Friday, March 25, 2011

Shakespeare's Comedy of Errors - When Love Goes Dark

After reading the Henry VI/Richard III cycle, I almost felt guilty reading Comedy of Errors, Shakespeare's first comic play, (although certain scholarship thinks it may be his earliest play.)

The plot moves like lightning and the dialogue is brisk. It is one of the Bard's shortest plays, and one of his funniest.

The comedy is farcical and hinges on the confusion of the identity of twins. Shakespeare doubles the laughs by providing two sets of twins, servants and masters.

But I notice more and more that Shakespeare seems not just to write with thematic structure in mind, he seems to think in imagery and themes.

The play starts with a sentence of death, a stranger in a strange land facing a punishment for simply being from the wrong place. Shakespeare is to play with the themes of finding and belonging throughout the play, examining it from every angle.

When Antipholus of Syracuse lands in Ephesus, where he too could be punished under the laws against citizen's of Syracuse, he finds his predicament causing reflection:

Antipholus of Syracuse: 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.

Here in this land though, he finds himself in a situation in which a home is pulling him and he receives gifts from strangers.

On the opposite side, Antipholus of Ephesus finds that he, who has fought nobly for his country and has a thriving estate, is now turned out in the street. In the end he is resorting pleading for justice.

One of Shakespeare's great themes is unrequited or dying love. Think of the great masterpieces Midsummer Night's Dream, Much Ado, Hamlet, etc. People suddenly changing in front of their lover's eyes. Where there was love, now there is none.

Is there nothing more frightening than the thought that one who loves us will change, that they will not recognize in the same loving way?

Antipholus of Syracuse, finds himself in his twin's house, talking to to his twin's wife Adriana, he does not recognize her and his ambiguity is piercing to her.

Adriana: Ay, ay, Antipholus, look strange and frown:
Some other mistress hath thy sweet aspects;
I am not Adriana nor thy wife.
The time was once when thou unurged wouldst vow
That never words were music to thine ear,
That never object pleasing in thine eye,
That never touch well welcome to thy hand,
That never meat sweet-savor'd in thy taste,
Unless I spake, or look'd, or touch'd, or carved to thee.
How comes it now, my husband, O, how comes it,
That thou art thus estranged from thyself?

I also notice that by starting with a death sentence, Shakespeare can expand his theme by making life itself a strange and temporary land, and he examines how the debts we owe limit us within its borders.

Here is a funny exchange between Dromio, one of the servants, and Adriana:

DROMIO OF SYRACUSE: No, no, the bell: 'tis time that I were gone:
It was two ere I left him, and now the clock
strikes one.

ADRIANA: The hours come back! that did I never hear.

DROMIO OF SYRACUSE: O, yes; if any hour meet a sergeant, a' turns back forvery fear.

ADRIANA: As if Time were in debt! how fondly dost thou reason!

DROMIO OF SYRACUSE: Time is a very bankrupt, and owes more than he's
worth, to season.
Nay, he's a thief too: have you not heard men say
That Time comes stealing on by night and day?
If Time be in debt and theft, and a sergeant in the way,
Hath he not reason to turn back an hour in a day?

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