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Customer Review

on February 17, 2004
Shakespeare's vision grew tremendously over the course of his writing career. However, this play demonstrates that his uncanny power as an artist grew quickly and was present in some form from the very begining. It is exceedingly hard to buy the common notion that this was his first comedy when it is so much better than "The Two Gentlemen of Verona" in nearly every way. The dialogue is fast paced and screamingly funny. The characters interesting if broad and there are some surprising touches that, aside from being interesting in and of themselves, point down the road to later, darker comedies. Chief among these is the amazing opening, perhaps still unequaled in all comedy for the level of grimness. These are the first words uttered in a play long seen as a kind of sitcom of Shakespeare's plays: "Proceed, Solinus, to procure my fall, and by the doom of death end woes and all." The speaker is Egeon, a merchant about to be put to death for simply coming from the wrong country. The whole first scene feels like a cloud is hanging over it and there is a sense of fear-infused urgency that catches the mind off guard and makes the joyous, lunatic story all the more welcome while at the same time coloring it with real drama, making it all the more exciting. To be sure, there is little real depth and much of the play is like a sitcom but only the best of sitcoms and perhaps "Monty Python" at their most absurd is a better comparison. The plot is well chosen (from the Roman comic dramatist Plautus) and well handled. For some reason the play is not well known even among the early comedies which is a shame. It is probably the best of them, even surpassing the wonderful "The Taming of the Shrew". Aside from being an easy read, keep in mind the play is good to perform as it holds up well and doesn't suffer from being tinkered with. I've seen one production that was mostly straightforward but did a few weird things that worked like magic. They would've sunk almost any other Shakespeare comedy. I must also mention the last moment between the two clowns. It is as heart-warming and humane as it is funny. The master is already present AND growing. Do yourself a favor and pick up this play, you'll laugh your head off!
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