William Shakespeare.

The complete works of William Shakespeare: with historical and ..., Volume 2 online

. (page 11 of 37)
Online LibraryWilliam ShakespeareThe complete works of William Shakespeare: with historical and ..., Volume 2 → online text (page 11 of 37)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


Where th* other dwelt inriched, and him so like,
That Citizens there take him for the same :
Father, wife, neighbours, each mistaking either.
Much pleasant error, ere they meet togither."

These lines may serve to indicate the leading points of
difference between the simple Latin farce and the complex
Comedy of Errors, (The translation is to be found in
Hazlitt's Shakespeare's Library, Part II. vol. i.).

It is impossible to determine whether Shakespeare owes
anything to Warner's translation, which may have ex-
isted in manuscript long before the date of its entry on
the books of the Stationers' Company (1594). It is per-
haps noteworthy that Adriana in the Comedy and the wife
of Menechus the Citizen in the English translation both
use the same word with reference to their supposed
ignoble treatment : —

Senex, What is the matter?

MuUer. He makes me a stale and a laughing-stock to all the world,

cp. Comedy of Errors, Act II. i. 100 : —

Adriana, He breaks the pale,

And feeds from home; poor I am but his stale,

A few minor points of this description (e.g, the use of
" error '" in the last line of the Argument) have led some
scholars to the conclusion that Shakespeare had read
Warner's version of the play. But may not the translator
owe this small debt to the dramatist ?

Act III. Scene i. seems to have been derived from the



Digitized by VjOOQ IC



Preface COMEDY OF ERRORS

Amphitruo of Platus ; in the Latin comedy Mercury keeps
the real Amphitruo out of his own house, while Jupiter,
the sham Amphitruo, is within with Alcemna, tiie real
Amphitruo's wife.

The introduction of the twin Dromios is Shakespeare's
own device ; and all the pathos of the play is his : there is
nothing in the Latin original suggestive of ^geon's
touching story at the opening of the play, — in Platus, the
father of the twins is already dead, and there is no reunion
of husband, wife, and children.

The Unities. In spite, however, of this romanticising
of Plautus, Shakespeare has maintained throughout the
play the hallowed unities of time and place, ** the neces-
sary companions," according to Academic criticism. ** of
all corporal actions." From this point of view The Com-
edy of Errors may be regarded as the final triumph of the
New Romantic Drama over its opponents ; it carried the
warfare into the enemy's camp, and scored the signal vic-
tory of harmonising Old and New, — ^the conventional
canons of Latin Comedy and the pathos of Romanticism.



Digitized by VjOOQ IC



COMEDY OF ERRORS



Criticed Comments.

I.

Argument.

I, JEgeon, a merchant of Syracuse, is. condemned to
death, in default of ransom, by the Duke of Ephesus for
bringing traffic into the Ephesian port. Being requested
by the Duke to give the cause of his visit to a hostile city,
the prisoner states that he is on a quest for missing
members of his family. Some years before, twin sons
had been bom to him and his wife Emilia. At " that
very hour and in the selfsame inn " a poorer woman was
also delivered of twin sons, which ^Egeon had " bought
and brought up to attend " his boys. Shortly afterward
the party had suffered shipwreck on a voyage to their
Syracusian home. All had been rescued, but the hus-
band was parted from the wife; and the twin sons and
attendants were separated from their respective counter-
parts, i^geon, with his younger son and servant, had
been conveyed to Syracuse, where for eighteen years
they dwelt without tidings of the other three. Finally
Antipholus, his son, now well grown, had set forth in
search of them, while Mgeon renewed his own quest.
During seven years father and son had heard nothing
of each other nor of the rest. All this JEgeon tells the
Duke in explanation of his wanderings. Touched by
the narrative, the Duke gives him further respite of a
day in which to seek ransom.

Unknown to his father, Antipholus of Syracuse and his
servant Dromio are even then visiting in Ephesus. Fur-
thermore it so chances that his brother, whom he has.



Digitized by VjOOQ IC



Comments COMEDY OF ERRORS

not found and who is known as Antipholus of Ephesus,
resides there in high favor with the Duke, and wedded
to Adriana, a woman of rank. Dromio of Ephesus mis-
takes Antipholus of Syracuse for his master and delivers
a message from Adriana to the effect that dinner is await-
ing him.

II. The servant having fled home beaten for his pains,
Adriana herself arrives and persuades the bewildered
Antipholus of Syracuse to come to dinner with her; for
she sdso is deceived as to his identity. Dromio of Syra-
cuse is put on guard at the gate with instructions to deny
admittance to visitors during the repast.

II I • The real husband presently arrives at his door
and is greatly astonished and incensed to find it barred
against him ; but is persuaded to retire to a public house
and bide his time. Meanwhile the false husband stoutly
maintains that there is a mistake, and makes fair speeches
to Luciana, sister of Adriana, rather than to Adriana
herself. The two Dromios are suffering most of all from
the comedy of errors, being continually confused, sent on
the wrong errands and getting beatings for their pains.

IV. The muddle of identities grows constantly more
perplexing for both masters and servants. Tradesmen
confuse the two Antipholuses. A gold chain made for
the Ephesian is bestowed upon the Syracusian, and the
Ephesian is arrested for refusing to pay the debt. The
Syracusian and his servant believe themselves bewitched
and prepare for speedy departure.

V. They are forced to take refuge in a priory from
the misguided merchants and Adriana. The abbess pro-
tects them. At this juncture the Duke arrives in com-
pany with officers conducting Mgton to his execution.
Adriana demands from the Duke custody of her husband,
whom she believes to be demented and now sequestered
in the priory. Charge and counter-charge are made by
conflicting witnesses until the joint appearance of both
the Antipholuses and both the Dromios unravels the
snarl, i^tipholus of Ephesus is reconciled with his



Digitized by VjOOQ IC



COMEDY OF ERRORS Comments

wife. Antipholus of Syracuse renews his suit with her
sister Luciana. The old ^Egeon is pardoned, and to the
pleasure of greeting both his sons is added the delight of
finding in the person of the abbess his long-lost wife
.£milia; while the two Dromios in the joy of meeting
forget their woes and blows.

McSpadden : Shakespearian Synopses.

II.

The Two Antipholuses.

Sedate, gentle, loving, the Antipholus of Syracuse is
one of Shakspere's amiable creations. He beats his slave
according to the custom of slave-beating ; but he laughs
with him and is kind to him almost at the same moment.
He is an enthusiast, for he falls in love with Luciana in
the midst of his perplexities, and his lips utter some of
the most exquisite poetry : —

** O, train me not, sweet mermaid, with thy note,

To drown me in thy sister's flood of tears ;
Sing, syren, for thyself, and I will dote:
Spread o'er the silver waves thy golden hairs."

But he is accustomed to habits of self-command, and he
resolves to tear himself away even from the syren : —

" But, lest myself be guilty to self-wrong,
I '11 stop mine ears against the mermaid's song."

As his perplexities increase, he ceases to be angry with
his slave : —

" The fellow is distract and so am I ;
And here we wander in illusions:
Some blessed power deliver us from hence."

Unlike the Menaechmus Sosicles of Plautus, he refuses
to dine with the courtesan. He is firm yet courageous
when assaulted by the Merchant. When the errors are



Digitized by VjOOQ IC



Comments COMEDY OF ERRORS

clearing up, he modestly adverts to his love for Luciana ;
and we feel that he will be happy.

Antipholus of Ephesus is decidedly inferior to his
brother, in the quality of his intellect and the tone of his
morals. He is scarcely justified in calling his wife
" shrewish." Her fault is a too sensitive affection for
him. Her feelings are most beautifully described in that
address to her supposed husband : —

" Come, I will fasten on this sleeve of thine :
Thou art an elm, my husband, I a vine ;
Whose weakness, married to thy stronger state,
Makes me with thy strength to communicate:
If aught possess thee from me, it is dross.
Usurping ivy, briar, or idle moss."

The classical image of the ebn and the vine would have
been sufficient to express the feelings of a fond and con-
fiding woman ; the exquisite addition of the

"Usurping ivy, briar, or idle moss,"

conveys the prevailing uneasiness of a loving and doubt-
ing wife. Antipholus of Ephesus has somewhat hard
measure dealt to him throughout the progress of the
errors; but he deserves it. His doors are shut against
him, it is true ; in his impatience he would force his way
into his house, against the remonstrances of the good Bal-
thazar : —

" Your long experience of her wisdom,
Her sober virtue, years, and modesty,
Plead on her part some cause to you unknown."

He departs, but not " in patience " ; he is content to dine
from home, but not at " the Tiger." His resolve —

"That chain will I bestow
(Be it for nothing but to spite my wife)
Upon mine hostess " —

would not have been made by his brother, in a similar

8



Digitized by VjOOQ IC



COMEDY OF ERRORS Comments

situation. He has spited his wife ; he has dined with the
courtesan. But he is not satisfied : —

" Go thou
And buy a rope's end ; that will I bestow
Among my wife and her confederates."

We pity him not when he is arrested, nor when he re-
ceives the " rope's end " instead of his " ducats." His
furious passion with his wife, and the foul names he be-
stows on her, are quite in character; and when he has

" iBeaten the maids a-row, and bound the doctor,"

we cannot have a suspicion that the doctor was practising
on the right patient. In a word, we cannot doubt that,
although the Antipholus of Ephesus may be a brave sol-
dier, who took " deep scars " to save his prince's life, and
that he really has a right to consider himself much in-
jured, he is strikingly opposed to the Antipholus of Syra-
cuse ; that he is neither sedate, nor gentle, nor truly lov-
ing; that he has no habits of self-command; that his
temperament is sensual ; and that, although the riddle of
his perplexity is solved, he will still find causes of unhap-
piness, and entertain

"a huge infectious troop
Of pale distemperatures."

Knight: Pictorial Shakspere.

III.

The Two Dromios.

The characters of the two Dromios are not so dis-
tinctly marked in their points of difference, at the first
aspect. They each have their " merry jests " ; they each
b^r a beating with wonderful good temper; they each
cling faithfully to their master's interests. But there is
certainly a marked difference in the quality of their mirth.



Digitized by VjOOQ IC



Comments COMEDY OF ERRORS

The Dromio of Ephesus is precise and antithetical, stri-
ving to utter his jests with infinite gravity and discretion,
and approaching a pun with a sly solemnity that is pro-
digiously diverting: —

" The capon bums, the pig falls from the spit ;
The clock hath strucken twelve upon the bell ;
My mistress made it one upon my cheek:
She is so hot, because the meat is cold."

Again : —

" I have some marks of yours upon my pate.
Some of my mistress' marks upon my shoulders.
But not a thousand marks between you both."

He is a formal humourist, and, we have no doubt, spoke
with a drawling and monotonous accent, fit for his part
in such a dialogue as this : —

Antipholus of E, Were not my doors lock'd up, and I shut out ?

Dromio of E. Perdy, your doors were lock'd, and you shut out.

Antipholus of E. And did not she herself revile me there?

Dromio of E, Sans fable, she herself revil'd you there.

Antipholus of E, Did not her kitchen-maid rail, taunt, and scorn
me?

Dromio of E, Certes, she did ; the kitchen-vestal scorn 'd you.

On the contrary, the " tperry jests " of Dromio of Syra-
cuse all come from the outpouring of his gladsome heart.
He is a creature of prodigious animal spirits, running
over with fun and queer similitudes. He makes not the
slightest attempt at arranging a joke, but utters what
comes uppermost with irrepressible volubility. He is an
untutored wit; and, we have no doubt, gave his tongue
as active exercise by hurried pronunciation and variable
emphasis as could alone make his long descriptions en-
durable by his sensitive master. Look at the dialogue in
the second scene of Act H., where Antipholus, after hav-
ing repressed his jests, is drawn into a tilting-match of
words with him, in which the merry slave has clearly
the victory. Look, again, at his description of the
" kitchen-wench " — coarse, indeed, in parts, but altogether

10



Digitized by VjOOQ IC



COMEDY OF ERRORS Comments

irresistibly droll. The twin brother was quite incapable
of such a flood of fun. Again, what a prodigality of wit
is displayed in his description of the bailiff ! His epithets
are inexhaustible. Each of the Dromios is admirable in
his way ; but we think that he of Syracuse is as superior
to the twin-slave of Ephesus as our old friend Launce is
to Speed, in the Two Gentlemen of Verona, These dis-
tinctions between the Antipholuses and Dromios have not,
as far as we know, been before pointed out ; but they cer-
tainly do exist, and appear to us to be defined by the
great master of character with singular force as well as
delicacy. Of course the characters of the twins could
not be violently contrasted, for that would have destroyed
the illusion. They must still

" Go hand in hand, not one before another."

Knight: Pictorial Shakspere.

IV.

Adriana.

Adriana, like the wife of Menaechmus, brought a
wealthy dowry to her husband, and with it the comple-
mentary temper of excessive requirements —

" My wife is shrewish when I keep not hours."

At her first appearance she is fretful and peevish at his
want of punctuality, and suspicious of the cause, which,
in truth, as presently appears, was nothing more than a
service and attention intended for herself — ** to see the
making of a carcanet," designed as a present for her.
Her husband, on the other hand, enraged at being so in-
explicably shut out of his own house, disregards the sober
counsel of Balthazar, and is as little practised as his wife
to assume a reason and wait for an explanation, and
hastily revenges himself by making a bachelor's party
at the house of the courtesan ; and though the extrava-

II



Digitized by VjOOQ IC



Comments COMEDY OF ERRORS

gance is evidently as harmless as such an imprudence
might be; for, —

" I know a wench of excellent discourse.
Pretty and witty, wild, and yet too, gentle,"

are not the words of a sensualist, and there is no trace
whatever of want of affection on his part, and we give
full belief to his protestation, he still puts himself by the
imprudence, no less in the wrong than his wife by her
fretfulness, and we are left at liberty to enjoy the fun
that arises out of their troubles and disasters. Still Adri-
ana, with all her shrewishness, is very affectionate — ^nay,
very amiable, and she gives an earnest of her future im-
provement in considerateness, by abstaining from public
outbreak against her husband's hostess. Her coolness in
this respect requires perhaps more explanation than it re-
ceives, but that it is accepted by us as at once proof and
admission that she had no serious ground for complaint,
and was conscious how far she had herself to blame.
Lloyd : Critical Essays on the Plays of Shakespeare,



The wife herself and her sister are studied with a care
and minuteness which the action certainly did not require.
In the change from Plautus' * Mulier,' who rails at her
husband with only too good reason, to Shakespeare's
Adriana, who torments him with doubts at bed and board,
and is ready to die in despair at the loss of his love be-
cause he refuses to come home to dinner, we see the
change from pragmatical to psychological drama, from
the comedy of intrigue to the comedy of character, of
which otherwise there is not in this play very much.

Herford: The Eversley Shakespeare,



Aegeon.

This drama of Shakespeare's is much more varied,
rich, and interesting in its incidents than the Mencechmi



Digitized by VjOOQ IC



COMEDY OF ERRORS Comments

of Plautus ; and while, in rigid adherence to the unities of
action, time, and place, our Poet rivals the Roman play,
he has contrived to insinuate the necessary previous in-
formation for the spectator, in a manner infinitely more
pleasing and artful than that adopted by the Latin bard ;
for whilst Plautus has chosen to convey it through the
medium of a prologue, Shakespeare has rendered it at
once natural and pathetic by placing it in the mouth of
JEgeon, the father of the twin-brothers.

In a play, of which the plot is so intricate, occupied in a
great measure by mere personal mistakes and their Whim-
sical results, no elaborate development of character can
be expected ; yet is the portrait of Mgeon touched with a
discriminative hand, and the pressure of age and misfor-
time is so painted as to throw a solemn, dignified, and
impressive tone of colouring over this part of the fable,
contrasting well with the lighter scenes which immediately
follow — ^a mode of relief which is again resorted to at
the close of the drama, where the reunion of ^geon and
i^milia, and the recognition of their children, produce
an interest in the denouement of a nature more affecting
than the tone of the preceding scenes had taught us to
expect.

Drake : Shakespeare and his Times.



The story of i^geon . . . envelops the whole
comic plot. It is probably Shakespeare's invention, and
betrays the same instinct for accumulated effects and
drastic contrasts. He had quadrupled the intricacies of
the imbroglio by doubling the two lost Antipholuses with
a second pair of twins ; he quadruples the excitement of
the final recovery by doubling them with a pair of lost
parents, who at the same time recover their children and
each other. And the foreboding of tragic harms which
habitually overhangs for a while the early comedies, is
here graver and more protracted than either in A Mtd-
summer-Night's Dream or The Two Gentlemen. Valen-
tine's banishment and Hermia's destination to a nunnery

13



Digitized by VjOOQ IC



Comments COMEDY OF ERRORS

or death arouse no serious suspense; but ^^eon is a
pathetic and moving figure, whose story — a masterpiece
of Shakespeare's early narrative — strikes a note at the
outset with which the subsequent action is in somewhat
too marked dissonance for ripe art.

Herford : The Eversley Shakespeare,

VI.
Pinch.

Pinch the conjurer is also an excrescence not to be
found in Plautus. He is indeed a very formidable an-
achronism : —

" They brought one Pinch, a hungry lean-fac'd villain,
A mere anatomy, a mountebank,
A threadbare juggler, and a fortune-teller,
A needy, hollow-eyed, sharp-looking wretch,
A living-dead man/'

This is exactly like some of the Puritanical portraits to
be met with in Hogarth.

Hazlitt : Characters of Shakespear's Plays.



Pinch (whom we cannot afford to part with for the
sake of avoiding the anachronism pointed out by Hazlitt
— ^who, by the way, was himself too good a judge of
excellence seriously to give up the character on that
score) affords a pleasant instance of Shakespeare's gay
exaggeration in humour; the high spirits of an author
taking shape in his writing, as it were. The description
of the fellow is capital.

" This pernicious slave.
Forsooth, took on him as a conjurer;
And gazing in mine eyes, feeling my pulse,
And with no face, as 't were, outfacing me.
Cries out, I was possess'd."

14



Digitized by VjOOQ IC



COMEDY OF ERRORS Comments

That touch of the " no face " sets the man, with his atten-
uated vacant countenance and glaring eyes, palpably be-
fore us.
Charles Cowden Clarke: Shakespeare Characters.

VII.
Proofs of Early Origin. '

... Another proof [that this is one of the drama-
tist's early plays] is the fresh, youthful atmosphere of
joke and jest which pervades the whole, a naive pleasure
in what is jocose and laughable for its own sake, and
which, not being yet burdened by the weight of years,
moves more lightly and more on the surface of things,
and without that power and depth of humour which dis-
tinguishes the poet's maturer works. The action is repre-
sented more from the side of its outward form and direct
appearance, but, so to say, only in coloured outlines —
light and shade are indicated only by gentle touches — ^the
figures therefore do not stand out with suflficient fulness
and clearness, there is still a want of sharpness in the
characterisation, of clearness in the grouping, of dis-
tinctness in the coherency and in the harmonious con-
nection of the several parts among one another. The
frequent occurrence of scenes of quarrel and dispute, oc-
casioned by the perpetual errors and mistakes, reminds
one of the original and popular form which comedy as-
sumed, and in which it first met with approbation. Even
the striking psychological improbability that the one of
the two Menaechmi — Antipholus of Syracuse — should go
forth with the express purpose of seeking his lost brother,
and that, in spite of all the obvious mistakes of his iden-
tity with another exactly like himself, it should never
occur to him that he is in the very place where his twin-
brother had been cast — might be cited as a proof of the
early origin of the piece, were it not so gross, so self-

IS



Digitized by VjOOQ IC



Comments COMEDY OF ERRORS

evident that it could not possibly have escaped the notice
of young Shakspeare. This improbability is accordingly
made a characteristic feature of the piece, and points to a
definite intention on the part of the poet. Why, we have
to ask, why did Shakspeare intentionally ignore this im-
probability? Why did he not give the journey of An-
tipholus to Ephesus some other motive ? Perhaps because
he did not consider it necessary in mere comedy — where
all is intended for pure fun and laughter — to take any
heed of things which would only strike and offend mere
reflecting reason, and not at all affect the poetical con-
ception ; perhaps, however, for another and deeper rea-
son.

Ulrici : Shakspeare' s Dramatic Art.

VIII.

A Legitimate Farce.

The myriad'-minded man, our, and all men's, Shake-
speare, has in this piece presented us with a legitimate
farce in exactest consonance with the philosophical prin-
ciples and character of farce, as distinguished from com-
edy and from entertainments. A proper farce is mainly
distinguished from comedy by the license allowed, and
even required, in the fable, in order to produce strange and
laughable situations. The story need not be probable, it
is enough that it be possible. A comedy would scarcely
allow even the two Antipholuses ; because, although there
have been instances of almost indistin^ishable likeness
in two persons, yet these are mere individual accidents,
casus ludentis naturce^ and the verum will not excuse the
inverisimUe. But farce dares add the two Dromios, and
is justified in so doing by the laws of its end and con-
stitution. In a word, farces commence in a postulate,
which must be granted.

Coleridge: Notes and Lectures upon Shakespeare.

i6



Digitized by VjOOQ IC



COMEDY OF ERRORS Comments

In this play Shakspere gayly confronts improbabilities,
and requires the spectator to accept them. He adds to the
twins Antipholus the twins Dromio. If we are in for
improbability, let us at least be repaid for it by fun, and
have that in abundance. Let the incredible become a
twofold incredibility, and it is none the worse. We may
conclude that, while Shakspere was ready to try his hand
upon a farcical subject, a single experiment satisfied him
that this was not his province, for to such subjects he
never returned.

Dowden: Shakspere.



Until I saw it on the stage, (not mangled into an
opera,) I had not imagfined the extent of the mistakes,
the drollery of them, their unabated continuance, till, at
the end of the fourth act, they reached their climax with
the assistance of Dr. Pinch, when the audience in their
laughter rolled about like waves. ... To the
strange contrast of grave astonishment among the actors^
with their laughable situations in the eyes of the specta-
tors, who are let into the secret, is to be ascribed the
irresistible effect.

Brown : Shakespeare's Autobiographical Poems.



Online LibraryWilliam ShakespeareThe complete works of William Shakespeare: with historical and ..., Volume 2 → online text (page 11 of 37)