Wednesday, October 28, 2009

The Comedy of Errors

The Why and Wherefore:

Okay, so reading a Shakespearean comedy can be difficult. Many of the puns (play on words, using double meaning to confuse, or suggest innuendo) are difficult to decipher for a reader. That's often why it is better to SEE Shakespeare performed. Plays, after all, were meant to be SEEN, not read.

Still, we can learn a lot about writing a structured, well-balanced plot from the good ol' Bard himself. Here's a few highlights you should be aware of:

The Event: (a uniquely significant moment in the character's lives) The story that Egeon tells in the opening scene is significant. We need to know that the brothers were separated and that one brother (Antipholus of Syracuse) is LOOKING for his twin. As one of Shakespeare's early comedies, this is not done with the finesse his later comedies have. He's inexperienced at this point. But--he has provided a solid exposition and explained the boundaries from which the conflict will occur and confusion spread.

The inciting incident (point of attack or turning point in the lives of a protagonist--the event that INVOLVES the protagonist and gets the story moving), therefore, would also include Antipholus of Syracuse arriving in Ephesus. Shakespeare complicates the situation a bit by making sure that we know that if a Syracusian is found in Ephesus his money is forfeit (will be taken away), and that he may be put to death. For a merchant--this is a double whammy.

A major decision occurs in Act II when Antipholus and Dromio of Syracuse agree to go with Adriana and her sister Luciana home to dinner. The major decision should always affect the plot and cause further complications or problems.

Rising action includes a variety of jokes and punches, misunderstandings, and down-right confusion as to the identity of the two sets of twins at any given moment. Dromio of Ephesus is beaten for having lost 1,000 marks, Antipholus of Ephesus is locked out of his house, Antipholus of Syracuse falls in love with Adriana's sister can see where this is going, I hope... Dromio of Syracuse finds himself married to an obese wife, Nell. Angelo the goldsmith comes to collect his fee, money changes hands for bail, a prostitute or courtesan enters to get her gold chain back, etc. etc. The point is that we increase the stakes at each turn of the plot. These problems are essential in drama. Situation should never stay static!

Our Dark Moment occurs at separate places for separate characters. This is okay. For Egeon, his dark moment occurs in the first scene! For others, like Antipholus of Ephesus: he is arrested and hauled away by the exorcist, Dr. Pinch. During a character's dark moment, he/she is at his/her lowest end. Things look grim with little hope of getting better.

The Enlightenment in this play arrives late in the 5th Act. The Abbess (really Egeon's wife and mother to the Antipholus twins) acts as a deus ex machina (not the best way to solve a problem), but at least we are aware that she and her husband were separated long ago by the shipwreck described in Act 1, Scene 1.

Shakespeare makes use of the time lock. Egeon must die by the end of the day. He provides no exit for Antipholus and Dromio once they make contact with Adriana (the Trap, see pg. 84 in your handout). Effectively, Shakespeare uses the unity of time and action. All events have to happen quickly, which helps create the humor in this farce.

And so what about seeing this play? Click below for links to the BBC production of the play:

Part 6: Act III, Scene 2
Part 7: Act IV
Part 8: Act IV
Part 9: End of Act IV
Part 10: Act V.
Part 11: End of Act V.

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