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Comedy of Errors Commentary

  • Date Submitted: 06/13/2011 06:10 AM
  • Flesch-Kincaid Score: 52.5 
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THE COMEDY OF ERRORS
    The shortest and most unified of all Shakespeare's plays, The Comedy of Errors is regarded by many scholars as his very first, which I tend to doubt. It shows such skill, indeed mastery--in action, incipient character, and stagecraft--that it far outshines the three Henry VI plays and the rather lame comedy The Two Gentlemen of Verona. It is true that in comedy Shakespeare was free to be himself from the start, whereas the shadow of Marlowe darkens the early histories (Richard III included) and Titus Andronicus. Yet, even granted Shakespeare's comic genius, The Comedy of Errors does not read or play like apprentice work. It is a remarkably sophisticated elaboration of (and improvement upon) Plautus, the Roman comic dramatist whom most of our playgoers know through the musical adaptation A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum. Shakespeare himself was adapted splendidly by Rodgers and Hart, whose The Boys from Syracuse took The Comedy of Errors as their source, much as Cole Porter later was to utilize The Taming of the Shrew for his Kiss Me Kate.
    In The Comedy of Errors, Shakespeare compounds Plautus's The Two Menaechmuses with hints from the same dramatist's Amphitryon, and gives us the wonderful absurdity of two sets of identical twins. We are in Greece, at Ephesus (where we will be again at the other end of Shakespeare's career, in Pericles), and we never go elsewhere, in this play so carefully confined in space and time (a single day). Antipholus of Syracuse arrives in Ephesus with his bondsman, Dromio. His twin brother, Antipholus of Ephesus, also has a bondsman named Dromio, identical twin to the first. The merchant of Syracuse and his servant have arrived in Ephesus not on a commercial mission but on a familial quest to find their missing brothers. This quest is also the purpose of the merchant Egeon of Syracuse, father of the two Antipholuses, who enters Ephesus only to be immediately arrested in the name of its Duke,...

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