Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Shakesblogging: The Comedy of Errors

All right. I need to do something to get myself back in the habit of writing regularly, so I thought I'd do a full month's worth of Shakespeare posts for National Poetry Month. (I figure there are about thirty plays that I have something interesting to say about, and this will give me a few passes on the ones I don't.)

Starting a few hours early because of SAA; I'm not sure how much time I'll have over the next few days.

Day One: The Comedy of Errors

What I love about this play: Errors hasn’t got the depth or the lyricism of Shakespeare’s later comedies, and the beating-up-Dromio schtick (which is more or less lifted straight from Plautus) gets really old really fast. But the part that’s not in Plautus, and that takes my breath away, is the backstory / reunion plot with Aegeon and Aemilia. From the very first lines (“Proceed, Solinus, to procure my fall / And by the doom of death end woes and all”) it’s evident that even in comedy, Shakespeare likes to play for really high stakes. Even in the most wildly farcical moments, the audience knows there’s a grieving father whose life and happiness are on the line, and the last scene is honestly moving. (Antipholus of Syracuse, too, ends up seriously doubting his sanity -- a nice reminder that actually being inside a farce is uncomfortable and a bit menacing, no matter how enjoyable waching it from the outside may be.)

I also love the way you can trace the outlines of Twelfth Night and the late romances, even in this very early play: tempest, shipwreck, loss, recovery.

Another nice moment is Dromio’s final line: “We came into the world like brother and brother; / And now let’s go hand in hand, not one before another.” One of the things I love about Shakespearean comedy is the breaking down of hierarchies – of gender, age, social rank – in favor of a sort of festive equality. And yes, the endings often seem to restore the normal social order, but I like to think that they also loosen up that order and render it a little more accommodating.

Favorite memory: Watching this at the Globe on my first evening in London last summer. There were two sets of matching balloons representing the two sets of brothers, and when Aegeon told the story of his oldest son’s loss, he released one pair. I remember watching them drift away over the wooden O, getting smaller and smaller in a vast blue sky, and maybe it was jet lag but I came very near to crying.


Fie upon this quiet life! said...

This post made me come very near to crying, myself. There is just so much in Shakespeare -- so much at stake. So much depth. Even a farce like Errors has its moments of brilliance. Ahhh... somehow it makes me want to hug my books.

I have actually had the great privilege of hugging an authentic first folio. I recommend it highly!

Flavia said...

I'm so glad you're doing this series.