Traditionally an exposition of a play sets the tone, mood, reveals the main characters and also the major themes persisting in the play. The playwrights’ Chekhov and Ibsen follow this tradition to some extent but in their own ways create an exposition in such a way that the audience’s attention is immediately grasped. The Cherry Orchard was written in the post industrialization period. It was a period where the middle class came into vogue and peasants could buy land. There was a decline in the financial status of the aristocrats and the serfs were also freed.
Since the playwright Anton Chekhov belonged to this era, his play The Cherry Orchard was based primarily on the themes of social order, transition and tradition. By using these themes Chekhov shows Russian society and its culture. Similarly in the play Ghosts, Ibsen attempts to criticize society, therefore the prominent themes in the play are society and public opinion. Though the play evokes a number of themes, the theme of social interaction dominates the throughout the play.
The theme of clinging to the past is exposed to the audience through the statement made in the stage direction; ‘A room still called the nursery  .’ This theme persists throughout the play and is exposed to the audience right in the beginning. To some extent this statement also hints at the fact that there is some change in Russia and it also reflects how people still chose to stick to the past. The statement made by Anya ‘My room, my windows, just as if I had never gone away.  ‘ is used by Chekhov to show Madame Ranevsky’s feeling of attachment towards the Cherry Orchard. Thus the exposition has brought out an important theme in the play.
In the exposition of The Cherry Orchard, Lopakhin remembers his past when he was a peasant. He says, “Here am I in a white waistcoat and brown boots; a silk purse  “. Using flashbacks, Chekhov shows the social changes in Russia. At the same time, Lopakhin tells Dunyasha, “You dress yourself like a young lady, and look at your hair! You ought not to do it; you ought to remember your place  “. Through this, the playwright indirectly portrays to the audience, the class difference that existed in Russia. Lopakhin’s statement, “But now the villa residents have made their appearance  ” shows that the changes were not readily accepted by society, mainly by the aristocrats as their egos were marred by the rising serfs, who took their place in society. The ‘villas’ is a crucial symbol of change in social rankings and the redistribution of wealth. Again we see the exposition playing a huge role in bringing out important aspects of the play.
The theme of social change is also explored in Ibsen’s Ghosts, particularly through Oswald who has exposed the narrow Norwegian society in contrast to the liberal life of Paris where there is no sham. Couples can live together without getting married and yet not suffer a social stigma. The pastor Manders finds this shocking and tells him not to talk of “those unprincipled conditions known as irregular unions.  ” This is in contrast to the society in Norway where a woman has to submit to duty and obligations. Thus in Ghosts, like in The Cherry Orchard, exposition has given us the major themes.
A play generally exposes the main characters of the play; the first scene of the Cherry Orchard exposes the character of Madame Ranevsky who is the protagonist of the play. Madame Ranevsky’s running away shows her escapist nature and inability to deal with crisis. Also the statement made by Ranevsky ‘I’ve done with Paris  ‘ shows that her sense of resolution is weak and it is also ironical as she later goes back to Paris. Though Ranevsky was under an illusion about her wealth, she realizes at one point that she is going through a financial crisis, yet she does not change her spending habits. She asks for the most expensive things and gives the waiters a Florin each for tip. This extravagance leads to the sale of the cherry orchard. By showing Ranevskys character Chekhov is showing the lifestyle of the aristocrats in Russia in the post industrialization period.
Ibsen, reveals the characters and themes, by starting off with a conversation between Engstrand and his daughter Regina. The audience is at once aware of the conflict between the two and the harsh behavior of the father who does not hesitate to call his daughter a “hussy  ” or a “wench  “. Regina clearly does not wish to fall into the trap of serving in the house that shelters sailors and refuses to comply with the wishes of her father who had often told her that she was “none of (his)  “. Thereafter the protagonist Mrs Alving enters the scene. In her conversation with the pastor, it is noticed that she is reading books which are ahead of the times. The pastor Manders disapproves of this as he resists change. He believes that “in lifeâ€¦ one has to rely on the opinion of others.  ‘ The topic then shifts towards the inauguration of an orphanage built in memory of the late Captain Alving. It is a façade to keep up honorable appearances of a philandering husband in society. Thus, the theme of social pressures is brought about. Manders statement ‘But what about the opinion of the people hereabouts?  ‘supplements the above theme. Through the theme of social pressures Ibsen is reflecting the culture of the Norwegian society and this theme is brought out through exposition.
Beside the social changes, the socio-cultural and socio-economic context is important in both the plays and is brought out in their expositions. In The Cherry Orchard, the constant mention of the railways in the first act reflects the important development that took place in Russia in the 1830s. Through Trophimofs statement “They call themselves the ‘intelligentsia  ,’ Chekhov is showing another important social aspect in Russia, which was the group of people called ‘Intelligentsia’ who were typical to the region.
Ibsen has taken the rise of feminism and the liberation as a backdrop for Ghosts. While it was difficult for society to accept it, the seeds of it were already germinating in Mrs. Alving who reads intellectual books and wants to insure the orphanage against fire. She even questions the authority of the pastor over that issue. However, she does not want to go against society and the pastor in particular. Through the theme of rise of feminism Ibsen throws light on Norwegian culture.
In Ghosts, at the very beginning Engstrand is described as ‘slightly deformed  .’ The disease is spoken about early on and also forms a theme in the play though not a major one. Oswald suffered from venereal disease which symbolized his father’s immorality and sins committed such as infidelity. More than the literal meaning of the disease, this theme was brought out by the playwright to represent a diseased society, a society in which all sins were hidden by an artificial façade. Oswald was sent away to Paris by Mrs.Alving so that he does not get negatively influenced by his father Mr.Alving. Through the disease Ibsen is trying to show that the sins of the past does not perish, it passes on from generation to generation.
Society was more bothered as to what others thought of them to be, public opinion was considered foremost. This characteristic of society is again represented by Regina who states ‘I am not going to stand as if I had a rendezvous with you  ‘; Regina is a maid servant yet wants to be higher in society. Mr.Manders is another character who represented a similar flaw in society. Mr.Manders was a pastor in the parish and yet his thoughts were materialistic. A stereotypical pastor is expected to lead a life devoted to religion and away from the worldly pleasures, this certainly did not reflect in his character. A materialistic statement such as ‘The interest being earmarked for current expenses of the orphanage  ‘ supports this idea.
We have seen how the exposition plays an important role in both plays. While Ibsen criticizes Norwegian society, Chekov supports the socio-economic change in Russia. Both key themes are brought out via exposition. Thus it can be said that exposition is thread that binds together the themes in both plays.