Comedy Of Errors (The)

By William Shakespeare
June 1 1991
directed by Peggy Shannon

Egeon, a merchant of Syracuse, is condemned to death in Ephesus by Duke Solinus for violation of trade restrictions between the two cities. He explains that he is in Ephesus seeking his lost family separated during a shipwreck over twenty years ago. Egeon, with one of his twin sons and one of a set of twin servants, was rescued separately from his wife, Emilia, and the other two boys. Moved by Egeon's story, the Duke gives him a day to raise a thousand marks to buy his freedom. Egeon is unaware that his son, Antipholus, and the servant, Dromio, have also arrived in Ephesus, the home of the other twin son and servant, also known as Antipholus and Dromio. The result of this bizarre coincidence is a series of mistaken identities, or "errors," as the two Antipholuses and the two Dromios are repeatedly mistaken for one another. Adriana, the wife of the Ephesian Antipholus, her sister Luciana, a courtesan, an abbess, several merchants and even an exorcist are caught in the ensuing frenzy before everything is straightened out. When the two sets of twins are reunited, the Duke absolves Egeon of his crime and the family celebrates their reunion with a joyous feast.

Date Time
Saturday June 1 12:00 am
Closed

Federico Fellini's 1973 film Amarcord has inspired some of the look of this production. Fellini's dreamlike imagery and his use of outrageous, almost grotesque figures, furnishes the play with a visual metaphor for Shakespeare's own comic shenanigans. The CSF's 1991 production of The Comedy of Errors promises to be something truly unique and delightful.

Egeon, a merchant of Syracuse, is condemned to death in Ephesus by Duke Solinus for violation of trade restrictions between the two cities. He explains that he is in Ephesus seeking his lost family separated during a shipwreck over twenty years ago. Egeon, with one of his twin sons and one of a set of twin servants, was rescued separately from his wife, Emilia, and the other two boys. Moved by Egeon's story, the Duke gives him a day to raise a thousand marks to buy his freedom. Egeon is unaware that his son, Antipholus, and the servant, Dromio, have also arrived in Ephesus, the home of the other twin son and servant, also known as Antipholus and Dromio. The result of this bizarre coincidence is a series of mistaken identities, or "errors," as the two Antipholuses and the two Dromios are repeatedly mistaken for one another. Adriana, the wife of the Ephesian Antipholus, her sister Luciana, a courtesan, an abbess, several merchants and even an exorcist are caught in the ensuing frenzy before everything is straightened out. When the two sets of twins are reunited, the Duke absolves Egeon of his crime and the family celebrates their reunion with a joyous feast.

The primary source for the plot of Shakespeare's play The Comedy of Errors was the Menaechmi, a Roman comedy by Plautus, which Shakespeare probably read in Latin. This play also concerns a set of separated twin brothers who are mistaken for each other, but Shakespeare complicates the plot and doubles the fun by introducing a second set of twin servants. The suggestion for this, and for the scenes in Act III in which the Ephesian Antipholus is locked out of his own house, comes from another of Plautus' plays, Amphitruo. The practice of drawing on other plots does not mean that Shakespeare merely reworked a few hackneyed stories for his own purposes. He introduced a number of important changes to his version which strengthened the play's major themes. For example, the enveloping story of the father's plight emphasizes the theme of family bonds, while the introduction of another love interest in the character of Luciana celebrates the idea of the transforming power of love. Shakespeare also changed the location of the story from Epidamnum to Ephesus. This locale is significant, for an Elizabethan audience would have identified Ephesus through St. Paul's "Epistle to the Ephesians" as a place of sorcery and witchcraft. St. Paul's letter also examines the duties of a wife in Christian marriage, a source of dissension between Adriana and her husband. Although some believe that The Comedy of Errors may have been Shakespeare's first play, due to its shortness and lack of complexity, many scholars now propose a composition date of between 1592 and 1594. This would place the play after the three history plays of Henry VI and probably after Richard III as well. Its first recorded performance, as part of the Christmas revels at Gray's Inn on December 28, 1594, ended in a near riot due to the boisterous response of an overcrowded audience. Although it was revived ten years later at Whitehall, it appears that it was not performed again until 1716. Since that time there have been numerous noteworthy productions and adaptations of the play, including several different musical versions. The most famous of these is undoubtedly the 1938 Rodgers and Hart musical, The Boys From Syracuse, which introduced such classic songs as "Falling in Love With Love," and "This Can't Be Love." More recent stagings have included a television version by the BBC featuring Roger Daltry of the rock band The Who as Dromio, and the 1987 Lincoln Center production featuring the Flying Karamazov Brothers as juggling twins. The basic plot also suggested the recent hit movie Big Business starring Bette Midler and Lily Tomlin.

COMEDY AT CSF Director Peggy Shannon has selected Italy between the wars as the setting for the 1991 Colorado Shakespeare Festival production of The Comedy of Errors. This choice reinforces the humor of Shakespeare's work, for the boisterousness of the Italian heritage lends itself well to the play's rowdy good fun. Although the farcical elements of the play are emphasized through the use of physical comedy, there is also a strong focus on the humanity of the characters. Though many may be eccentric, each is fairly recognizable and has a strong sense of style. This concept is reinforced by the costumes which use striking combinations of contrasting patterns to create a zany, vivid individuality for each character. To emphasize the idea that the play takes place in a very real and logical world, much of the action centers around the town square, which features an outdoor cafe where people mingle to eat, drink, and listen to accordion music as they observe the teeming life around them. The surrounding courtyard, where everything always seems to be under construction, evokes the warmth and liveliness of Northern Italy, with its brick and stone structures and intimate balconies. Douglas Gordy, Dramaturg, The Comedy of Errors