Comedy Of Errors (The)

By William Shakespeare
June 1 1999
directed by John Dennis

Twins, Marrakesh and Dostoyevsky While most of us struggle with or boldly assert a sense of individuality, identical twins rarely see themselves as independent entities. There is an inexplicable bond between twins, an intimacy they enjoy, a oneness that can span space and time. Even when separated early in life, as the Antipholi and the Dromios are in The Comedy of Errors, twins can grow up with uncanny similarities. One study in Minnesota reunited separated twins, many for the first time, and revealed some amazing concurrences. Jim Lewis and Jim Springer had been separated when a month old. Both were raised in Ohio and were named Jim by their respective families. Both had been twice married, the first time to a Linda, the second time to a woman named Betty. Both named their oldest son James Allan. Both men vacationed at the same St. Petersburg beach every year. Both drove Chevies, chain-smoked Salem cigarettes, drank Miller Lite beer and were avid woodworkers. The resemblances were as stunning for set after set of separated twins, a phenomenon examined in Peter Watson’s book Twins. If one of the twins is lost at birth, the surviving twin may grow up with an inexplicable sense of the most profound loss. It is a state unknown to non-twins, but Shakespeare intuitively captures the loss of self that lone twins experience. New to Marrakesh after a long search for his brother, Antipolus of Syracuse says: “So I, to find a mother and a brother, in quest of them, unhappy, lose myself” and considers the impossibility of his task as being like a drop of water trying to find another specific drop in the ocean. Finding oneself, one’s true self, is often the subject of Shakespeare’s comedies, but it is especially so for the twins in The Comedy of Errors, where finding oneself is not just a matter of self-knowledge but also a completion of self, a union, at last a wholeness.

Date Time
Tuesday June 1 12:00 am
Closed

Egeon faces death for appearing in Marrakesh (called Ephesus in the original script), rival city to his native Syracuse. He explains that he seeks his son, Antipholus, who left home in search of an identical twin lost at sea some twenty years ago. Egeon’s wife, Emilia, and a servant boy also disappeared in the storm. Moved by this sorrowful tale, Duke Solinus grants the merchant twenty-four hours to ransom his life. Antipholus of Syracuse arrives in the Moroccan city with his servant, Dromio. The travelers are taken for their twins, who live in Marrakesh. The local twins are also master and servant, and have the same names as their visiting brothers. Wife of the resident Antipholus, Adriana demands that Antipholus of Syracuse join her for dinner, leaving her husband and his Dromio out in the street. Once inside, the Syracusan Dromio rejects Nell’s advances while his master falls for Adriana’s sister, Luciana. Antipholus of Syracuse decides to remain in this enchanted place after Angelo presents him with a gold necklace intended for his brother. When the Moroccan Antipholus refuses to pay for the chain, a scuffle ensues: he is arrested, accused of madness by his courtesan, exorcised by Dr. Pinch and hauled away with his Dromio. Adriana, spotting Antipholus of Syracuse, calls for the capture of her escaped “husband” who flees with his Dromio to the safety of a priory. As the Abbess emerges from the building with those she sheltered, the Duke arrives prepared to execute sentence on Egeon.

Twins, Marrakesh and Dostoyevsky While most of us struggle with or boldly assert a sense of individuality, identical twins rarely see themselves as independent entities. There is an inexplicable bond between twins, an intimacy they enjoy, a oneness that can span space and time. Even when separated early in life, as the Antipholi and the Dromios are in The Comedy of Errors, twins can grow up with uncanny similarities. One study in Minnesota reunited separated twins, many for the first time, and revealed some amazing concurrences. Jim Lewis and Jim Springer had been separated when a month old. Both were raised in Ohio and were named Jim by their respective families. Both had been twice married, the first time to a Linda, the second time to a woman named Betty. Both named their oldest son James Allan. Both men vacationed at the same St. Petersburg beach every year. Both drove Chevies, chain-smoked Salem cigarettes, drank Miller Lite beer and were avid woodworkers. The resemblances were as stunning for set after set of separated twins, a phenomenon examined in Peter Watson’s book Twins. If one of the twins is lost at birth, the surviving twin may grow up with an inexplicable sense of the most profound loss. It is a state unknown to non-twins, but Shakespeare intuitively captures the loss of self that lone twins experience. New to Marrakesh after a long search for his brother, Antipolus of Syracuse says: “So I, to find a mother and a brother, in quest of them, unhappy, lose myself” and considers the impossibility of his task as being like a drop of water trying to find another specific drop in the ocean. Finding oneself, one’s true self, is often the subject of Shakespeare’s comedies, but it is especially so for the twins in The Comedy of Errors, where finding oneself is not just a matter of self-knowledge but also a completion of self, a union, at last a wholeness.

Although it was first presented in an English inn, The Comedy of Errors draws extensively on Mediterranean conventions. The popular Italian commedia dell’arte style that emerged in the 1550s is echoed in scenes of domestic upheaval, lively pursuit and the slapstick buffeting of servants. Reaching further back in time, Shakespeare follows the lead of the first known Roman playwrights. He incorporates their standard play structure, employing a single setting, a twenty-four hour time period and a single course of action. The Comedy of Errors is far from derivative, however. Generally considered Shakespeare’s earliest play, it displays his remarkable ability to intertwine complex characters and contemporary themes while refashioning an ancient comic scenario. Shakespeare borrows his basic plot from The Menaechmi, written by a Roman, Plautus, in the second century BC. To this, he adds a second set of twins, doubling the fun and highlighting questions of personal identity. In the rural England of Shakespeare’s forefathers, one was what one’s parents had been, fixed to a particular geographic location and bound by law or custom to a particular lord. As feudalism dissolved in the Tudor and Stuart eras, this system of personal definition unraveled. Identity became more fluid and mobile, no longer bound to place or caste or moniker. Egeon describes his sons in their infancy, saying “the one so like the other as could not be distinguished but by names.” Even so, we come to know each twin as quite different from his sibling. The sprightly Dromio of Marrakesh is fluent and clever in his command of language. His simpler brother is more dependent on puns and well-worn proverbs. The former is promised to the hefty Nell while the latter finds her frightening. Egeon’s sons also display different tendencies in love. Antipholus of Marrakesh is married to the fiery Adriana. His sibling prefers gentle Luciana whom he woos with an eloquence not displayed by her brother-in-law. Enmeshed in the same confusions as his twin, this visitor becomes dismayed and despondent. His brother is more robust, showing a willingness to break down doors to set things right in his world. Shakespeare invites us to look beyond the surface aspects of name and appearance to find the twins’ individual identities in their differences. While adding these complexities to the original plot of The Menaechmi, Shakespeare tempers Plautus’ coarse humor. Minimizing the importance of the courtesan, the Bard molds an entertainment for the entire family. His text is also laced with references to the Bible, which had become more widely available than ever before. The play struck chords in Shakespeare’s England, a country in the midst of expansion and upheaval. Antipholus’ and Dromio’s questioning of identity in a strange land resembles the colonial search for a new identity in a quickly changing world. Four hundred years later we hear echoes of our own search for redefinition and self-discovery.