Thoughts on “The Comedy of Errors”

So after going through a series of related dramas, I get to the first comedy.  Now, I wasn’t certain how I’d feel about the comedies.  I seem to recall somewhat enjoying “The Taming of the Shrew”, but my most memorable exposure to that one came from watching a somewhat modernized performance of it which added some elements that would make it more palatable to a more modern audience (granted, that performance was almost forty years ago, so “modern” has to be relative here).  And this concern ties into my first and overarching comment on the play:  I didn’t find it funny.

The main plot here is a somewhat classic twin story.  A family is split up by a shipwreck while the twin boys are infants, with the mother and one son ending up in one city and the father and other son ending up in another.  The play opens with the father coming to the other city searching for his other son but getting condemned to death because merchants from his city are not allowed in the other city and have to pay a huge fine or else be put to death if they are caught there.  At about the same time, that son himself goes into the city to do some business with his servant and is mistaken for the other son, and at this point hilarity is supposed to ensue.

The first issue I had with this, I think, is that it relies very heavily not just on the sons being twins, but on their servants being twins as well so that the sons and other people would not just mistake the sons for each other but also their servants for each other.  This is, of course, contrived, but in general in comedies we will forgive a bit of contrivance if it’s funny.  However, the problem I had with it is that I didn’t realize that the servants were twins and that there were two different servants, and so the discussions they had with their masters were more confusing than funny, especially since I didn’t get at first that people were confusing the servants for each other as well.  Thus, most of their lines seemed far more like insolence or stupidity than actual confusion, which didn’t actually endear the servants to me.

The second issue is that for most of the play I didn’t get that the sons were twins either.  Once I figured that out, I started enjoying the play more, but I didn’t figure it out from the text itself, but from reading the names and noting that one of them seemed to change.  Soon after, the play revealed that, but it was a bit too late for my enjoyment and I can’t imagine that a general audience would have noted it, or if it was made obvious it would have been revealed too early and the audience would have thought the others stupid for not getting it.  Ultimately, then, for me the big issue is that the big plot element that was supposed to make the comedy work wasn’t revealed early enough for me.  That being said, I didn’t really find the play any funnier once that was made clear.  I just enjoyed it more because it started to make more sense.

Shakespeare has a gift for banter in his dialogue, and that carries on here.  The back-and-forth between the characters really does seem to flow well and is pretty entertaining to follow.  Again, the big issue for me was that while I found the banter entertaining, I didn’t find it particularly funny, at least in part because often it’s banter between a servant and a master and however that works out it sounds like someone is being stupid or being mean, and I’m not that fond of that sort of humour.  Thus, I found it entertaining once I figured out what was going on, but didn’t find it particularly funny.

The next play up is “Two Gentlemen From Verona”, another comedy.  Let’s see if that one can get a laugh out of me.


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