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The Comedy of Errors (Folger Shakespeare Library) Mass Market Paperback – January 1, 2005
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About the Author
William Shakespeare was born in April 1564 in the town of Stratford-upon-Avon, on England’s Avon River. When he was eighteen, he married Anne Hathaway. The couple had three children—an older daughter Susanna and twins, Judith and Hamnet. Hamnet, Shakespeare’s only son, died in childhood. The bulk of Shakespeare’s working life was spent in the theater world of London, where he established himself professionally by the early 1590s. He enjoyed success not only as a playwright and poet, but also as an actor and shareholder in an acting company. Although some think that sometime between 1610 and 1613 Shakespeare retired from the theater and returned home to Stratford, where he died in 1616, others believe that he may have continued to work in London until close to his death.
Barbara A. Mowat is Director of Research emerita at the Folger Shakespeare Library, Consulting Editor of Shakespeare Quarterly, and author of The Dramaturgy of Shakespeare’s Romances and of essays on Shakespeare’s plays and their editing.
Paul Werstine is Professor of English at the Graduate School and at King’s University College at Western University. He is a general editor of the New Variorum Shakespeare and author of Early Modern Playhouse Manuscripts and the Editing of Shakespeare and of many papers and articles on the printing and editing of Shakespeare’s plays.
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So the mayhem is doubled in "The Comedy of Errors," which has not one but TWO sets of identical twins who are totally unaware of each other's existence. Shakespeare's adaptation of a Plautus play is basically non-stop wackiness and slapstick, without much plot besides the two Antipholuses and the two Dromios constantly being mistaken (and sometimes mistaking each other) for their twin brothers.
The Syracusan merchant Egeon is condemned to death in Ephesus for entering the city, for... some reason that's never very well explained. He can only be saved if he pays one thousand marks within one day. So he tells the Ephesian Duke his tale of woe -- his wide Aemilia gave birth to identical twin boys, on the same day a poor woman also produced identical twin boys to be their slaves. But then his wife, one baby and one slave baby were lost in a shipwreck, leaving Egeon with the other twins. Now Antipholus has gone out in search of his lost twin, accompanied by his slave Dromio.
Got that? It's pretty much the setup for the whole plot. Here's the problem: the missing twins are actually in Ephesus, and are also named Antipholus and Dromio. Even better, neither of them has any weight, scars, haircuts or fashion eccentricities that keep them from being mistaken for each other. What wackiness!
So when Dromio (Ephesus) mistakes Antipholus (Syracuse) for his master, he ends up getting his butt kicked -- and even worse, Antipholus' (Ephesus) wife Adriana mistakes Antipholus (Syracuse) for her husband and thinks he's cheating on her. But her unknown brother-in-law-mistaken-for-her-husband instead falls in love with her sister. Oh, and Dromio (Ephesus) also has a comically unattractive wife, whom Dromio (Syracuse) is desperate to get away from. Wackiness!
While she dines with his identical twin, Antipholus (Ephesus) is irritated at being locked out his house, dines with a courtesan and orders a gold chain... all of which causes even more madcap antics: arrests, accusations of theft, the Dromios getting their butts kicked again, and Adriana thinking her husband is cheating, crazy and/or possessed.
As evidenced by the summary, "The Comedy of Errors" doesn't have much actual plot. It has exactly three things going on:
A) Other people mistake one Antipholus/Dromio set for the other;
B) Either Antipholus or Dromio (either one) mistakes the other for his brother (or vice versa).
C) Either Antipholus/Dromio pair gets in trouble for something the other ones did.
So our dear Willie Shakespeare frolicks in farce, skips through slapstick and cavorts through comedy. This isn't exactly his wittiest or subtlest play he wrote (Dromio compares his sister-in-law's butt to Ireland because of the... um, peat bogs), but it shows his considerable skill at juggling a complicated plot, lots of accusations and misunderstandings, which all ultimately culminates in a massive goofy confrontation between all the characters. In fact, I'm shocked Hollywood has not adapted this yet.
A lot of the comedy comes from Shakespeare's many silly word puns, topical jokes (Nell's forehead is France, because it is "armed and reverted, making war against her heir"), and the Antipholuses constantly beating up the Dromios. There is some occasional pretty verbal wooing ("Spread o'er the silver waves thy golden hairs/And as a bed I'll take them and there lie"), but it's mostly reliant on puns and gags.
The one problem? This is one of those stories that requires the entire cast to be idiots. Admittedly there wouldn't be a plot if they WEREN'T idiots, but none of them ever make the connection of "missing identical twins" with "people claiming I did and said things I didn't do."
It's genuinely amazing that Hollywood hasn't yet adapted "The Comedy of Errors," because Shakespeare's fluffiest comedy is perfectly suited -- mistaken identities, mayhem, gags and slapstick.
In The Comedy of Errors, a man sentenced to death, Edgeon, is revealed to have had two male twins both named Antipholus, both having two servants each named Dromio. It shown that he was separated from his family many years in the past through a shipwreck. He and his wife were each left with one son and one servant each. Over time, Edgeon, living in Syracruse, let his son and servant go to explore the world. His wife was left in the town of Ephesus where her son became a wealthy merchant. The play starts with Edgeon being walked to his execution for being a syracrusian walking into the town of Ephesus. The Duke allows him to have one day to search for his family to be set free, and by coincidence, his son, Antipholus of Syracruse is there along with Antipholus of Ephesus whom lives there. The play then spirals outward form the two very different twins interacting with people from each other’s lives, including the two servants named Dromio.
Shakespeare wrote this play to entertain the public using slapstick comedy and an intriguing plotline. He also wrote this play to showcase the humor of human error. The play works off of tragic events involving loss of family and an execution, but the play quickly turns these things into events of humor. The symbols of a gold chain, a ring, and a thousand marks add to the theme of outward humor rather that plain inside “joke-like” humor.
The play was filled with humor, although it is hard to decipher it through the old modern English at times. The differing personality of the two Antipholus’ adds to the humor of the play by them being near foils of each other. The two Dromios are mischievous and slightly dumb which adds most of the humor to the play.
This play is for anyone who loves comedies and can read old modern English. People who like slapstick, outward humor over verbal, inside humor will enjoy this play as well. People that enjoy farcical plays, books, and movies will find this play quite hilarious.