Here’s what you should understand before reading Comedy of Errors. My boy Shakespeare, he’s funny. He’s all about being funny; he’s got funny down pat. If you don’t believe me, I can only assume that it’s because you have never seen one of Shakespeare’s plays performed by actors with any hint of comedic timing. He can do it in many different ways – he can do slapsticky visual gags, he can do puns, he can do wry little digs and situational irony and gallows humor.
And when he’s not being funny, he’s still being clever. Nearly always! He makes his words work hard for their money – if a word has a double meaning, Shakespeare will not let it pass unnoticed. If two people are arguing, they’re not doing a half-assed job of it. Read Richard III and you will find that Shakespeare could already, at the age of 27, crank out some whip-smart stichomythia that would make Aaron Sorkin cry like a little girl.
By the way, I just sat here for ten minutes conducting major excavations in my memory for the word stichomythia, and I eventually dug it out without the aid of the internet, and I am rather proud of that fact. I took eight years of Latin and majored in English literature, and the result is that I have lots of dorky love for literary devices. Like litotes? I am not unfond of litotes (see what I did there?). Cicero used them to great effect in his First Catilinarian Oration. I like zeugma too because the word sounds exactly like the sound Ad-Aware makes when it’s finished finding bad files on your computer. Chiasmus and transferred epithet and ascending tricolon, each in its own particular way is dear to my heart; and though it caused me some difficulties in Latin translations, I admire the elegance of periodic structure.
But back to Comedy of Errors. It is not wholly without merit. It has many funny lines; the two Dromios and the two Antipholuses get a couple of good riffs going between them. The reason I have just spent some time defending Shakespeare and his ability to write comedy is that Errors is not his finest hour, plotwise. It’s about two sets of twins (a set of master twins called Antipholus and a set of servant twins called Dromio) who were separated in a shipwreck, and as coincidence would have it, one of each set took his twin’s name as an homage. Now the set that lived in Syracuse has come to Ephesus (risking death, because nobody from Ephesus can visit Syracuse and vice versa). People in Ephesus get the twins mixed up. That’s the whole plot. It gets old after a while. Mistaken identity humor is the kind of humor that’s difficult to sustain. I am interested to inspect the ways in which Shakespeare manages his mistaken identity humor over the years.
Seriously, though. I cannot wait for Twelfth Night. That whole thing with Malvolio? CLASSIC. Do you have a favorite Shakespeare comedy moment?