Review: The Comedy of Errors, William Shakespeare

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?

14 thoughts on “Review: The Comedy of Errors, William Shakespeare

  1. I ***love*** zeugma!!! It takes such cleverness to come up with it, and I don’t believe I ever have done so on my own.

    I like literary devices in general too, even though nowadays I usually can’t remember the names of them. My husband and I have spent hours trying to find the names sometimes when we can’t come up with them – it’s very hard to find them from the backwards direction!

    • Most of mine are too – at least the ones I’d like to see on a regular basis. I mean, I have a lot of love for the Scottish play and Romeo and Juliet, and Othello; but I don’t want to see them every day.

    • …Are you slinking because I said too many literary devices? Because I feel like what you should be doing is pelting me with rotten eggs and stuffing me in my locker. 😛

      • Goodness NO! I would never pelt you with rotten eggs. Tomatos maybe, but not eggs. and uh, yes. I don’t have the edu-knowledge you have, literary or otherwise.
        I do enjoy your posts very much – even if way over my head.

  2. In college, the Royal Shakespeare Company performed Measure for Measure at one of our on campus theaters. It was amazing and super hilarious!

    Have you read Shakespeare is Hard, But So is Life by Fintan O’Toole? Quite possibly the most side splittingly funny piece of literary criticism ever. 🙂

    • I never have read that, but it sounds fun! I’ll get it next time I’m at the library. 🙂 Also, Measure for Measure is one of the comedies I’ve never read and know nothing about – looking forward to reading it when I get there.

  3. I saw Comedy of Erros on stage this summer. It was fantastic. They put in all these little homages to Shakespeare himself (Shakespeare made several appearances, whereby it was suggested that he was inspired by the unlikely events taking place in the tavern before him). There was lots of Dromios-getting beat-up scenes and strange modern twists thrown into some conventional scenes (i.e. Angelo gliding by in his limo-style carriage and selling his bling). Needless to say, they slapstick-humored it up but still preserved the Shakespearean wit.

    The two comedies I’ve actually read are Twelfth Night and A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Agree with you: the whole Malvolio being humiliated in front of Olivia was so satisfying. In AMND, I love the scene where Bottom and the others are rehearsing the play in the woods and Bottom develops a donkey head, and everyone screams their heads off and run away calling him a monster. Then his horrid screeching wakes Titania who immediately falls in love with him. Bottom is just so clueless- of course he won’t question what is happening, his dreams have come true!- its just hilarious.

    • That production sounds really cool! I think this is definitely one of Shakespeare’s plays that needs a lot from the individual director. Not like Romeo and Juliet, where you can pretty much show up, say the lines, and get the emotional response you need. (That fight scene with Mercutio and Tybalt gives me chills every time.)

      Oh, God, I can hardly watch the scenes with Bottom and Titania – embarrassment humor hurts me. On the other hand I love the production of Pyramus & Thisbe. With the wall and everything. Bless.

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