Comedy of Errors

The first work I finished reading upon my return home was The Comedy of Errors by Shakespeare. I simply picked up my volume of Shakespeare and went down the table of contents until I found a play that I hadn’t read yet. And what a happy choice it was! I remember once (was it actually 12 years ago?) picking up this same play on a lazy Saturday afternoon, but quickly becoming overwhelmed by the abbreviated roles (Aege., Duke., etc.), the characters with identical names, and the lack of footnotes. I put it down after one scene. Over a decade later with the experience of reading 20 other Shakespeare plays, I was able to enjoy this as the comedy it is.


Location. Oftentimes I find it difficult to set a stage in my head when all I have is the dialogue between the characters. Although I have never been to Syracuse or Ephesus (the key spots in the play), I have been to the modern-day Sicily and Turkey which contain these ancient cities. Even if a bit anachronistically, this helped to populate my imagination with fashions and manners, so that I was not merely reviewing a dialogue, but reading a play.

Fat jokes. It is a brief scene in a brief play, but my how rich are the descriptions of Dromio’s wife!

…sir, she’s the kitchen wench and all grease;
and I know not what use to put her to but to make a
lamp of her and run from her by her own light
. I

warrant, her rags and the tallow in them will burn a
Poland winter: if she lives till doomsday,
she’ll burn a week longer than the whole world

Marvelous. Indeed, eschatology moves to geography,

she is spherical, like a globe; I could find out
countries in her.

And to excerpt only a few of the consequent inquiries:

  • Where France?
  • In her forehead; armed and reverted, making war
    against her heir.
  • Where Spain?
  • Faith, I saw it not; but I felt it hot in her breath.
  • Where stood Belgia, the Netherlands?
  • Oh, sir, I did not look so low.

I enjoyed this section far more than I should have.

Image result for comedy of errorsMore juridic presumptions. Just as the plot of Colonel Chabert turned around a reasonable (but not physically certain) presumption of death, so most of the comedy in this play turns on the presumption of identity: if the man you see today looks identical to the man you saw yesterday (and has the same name!) you are generally within reason to presume it is the same man, so much so that the burden of proof shifts to the one denying it. Whereas some plots move on the basis of unrealistic expectations or foolish leaps of thought, all of the errors in this comedy arise from a reasonable (but not physically certain) presumption that anyone would make, such that we too might suspect witchcraft in the same situation.

[This title is #30 on my classics reading challenge.]

3 thoughts on “Comedy of Errors

  1. Wonderful review — it almost made me pull out my old volume of plays! (I googled instead! Bad me!) It did remind me of how wonderful Shakespear’s language can be, even in the early plays. At one time I had a project to read a play every few months, in conjunction with Harold Bloom’s commentary on it. . . . I’m afraid I have lots of abandonened book projects and this is one. Of the few plays I’ve read (none recently) I tended to avoid the history plays and focus on the tragedies (my fav being King Lear) and a few of the comedies (I liked Much Ado About Nothing very much and loved The Tempest until seeing a bad performance many years back put me off of it). Do you read commentary or stick to the plays themselves? Any favorites?

    Liked by 2 people

    • I haven’t yet read a full commentary, but the notes in Folger editions are the ones I find the most useful. King Lear is certainly up there for me, along with Merchant of Venice and Henry IV, Part 1. Definitely try the histories! Look up somewhere a good order for reading them, and I think you’ll find a great blend of comedy and drama.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Ha ha ha ha. I’m laughing with the jokes you’ve shared!

    I’m glad to see you back to posting a bit about your reads, and I always love how you tell us your story of how you’ve come to the books. Kudos for trying Shakespeare so early. This is what happens. When one starts that early, somehow, you end up able to enjoy it later in life, or that’s what I believe. I distinctively remember looking at a collection of red hardbound beautiful classics my parents bought -though never read-, and picking the Iliad, and trying some chapters, and feeling lost and abandoning, only to try again in my forties along with other ladies, and I did read and ‘got’ more of it for sure.

    I also remember seeing a super well done play of this title by high schoolers in the area. Looking back, there were some nice art and cultural initiatives around me when and where I grew up.

    Liked by 2 people

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