Play Of the Month: Comedy Of Errors

  Artwork for

                         Artwork for “Comedy Of Errors” by Elizabeth Schuch

Movie Pitch Double Trouble! Two twins and their twin servants run amok in one crazy day! Rated PG for some innuendo and mild language.

My two cents on Comedy Of Errors

  1. Not only is this one of Shakespeare’s best comedies, it’s also the shortest play he ever wrote, which already makes it good reading for a beginner to Shakespeare. The play is full of physical comedy, silly comic archetypes, and has no moral or deeper meaning. It’s an innocent piece of fluff and it delights anyone who sees it.
  2. This play re-enforces a lot of the ideas I’ve said before about Shakespeare’s writing.
    1. Shakespeare stole the stories of his plays. In this case, the Comedy of Errors is based on a story over 2,000 years old: the ancient Roman comedy of The Brothers Manechmus.
    2. Shakespeare’s created his plays to be performed, not read. This play in particular is full of slapstick, dance, and other forms of physical comedy that an audience will enjoy best when they see it, rather than reading it.
    3. It’s better to learn the story beforehand before you see it. Shakespeare’s audiences loved complicated plots, which is why he did one better than the Greek playwright Plautus and added another set of twins to make the story even more complicated. This also makes this play very hard to follow if you’re just reading it, but don’t worry, I can sum the whole story of the play in just one paragraph (see below)

Famous Lines

The title of the play has actually become a household phrase: a ‘comedy of errors,’ refers to a situation full of mistakes and problems at which people can’t help but laugh, which captures the spirit of this play very well. This play is better known physical comedy. However, there is a hilarious speech by Dromio of Syracuse, that basically amounts to one big fat joke, and I mean fat joke:

Analysis

Title:                                               Comedy Of Errors

Playwright:                                    William Shakespeare

Year Written:                                  approx. 1593

Source:                                           The Brothers Maneuchmus by Plautus (c 200 BCE).

Genre:                                             Elizabethan Comedy: Prose/ Verse

Setting:            1. The Mart of Ephesus in Ancient Turkey, c. 200 BCE

2. The house of Antipholus of Ephesus

                         3. A Street in front of a priory.

Character Notes:           

The Twins

Antipholus of Syracuse A young lord of Syracuse who enters Ephesus to find his long-lost brother. Words that come to mind: Romantic, wondering, easy-going.

Dromio of Syracuse His servant, who is constantly hungry. Becuase of his quick wit and cheerful disposition, his master treats him better than a slave, until he starts making a cascade of mistakes! Words that Come To Mind: Clever, superstitious, hungry, harlequin.

Antipholus of Ephesus Syracuse’s twin brother, who is well respected in the town, but testy and hot tempered when mistreated.  He also hates his wife’s scolding tongue. Words that come to mind: Angry, proud, misogynist.

Dromio of Ephesus  A of E’s servant, just as clever as his brother, but not as lucky- he winds up getting beaten “like a football” for most of the play. Words that Come To Mind: Clever, superstitious, hungry, harlequin.

Their Family

Aegean Father of the Antipholi, he has risked certain death to go to Ephesus to try and find his wife and sons. He nobly and patiently waits for most of the play to either die or be redeemed. Words that Come To Mind: Stoic, sad, old, unfortunate.

Bonus fact: Aegean is named after a character from Greek Mythology who threw himself into the Aegean Sea when he thought his son had died.

Emelia (The Prioress) Mother of the Antipholi, who, believing her children and husband to be lost, becomes a nun and waits in the town nunnery until her children suddenly show up! Words that Come To Mind: Stoic, sad, old, unfortunate.

Their Wives

Adriana: A of E’s wife. One of the most modern wife characters in Shakespeare, she refuses to let her husband walk all over her, and calls him out when he refuses to come home, gives gifts to another woman, and generally mistreats her. Though Plautus wrote her as a nag and a scold, Shakespeare gives her great dignity. Words that Come To Mind: Strong willed, impatient, pessimist, feminist.

Luciana: A of S’s wife, and Adrianna’s sister. Her name means “Light,” which describes her personality. Unlike her sister, who frets and worries about her husband, she passes the time with jokes and generally has a good time, which is why she is a good match for the easygoing Antipholus of Syracuse, even though she doesn’t think so, because she thinks he’s actually her brother-in law!

Luce, AKA Nell: Lucianna’s extremely fat kitchen servant, betrothed to Dromio of Ephesus. Words that come to mind: Fat, amorous.

People of Ephesus

Solinus Duke of Ephesus. The ruler of this prosperous town who is forced to put Aegean to death. Words that come to mind: royal, powerful, sympathetic, gentle.

Balthazar A merchant, and a dinner guest of Antipholus of Ephesus. He persuades his host not to rage in public when his wife shuts him out of the house. Words that come to mind: Thoughtful, shrewd, friendly.

Angelo A goldsmith, or jeweler. He makes an expensive gold chain for A of E, but accidently gives it to his twin. Then when he runs into the right twin, Antipholus denies all knowledge of the chain, and refuses to pay. Even worse, Angelo owes money to a scary unnamed merchant, so he isn’t happy about being denied his money. Words that come to mind: Sycophant, nervous.

Merchant An unnamed character whom Angelo owes money. Words that come to mind: Imposing, scary.

Courtesan One of Antipolus of Ephesus’ neighbors. He frequently goes to her house and offers her gifts. She plots to get as much money as she can out of Antipholus. Words that come to mind: Golddigger, shrewd, temptress

Dr. Pinch A Quack doctor who tries to exorcise the Devil from Antipholus of Ephesus. Words that come to mind: Exorcist, charlatan, fanatic.

Play Summary

There’s two sets of twins – Master1 and Master 2, and Servant 1 and Servant 2 (their names are Antipholus, but to be honest that’s not important). They have never met each other, yet by chance they are in the same town on the same day. One master is married, one isn’t, Everyone in town mistakes one master for his twin, especially their servants who keep doing jobs for the wrong person! Even worse, the master’s poor wife Adrianna can’t figure out why her husband no longer seems to know her, and why he seems to be hitting on her beautiful sister! At the end of the play, everybody gets onstage and they realize the source of all these errors- TWINS. End of Play.

Concerns For Directors One complaint that innevitably comes from most audience members is, that “The twins don’t look alike!” Unless you’re fortunate enough to get identical twins, you’ll probably have to put up with this. Some directors choose to skirt this problem by having people who are dressed the same, but are so obviously different in appearance the confusion of the characters becomes an inside joke, like casting one twin who is tall and skinny, and another who is short and stout, or a different race or gender. This contrivance allows the audience to laugh at the ridiculous notion that anyone could mistake these two, and feel superior to the characters onstage. It also saves the audience from being confused if the twins look too much alike, which can also happen.

Concerns For Teachers More than any other play in the Shakespearean cannon, I feel this play demands that teachers and students read the story and see a scene or two before they try to act it out. Trying to sort out the character names and identities is extremely frustrating if you don’t have a clear picture of who is who. That is why I don’t recommend reading the play until after your students understand who is who.

Artwork

Header art created by Elizabeth E. Schuch of Immortal Longings.com (used with permission).

To read the full play, click here: http://shakespeare.mit.edu/comedy_errors/index.html

To See the full play, performed by the internationally renowned juggling troupe, the Flying Karamazov Brothers, click here! https://youtu.be/dwYyrbX9LUY

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3 thoughts on “Play Of the Month: Comedy Of Errors

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