Comedy of Errors

The same way that I felt Coriolanus was a weaker version of Timon of Athens, I feel like this play is a weaker version of Merry Wives of Windsor. I can’t bring myself to call it bad, but it has a great hollowness to it. It’s funny, and clever, but there aren’t any truly heartfelt scenes that I connected with.

Although they do pretend to feel human emotions sometimes.

It has an incredibly complicated setup, which is explained in the first scene with Aegeon, a merchant of Syracuse, and Solinus, the Duke of Ephesus.  As the story goes, Aegeon has twin sons that are both named Antipholus.  The Antipholes have another set of twins that are their respective servants, both named Dromio.  Why anyone would name their twin sons the same name is beyond me, but it is a comedy and so we choose not to question it too much.  “Seven short years” ago, both sets of twins were seperated from each other during a storm, so that one Dromio and Antipholus went to Ephesus, and the other Dromio and Ephesus went to Syracuse.  The play basically involves the ridiculous hijinks that ensue when the brothers find each other again.

There isn’t much else to say about the play, other than the fact that it is generally funny, and there’s some legitimately great slapstick in it.  The boys get into some really crazy shenanigans, Antipholes of Ephesus gets locked out of his own house, Antipholus of Syracuse gets innumerable gifts on his twin brother’s reputation, and both Dromios get beaten by both Antipholes because nobody knows who is who.  The Ephesians assume that Adriana, Antipholus’ wife, is having an affair.  But the Syracusian pair conclude that “This town is full of cozenage; As, nimble jugglers that decieve the eye, Dark-working sorcerers that change the mind, Soul-killing witches that deform the body,” and so believe they are trapped in “the fairy land – O spite of spites! – We talk with goblins, owls, and elvish sprites.”  They proceed through the city as if they must escape from a bad acid trip, believing everyone around them to be a malignant trick of madness.

Again, some really great comedic opportunity.

But, as I said, there is nothing truly satisfying about the play.  It is funny, but the relationships seem to lack love.  The relationship between Adriana and her sister Luciana is interesting, and their dialogue about a woman’s place in a relationship is compelling.  In true Shakespearian fashion, two characters are given opposing views (Adriana’s resembling modern feminism, and Luciana’s aligning with masculine ownership of a wife), and their resulting dialogue does not present a winning perspective but genuinely explores the issue.  But that is the only thing in the entire play that holds true value.  Well, that and a scene where a schoolmaster named Pinch attempts an exorcism of Antipholus of Ephesus: “I charge thee, Satan, housed within this man, To yield possession to my holy prayers, And to thy state of darkness hie thee straight; I conjure thee by all the saints in heaven!”

 

Hi-larious.

In conclusion, I don’t hate this play.  But it is inferior to nearly every other comedy that I have read by Shakespeare, and so I feel dismissive of it.  It’s a great episode of a sitcom, but not worth a full theatrical production in my opinion.  It would be fun to stage, and is probably ideal for children getting introduced to Shakespeare.  But that’s the most that I can think of it.  The brothers are staged so that they never appear until the end, and I reckon that one pair appears on the second level on the stage so that their faces can actually appear similar to whatever actors wear the same costume up there.  Personally, I would use a bit of shadow puppetry to stage that final moment, so that the brothers are walking off with their shadows.  Shadow puppetry also makes the expository monologue in the first scene be not boring .

 

Shadow puppetry is awesome.

Next week, I think I’m going to tackle Two Gentlemen of Verona, which I read once before and I remember being really weird.  So that will be fun.

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