Wednesday, January 20, 2016

The Comedy of Errors - Shakespeare

I had never read or seen 'The Comedy of Errors' before it popped on this list for me.  The story is simple, if twisty.  We begin with the story of a merchant from Syracuse who has been detained in Ephesus.  (Due to some issues between the cities, it is against the law for him to be there.  Unless he can pay a large fine, he will be executed.)  He tells his life story to the Duke:

1. He and his wife had twins.
2. Another pair of twins were born to a poor family at the same time.  He bought those twins to act as servants for his boys.
3. The entire family was in a series of shipwrecks that split them all up.
4. He was still with one son, but that boy left some years ago to see if he could find his mother and twin brother.

We quickly meet one of the merchant twins and his manservant.  They are mistaken for the other twin and brought home.  Much confusion occurs as servants are sent hither and yon.  The traveling merchant twin gains nothing but benefit after benefit, while the home twin gets the short end of every twist.  Each of the servants gets beaten repeatedly for their honest mistakes.
The confusion isn't untied until the very end.  The merchant from the beginning is reunited with first one and then the other son.  Everything is set to right with a strong hint that the traveling son will marry the sister of his twins wife.  (There is also another surprise that I won't write about.  I certainly didn't expect it.)

I enjoyed 'The Comedy of Errors' but I'm not sure why it was picked for the Great Books list.  It isn't as sophisticated as many other of Shakespeare's comedies.  The intro to the edition I have tries to defend the play from being labeled as farce and, well, the defense isn't all that effective. 
It's funny.  There is a scene where the foreign servant finds a woman who insists that she is his wife.  He says she is round and compares her to a globe.  He then is tasked with comparing her various parts with regions of the world.  The results are bawdy and inventive.  But this sure ain't high culture.

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