The Comedy of Errors (2011)
Directed by Daniel Stein and Carolyn Howarth
Ok, we’ve had a talk, and we decided that if we had to live in the world of a Shakespeare play, we’d rather live in The Comedy of Errors than, say, Macbeth. No-brainer, right? Because it’s not as scary. And Ephesian food is better (we don’t know anything about Ephesian cuisine, but itmust be better than Scottish, right?). And The Comedy of Errors has “comedy” in the title. If only all our decisions were this easy!
But then we started comparing notes, and now we’re not so sure we made the right choice. Because now we think maybe we already do live in The Comedy of Errors.
Here’s the thing. We both have spouses. We’ve lived with them for a long time. We know them very well. They are lovely people— that’s why we picked them—but they are both extremely stubborn (we know this because they sometimes disagree with us).
But … this is where it gets weird. Sometimes, they say One Thing. Time passes. And then they say a Different Thing. A Thing so brazenly opposite to the Thing they said before, it’s almost as if we were talking to a completely different person!
We know they’re stubborn, so they would never change their minds. Obviously. There must be a more logical explanation, so we racked our brains for one. And that’s when it hit us …
Of course! They both have long-lost twins!
Now we’re freaking out. Suddenly, the world of Macbeth doesn’t seem so scary. And we think, maybe we could learn to enjoy haggis. Or at least choke it down. And being in a comedy doesn’t seem like such a lark anymore. Not when the joke’s on us!
Of course, there’s no reason you can’t enjoy it. Go ahead, laugh. This is funny stuff. But the next time someone close to you—someone youthink you know—says a Thing that’s brazenly opposite to the Thing they said before …
Try not to freak out!
In the ancient city of Ephesus, Duke Solinus holds Syracusan merchant Egeon in custody, due to a rivalry between Ephesus and Syracuse. Egeon must pay a hefty fine or be killed. The prisoner Egeon explains that twenty years earlier, he lost his wife, twin son and twin servant in a shipwreck. He raised the remaining son and servant, and renamed them Antipholus and Dromio, in memory of their missing twins. Duke Solinus pities Egeon and grants him time to find the fee. Unaware of Egeon’s arrival in Ephesus or his plight, Antipholus and Dromio of Syracuse (Antipholus-S. and Dromio-S.) are also in Ephesus in search of their brothers. Antipholus-S. sends Dromio-S. to the inn. When Dromio of Ephesus (Dromio-E.) meets his “master” (Antipholus-S.), confusion and hilarity begin.
Adriana, wife to Antipholus of Ephesus (Antipholus-E.), awaits her husband for lunch with her sister Luciana. Dromio-E. arrives to relay his encounter with Antipholus-S., who denied having a wife or a home in Ephesus. Adriana is hurt and fears that her husband is cheating. Antipholus-S. and Dromio-S. are greeted by Adriana and Luciana, who mistake them for their Ephesian counterparts, and they agree to dine with the ladie
Antipholus-E., the merchant Balthasar and Angelo discuss the gold chain Angelo is making for Antipholus-E. Antipholus- E. and Dromio-E. reach their door but find it locked, with Dromio-S., whom neither knows, inside mocking them. Balthasar persuades the fuming Antipholus-E. to dine at his house. Meanwhile, Antipholus-S. is alone with Luciana, who pleads with him to keep any affair quiet. Antipholus-S. is quickly smitten with Luciana. After lunch, Angelo finds Antipholus-S. alone and delivers the chain, but refuses payment for the moment.
When Angelo returns to collect payment, which he needs to settle a debt, Antipholus-E. denies receiving the chain, and is arrested. Dromio-S. arrives and Antipholus-E. sends him home for bail from Adriana. Dromio- S. stumbles upon Antipholus-S. and mistakenly gives him the bail money. Adding to the bewilderment, a courtesan approaches Antipholus-S. and demands the chain. Believing she is a temptress, the men escape. The courtesan flees to Adriana and reports that her husband is mad. Guarded by the officer, Antipholus-E. meets Dromio- E., from whom he expects the bail. He beats Dromio-E. for not having it, while Adriana and onlookers believe he is possessed. Both Ephesian men are bound and removed. Antipholus- S. and Dromio-S. then enter, swords drawn, which scares everyone away.
Angelo and the merchant encounter Dromio-S. and Antipholus-S., who wears the gold chain, and they all draw swords. When Adriana and the others approach, the Syracusan men escape into the convent. The Abbess refuses anyone admittance, and allows the men sanctuary. After listening to Adriana’s tale, the Abbess insists she will restore the men’s sanity. The Duke enters with Egeon and Adriana pleads for help. Soon Antipholus-E. and Dromio-E. enter and entreat the Duke for justice. Egeon thinks he recognizes the men, and more bafflement results. The Abbess reenters, recognizes Egeon as her lost husband, and reveals herself as Emilia, his wife. Both sets of twins are reunited, and the confusion is resolved with feasting and merriment.
By Jenn Lashley
In writing The Comedy of Errors, Shakespeare borrowed from the Roman comedy The Menaechmi, by Plautus. While Plautus’ play took place in Epidamnus, Shakespeare switched the location to Ephesus. He likely chose Ephesus because of its importance as a major port city, yet Ephesus’ rich history of intrigue, dualism and myth further bolstered Shakespeare’s creation of the world of the play.
Located in modern-day Turkey, ancient Ephesus was successively controlled by Greece, the Persian Empire, Alexander the Great and his successors, and Rome. The evershifting leadership undoubtedly added to the schizophrenic nature of the city. Intertwining pagan, Christian, Greek and Jewish influences from Ephesus’ history, which is compounded inComedy by Shakespeare’s musings on perception, rivalry and questions of identity. The changing politics and customs with each new ruler surely left ancient Ephesians questioning their identity much as Antipholus does, creating an apt setting for the play.
As Comedy opens, we learn of a rivalry, imagined by Shakespeare, between Ephesus and Syracuse. No historical evidence suggests that a feud existed between these cities, but a dark side of Ephesian history makes the idea of an enmity plausible. When the Roman Republic overtook Ephesus in the 2nd century B.C.E, it imposed high taxes based on the new Sicilian model (Syracuse is located in Sicily). The Ephesians had difficulty raising the money and in order to settle their debts the Romans began seizing the Ephesians' land. The Persian prince Mithridates took advantage of the ill will toward Rome and incited the Ephesians to murder anyone in Ephesus with Italian blood, which led to the slaughter of 80,000-150,000 Italians. An atrocity of this magnitude could understandably create a rivalry between an Italian city and Ephesus. The duality that the Ephesians may have felt under Roman and Persian control is enhanced by Shakespeare’s invented rivalry withinComedy.
Shakespeare’s choice of Ephesus is also significant because it was home to one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, the Temple of Artemis. Artemis, Greek goddess of the hunt, virginity and childbirth, was the twin sister of Apollo (another twin connection between the city and the play), and the temple functioned as a place of refuge for those needing safety in Ephesus. We see this idea reflected in the priory where Antipholus and Dromio of Syracuse seek sanctuary. The Abbess of the priory is a combination of two different mothers: a Mother Superior, head of the convent, and also the biological mother of the Antipholus twins. The doublesided nature of the Abbess is likewise reflected in Ephesian legend. The Catholic Marian myth states that after the death of Jesus, Mary traveled to Ephesus, where she spent the remainder of her life. Both the Pagan Goddess of virginity and childbirth and Mary, the mother of Jesus, are woven together into Ephesus’s dualistic legacy, serving as fertile ground for Shakespeare’s tale of doubles.
Ephesian history, rife with ever-changing conquerors, internal strife, and roots in both Pagan and Christian ideology create an ideal setting forComedy. Shakespeare likely knew of the city’s intriguing past and manipulated
Ephesian legend to enhance his characters’ quest for identity. As his characters search for a sense of self, the echoes of Ephesus’ past mirror the sentiment of the twins, creating yet another layer of duality.