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).
Comedy of Errors is one of Shakespeare's first plays. The minor characters, in the play, Egeon and the Duke, set up the framework ... The Comedy of Errors, and helps keep track of the confusion, which unfolds during the play. There are several themes that Shakespeare uses ... which are only loosely related to the actual comedy. The conflicts ...
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, who sentences the hapless Egeon to be beheaded at sundown. Syracuse and Ephesus are fierce enemies. That gives The Comedy of Errors a rather plangent opening, not at all Plautine:
Egeon. Proceed, Solinus, to procure my fall,
And by the doom of death end woes and all.
Duke Solinus regretfully but firmly assures Egeon that indeed it will be off with his head, unless a ransom of a hundred marks can be paid. In response to the Duke’s questioning, Egeon tells us the fantastic, really outrageous yarn of a shipwreck some twenty-three years before, which divided his family in half, separating husband and one of each set of twins from the wife and the other infants. For the past five years, Egeon says, he has searched for the missing trio, and his anguish at not finding them informs his wretched readiness to be executed:
Yet this is my comfort; when your words are done,
My woes end likewise with the evening sun.
These scarcely are the accents of comedy, let alone of the knockabout farce soon to engulf us. But Shakespeare, who was to become the subtlest of all dramatists, already is very ambiguous in The Comedy of Errors. The twin Antipholuses are dead ringers but inwardly are very different. The Syracusan Antipholus has a quasi-metaphysical temperament:
He that commends me to mine own content
Commends me to the thing I cannot get.
I to the world am like a drop of water
That in the ocean seeks another drop,
Who, falling there to find his fellow forth,
(Unseen, inquisitive) confounds himself.
So I, to find a mother and a brother,
In quest of them, unhappy, lose myself.
I have quoted this complete precisely because its redundancy and hyperbolical submissiveness are critical to its nature as a secret language or code now fully shared by Kate and Petruchio. “True obedience” here is considerably less sincere than it purports to be, or even if sexual politics are to be invoked, it is as immemorial as the Garden of Eden. “Strength” and “weakness” interchange their meanings, as Kate teaches not ostensible subservience but the art of her own will, a will considerably more refined than it was at the play’s start. The speech’s meaning explodes into Petruchio’s delighted (and overdetermined) response:
... fiction literature, revolting against tradition and authority (Chopin, Kate – Introduction). Chopin’s highly respected as a writer ... letters entertaining encouraged her to “write professionally” (Chopin, Kate – Introduction). Chopin started writing short stories and ... of female self-assertion and sexual liberation” (Chopin, Kate – Introduction). Libraries banned Chopin and her friends ...
Why, there’s a wench! Come on, and kiss me, Kate.
If you want to hear this line as the culmination of a “problem play,” then perhaps you yourself are the problem. Kate does not need to be schooled in “consciousness raising.” Shakespeare, who clearly preferred his women characters to his men (always excepting Falstaff and Hamlet), enlarges the human, from the start, by subtly suggesting that women have the truer sense of reality.