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Comedy of Errors

William Shakespeare, English playwright and poet recognized in much of the world as the greatest of all dramatists. Shakespeares plays communicate a profound knowledge of human behavior, revealed through portrayals of a wide variety of characters. His use of poetic and dramatic means to create a unified artistic effect out of several vocal expressions and actions is recognized as a singular achievement, and his use of poetry within his plays to express the deepest levels of human motivation in individual, social, and universal situations is considered one of the greatest accomplishments in literary history.

William Shakespeare was born in 1564 in Stratford-on-Avon. No knows the exact date of Williams birth, although we do know that he was baptized on Wednesday, April 26, 1564. His father was John Shakespeare, tanner, glover, dealer in grain, and town official of Stratford. Williams mother, Mary, was the daughter of Robert Arden, a prosperous gentleman. On November 28, 1582, William Shakespeare and Anne Hathaway entered into a marriage contract. The baptism of their eldest child, Susanna, took place in Stratford in May 1583.

One year and nine months later their twins, Hamnet and Judith, were christened in the same church. In 1593, William found a patron, Henry Wriothgley, to sponsor him. During this time, he wrote two long poems. His first long poem, Venus and Adonius, was written in 1593. In 1594 he wrote his second long poem, Rape of Lucrece. In London, Shakespeare established himself as an actor who began to write many plays. Shakespeare worked Lords Chamberlains Men company which later became The Kings Men in 1603 after King James I took over.

This company became the largest and most famous acting company, only because Shakespeare worked for them, writing all the plays they performed. They performed these plays by Shakespeare in a well known theater which was called The Globe because of it s circular shape. Shakespeare left London in 1611 and retired. On March 25, 1616, Shakespeare made a will and, shortly after he died on April 23, 1616 at the age of 52. Many people believed that Shakespeare knew he was dying; however he didnt want anyone to know that he was.

Certainly there are many things about Shakespeares genius and career which the most diligent scholars do not know and can not explain, but the facts which do exist are sufficient to establish Shakespeares identity as a man and his authorship of the thirty-seven plays which reputable critics acknowledge to be his. Since the 19th century, Shakespeares achievements have been more consistently recognized, and throughout the Western world he has come to be regarded as the greatest dramatist ever.

The plays opening lines signal a mood of tension, and they portend disaster for Egeon, a middle-aged merchant from the ancient city of Syracuse on the island of Sicily. The cities of Syracuse and Ephesus are openly hostile toward one another. Captured in Ephesus, Egeon has been condemned to death by the Duke, who urges him to tell the sad story of how he has come to this state. Along with his wife Emilia, identical twin sons both named Antipholus, and identical twin slaves both named Dromio, Egeon some years ago suffered a shipwreck. One son and slave survived with the father; the others, he hoped, survived with the mother.

Neither group knew of the others survival, however, nor of each others whereabouts, but when Antipholus of Syracuse turned eighteen, his father gave him permission to search for his brother. The worried Egeon then set out after his second son, and after five years of fruitless wandering, he came to Ephesus. Moved by this tale of sadness, the Duke of Ephesus gave Egeon a day, within which time Egeon must raise a thousand marks ransom money. Antipholus of Syracuse takes his leave of a friendly merchant and tells his servant Dromio of Syracuse to take the 1,000 marks he has with him to their lodging for safekeeping.

Meanwhile, he tells Dromio hes going to look around the town. Soon Dromio of Ephesus, an exact look-alike of the other Dromio, enters and tells Antipholus of Syracuse, thinking he is Antipholus of Ephesus, to come home for dinner that his wife has been waiting. In no mood for joking around with the servant, Antipholus hits the uncomprehending Dromio on the head, as he walks off. Antipholus then groans with the thought that a bondsman has just cheated him out of 1,000 marks. ACT II Antipholus of Ephesus wife, Adriana, debates with her sister Luciana on the proper conduct of authority in marriage.

Lucianas conventional wisdom that men are masters to their females and their lords. Dromio breaks up the conversation with the complaint that his master has just hit him and demanded the return of a nonexistent thousand marks. The servants report of his masters words I know no house, no wife, no mistress, send Adriana into a fit of anger. Antipholus of Syracuse beats Dromio of Syracuse, this time, for his former ignorance, and warning him in the future to be sure precisely when the time is right for joking around. Dromio takes the beating completely dumbfounded about the reason for it.

Then shortly after Adriana and Luciana see Antipholus of Syracuse and take him for Antipholus of Ephesus. The Syracusian Antipholus and Syracusian Dromio begin to doubt their senses. Their bewilderment follows quickly upon Adrianas long forgiving speech to her husband. Antipholus of Syracuse correctly explains that he has only been in Ephesus for two hours, and therefore he does not know who Adriana is. When Luciana recounts having sent Dromio to fetch him to dinner. Antipholus of Syracuse becomes further confused, suspecting that his servant is in on a practical joke.

By the end of the scene, however, both master and servant simply agree to play along with the rather pleasant madness of going to dinner with a beautiful women who thinks she is wife and mistress to them. ACT III Antipholus of Ephesus, together with his servant, a goldsmith, and the merchant Balthazar, try to gain entrance to his home but refused entry by Dromio of Syracuse. At balthazars warning that too much yelling outside his home may endanger his wifes honor into question. Antipholus is determined to get even with his wife so he walks over to the Inn where he knows of a lady of excellent discourse.

Later in the house, Luciana entreats Antipholus of Syracuse to be kind to his wife even if he must be a hypocrite in the process. He shocks Luciana by his response, that he likes Adriana but, is deeply in love with her. When Luciana runs off, Dromio of Syracuse enters to explain that he too is having problems with a member of the opposite sex. Master and servant, truly worried that witchcraft is involved, determine to set forth on the first available ship. Compounding matters at the end of the scene is Angelo the goldsmith, who delivers a gold chain to Antipholus of Syracuse, which he ordered for his wife.

Antipholus of Syracuse refuses payment saying that he could settle it later. Act IV A merchant anxious to go on a business voyage entreats Angelo to pay a debt he owes, but Agelo cannot pay until five Oclock when Antipholus is to give him the money for his gold chain. At that moment Antipholus of Ephesus enters with his servant, Dromio, whom he discharges to go buy a whip with which he plans to beat his wife with. Antipholus of Ephesus had ordered the gold chain, but as we saw in the previous scene it was Antipholus of Syracuse who received it.

With the merchant anxious to depart tempers rise at the confusion. The upshot is two arrests: Angelo for non-payment of debt, and Antipholus for refusal to pay for his gold chain. Adding further to the lunacy is Dromio of Syracuse, who arrives to tell Antipholus of Ephesus that he has booked passage for himself and his master on a ship scheduled to leave shortly. This naturally costs further suspicion onto Antipholus of Ephesus. Dromio of Syracuse then thinks his master is mad at him when he is told to retutrn home and fetch bail money.

Luciana tells Adriana of Antipholuss strange behavior toward her; which set off another jealous tirade. Her attitude soon changes though, revealing her true feelings. When Dromio of Syracuse arrives to beg bail money for his master, Adriana complies. Antipholus of Syracuse alone, recounts each strange occurrence of the day, concluding that a Lapland sorcerer must inhabit the place. Just as he lists the last bit madness, in comes Dromio of Syracuse with the gold for bail money, which his master had demanded that he fetch.

Antiphoulus of Syracuse, knowing nothing of his own arrest grows acutely bewildered, when a courtesan arrives requesting a gold chain for a ring which she claims to have given Antipholus, he takes her to be the devil incarnate, and he exists post-haste. The courtesan concludes that he must be mad and decides to tell his wife that he had stolen her ring by force. Antipholus of Ephesus is at the center of this scene. First he is told by Dromio of Ephesus that he has fetched flagging rope, but has no memory of being asked to collect five hundred ducats bail money.

Antipholus uses the whip on Dromio who groans in response. Adriana enters with schoolmaster, Dr. Pinch, who is to treat her husband for demonic possession. When Dromio of Ephesus corroborates Antipholus of Ephesus story that Adriana had locked them out earlier. Dromio of Ephesus probably thinks she is crazy because she doesnt have a clue to what they are talking about. Meanwhile the doctor orders the two of them to be treated in the accepted Elizabethan manner for dealing with the insane. That they must be tied together and put in a dark room.

Finally Adriana promises to make good for the outstanding debt, and Antipholus of Ephesus, together with his Dromio are led off by the doctors and others. Before Adriana has had time to catch her breath her husband and servant return. It is Antipholus of Syracuse and Dromio of Syracuse. Adrian goes crazy again and says that they have to be bound together again. Though Dromio of Syracuse feels that nothing will happen Antipholus is determined to leave the city at once. ACT V While Angelo the goldsmith explains his predicament to another merchant and explains that Antipholus has the gold chain.

At that moment Antipholus of Syracuse and his Dromio enter. Antipholus wears the chain, feels that he has been named a villain by the merchant and Angelo, who accuses him of non-payment, and prepares to have a sword fight with Angelo. Adriana then enters and stops the fight letting Anttipholus of Syracuse and Dromio of Syracuse to hide in a priory. The abbess of the priory claims Adriana, who wants to recapture her insane husband and blind him for his own good. In contrast to Dr. Pinch in the previous scene, the Abbess is a sensitive person with the interest of the man seeking sanctuary at heart.

The Abbess takes it as a charitable duty of her order to try to heal Antipholus. Just then the Duke enters on his way with Egeon to the place of death and sorry execution where he is to be beheaded publicly. Adriana goes to the Duke and pleads with him to force the Abbess to heal her mad husband. Then a messenger arrives to announce Antipholus has escaped in another part of town where they beat all the maids and tied up the doctor and burned him to death. Adriana is near hysteria as she hears her husbands cry at this very moment within the Abbey.

She thinks she might be possessed as Antipholus of Ephesus and his Dromio go to the Duke in front of her. When she has just left her husband in the Abbey with the Abbess. Antipholus of Ephesus begs for help from the Duke. He then explains what has happened and has not, happened; though others think it has, to him this day. Then the Duke is starting to understand whats going on and call for the Abbess. Egeon then believes that his son is standing right front of him, who really is, but Antipholus of Ephesus denies ever seeing the man. The Duke takes Egeon as a senile and crazed old man, so he calls for the Abbess.

Then the Lady Abbess and Antipholus of Syracuse and Dromio of Syracuse come in front of the Duke. When the duke saw the two Antipholuses and the two Dromios, both so exactly alike, he at once remembered the story Egeon had told him in the morning. Then the Lady Abbess made herself known to be the fond mother of the two Antipholus. When the fisherman took the eldest Antipholus and Dromio away from her, she entered a nunnery and soon became the Lady Abbess. Then Antipholus of Ephesus offered the Duke the ransom money for his fathers life; but the Duke freely pardoned Egeon, and would not take the money.

After a while Antioholus of Syracuse married the fair Luciana, the sister of his brothers wife; and Egeon with his wife and sons, lived at Ephesus for many years. Critical Commentary The plot for the Comedy of Errors was not original. Shakespeare, like most other playwrights and authors of that time, based his work on another, earlier work. In Shakespeares case he chose one of Plautuss most highly respected comedies, the Menaechmi. Significantly, he did not rely exclusively on rhymed couplets for his comedy. In fact half the play is in black verse, and exceptional accomplishment for a beginning playwright. (Kemp,3)

The plot was well known to the public of the time. The use of mistaken identities, as well as the confusion of twins, had long been popular in the Western Theater tradition. While Plautus had only one set of twins, Shakespeare has two, which makes this comedy increased to a great extent the possibility of confusion. He combines adventure, the comedy of human folly, romance, and suspense in a play that while not one of his masterpieces can be said to be both clever and original and still popular today. (OBrian, 3) As the plot gets underway even the secondary characters are unhappy. A constant theme in his first play.

The idea of mastery and liberty in the Comedy of Errors, whether it be husband and wife or master and servant is not so important in itself as it is as part of a general context of mans mastery over his or her own fate. Beginning with natures surrealist joke, Comedy of Errors for the most part light heatedly explores ways in which people are caught upon webs spun according to the laws of chance. This, of course, is one primal appeal of farce: natural repetition and duplication- when compounded to include individual themselves- threatening even their senses of identity can be frightening.

Gibbons, 7) In the Comedy of Errors, the changes Shakespeare makes to his main source* Plautus, emphasizes the pathos of human capacity for error and mans subjection to the power of fortune. The doubling the masters and servants results in situation identical twins puts in question the very idea of nature, as well as the human quest for self-knowledge. Shakespeare ensures that the audience knows more of the situation that the characters do, which increases the impression that the characters are victims, causing effects both ridiculous and pathetic.

The wife Adriana declares her belief in the sanctity of marriage as a spiritual union, she and her husband has an identical twin, and that it is to this man a complete stranger, that she is declaring herself in dissoluble knit. The Meta physical paradox that man and wife are not one flesh is confronted by the physical paradox that man and brother are identically the same. The longing for the reunion that one twin feels for the other is contested with the frustration both husband and wife feel within the bonds of marriage.

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