales" in which the host at the inn charges the travellers with each providing a tale.

Use in narrative

Framing devices are very common in storytelling. They are often employed to hold a story together and provide context, to create interest, to provide resolution and/or to move a story along. They are sometimes set apart from the main narrative by a change in story telling technique or tone.

A simple framing device often takes the form of a crucial- often the climactic- scene that appears at the beginning of the work, then reappears later on in the story, usually at the end or close to the end. Here, this device is most often intended to create suspense or to pique the audience’s interest.

Most commonly, the first time the scene appears it is out of the true chronology of the story, the second time it appears in its rightful place and the meaning of the scene is made clear. An example of this is the movie "The Illusionist" which begins with a scene involving the arrest of the main character, which is then explained close to the end of the film. Many other films, books and television episodes use a simple framing device in this manner.

The reverse of this may also occur if an event occurs at the beginning of a story remains unexplained to the audience and the character(s) involved until the end of the story where it may be resolved in flashback. This occurs in the film "The Bourne Identity" where the main character’s amnesia prevents him from understanding the initial events.

A framing device is also used in the 1997 disaster romance film "Titanic", where Old Rose tells a modern day treasure hunter her story of love and loss on the "RMS Titanic".

A framing device of this kind may also be a scene or event that is slowly explained over the course of the main narrative.

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle often structured his detective stories in frames. The crime was reported, Sherlock Holmes solved the crime, and then he explained the solution to Dr. Watson. Thus the reader gets three looks at the same event.

Framing devices may also take the form of a recurrent element that appears at the beginning and the end of the narrative. For example, a story may begin with a character visiting a park under one set of circumstances, then returning at the end to the same park under a different set of circumstances, having undergone a change that allows him or her to see the park in a new light.

A framing device might also simply be a defining image of the narrative or art that is used at the beginning and end of the work. An example of this is in the film "Chariots of Fire" which begins and ends with the characters running along a beach, accompanied at both times by the movie’s famous theme music. This scene, although chronologically occurring in the middle of the film and unimportant to the straightforward plot, serves to convey a defining emotion and tone that sets the context for the main story.

Framing device compared to reprise

:"See also: Reprise"

In musical sonata form or rondo, a theme occurs at the beginning and end of the work, or returns periodically. This could most simply be a recurrence or restatement of a melody or song. For example, the Beatles song "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band" works as a framing device for their album of the same name, appearing as both the first and the last tracks. Other albums with similar devices include Paul McCartney & Wings' "Band on the Run", the recurring heartbeats in Pink Floyd's album "The Dark Side of the Moon" and "Wish You Were Here" ("Shine on You Crazy Diamond"), Supertramp's "Crime of the Century" (the harmonica riff at the beginning of "School" is reprised at the end of the title track), and Spirit's "Twelve Dreams of Dr. Sardonicus" ("You have the world at your fingertips/No one can make it better than you"). Another is Junior Senior's 'D-D-D-Don't Stop The Beat' album which ends with a reprise of the first notes from the opening track.

A reprise may be expressed in narrative: at the beginning and the end of the movie "The Good, the Bad and the Ugly", Clint Eastwood's character shoots the noose to save his partner from hanging.

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