In this section:
- Shakespeare’s Language
- Shakespeare’s Sentences
- Shakespeare’s Words
- Shakespeare’s Wordplay
- Shakespeare’s Dramatic Verse
- Implied Stage Action
Shakespeare’s language can create a strong pang of intimidation, even fear, in a large number of modern-day readers. Fortunately, however, this need not be the case. All that is needed to master the art of reading Shakespeare is to practice the techniques of unraveling uncommonly-structured sentences and to become familiar with the poetic use of uncommon words. We must realize that during the 400-year span between Shakespeare’s time and our own, both the way we live and speak has changed. Although most of his vocabulary is in use today, some of it is obsolete, and what may be most confusing is that some of his words are used today, but with slightly different or totally different meanings. On the stage, actors readily dissolve these language stumbling blocks. They study Shakespeare’s dialogue and express it dramatically in word and in action so that its meaning is graphically enacted. If the reader studies Shakespeare’s lines as an actor does, looking up and...
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Places Discussed (Cyclopedia of Literary Places)
*Ephesus (EF-ah-sas). Ancient Greek port city in Asia Minor that was later the capital of Roman Asia; it is now an archaeological site near Smyrna in Turkey. Elizabethans were familiar with Ephesus from the New Testament, and as an ancient seaport and location of the temple of Artemis (Diana to the Romans), which is one of the Seven Wonders of the World. The commercial pagan center for the cult of Diana became a place of Christian conversion in the first century.
While St. Paul was living in Ephesus, he wrote his Epistle to the Ephesians, which makes strong statements about marriage and domestic relations—themes that are at the core of Shakespeare’s play. St. Paul described Ephesus as a place of sorcery and exorcists—a description that match’s the play’s depiction of the city as a “town full of cozenage” with “sorcerers” and “witches.” It is an apt location for the farcical confusions that arise from the twin masters (Antipholus of Syracuse and Antipholus of Ephesus) and twin servants (Dromio of Syracuse and Dromio of Ephesus); Doctor Pinch tries to exorcise Satan and cure madness. In contrast, Aegeon accepts the enmity between Ephesus and Syracuse and his sentence of death. Only humility and submission to God’s will suffice in a world of human errors.
The play features four locations within Ephesus: the houses of Antipholus of Ephesus (Phoenix), the courtesan, and the Priory; and the...
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The Comedy of Errors is believed by many scholars to be Shakespeare's first play. (Some argue it may have been written as early as 1589). Many elements of the play seem unbelievable and are deliberately contrived for their comic effect. The confusions of identity in the play turn on the highly unlikely possibility that each pair of twins, the Antipholuses and the Dromios, would have the same name. It is also highly unlikely that the abbess could have lived so many years in Ephesus unaware of the presence, in that city, of her son, Antipholus of Ephesus. And it is improbable that Aegeon and Antipholus of Syracuse would simultaneously end up in Ephesus. More importantly, Antipholus of Syracuse never speculates that people in Ephesus might be mistaking him for his twin brother, a brother for whom he has been diligently searching. As the title of the play suggests, the play is a comedy and, perhaps, is not meant to be taken at all seriously. But Shakespeare's selection of Ephesus for the setting points to a more serious element in the play and underscores a stark contrast between Elizabethan and modern conceptions about the "truth" or "reality" of experience.
Ephesus was a place long associated with witchcraft and sorcery, most notably in St. Paul's Epistle to the Ephesians. Antipholus of Syracuse alludes to that witchcraft and sorcery on several occasions. When Dromio of Ephesus mistakenly calls him...
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Bibliography and Further Reading
Arthos, John, "Shakespeare's Transformation of Plautus," Comparative Drama 1, No. 4 (Winter 1967-68): 239-53.
Discusses how Shakespeare's Comedy of Errors differs from and parallels its predecessor, Plautus's Menaechmus.
Baker, Susan, "Status and Space in The Comedy of Errors," Shakespeare Bulletin 8, No. 2 (Spring 1990): 6-8.
Argues that in The Comedy of Errors, the characters repeatedly "encounter sites and situations where the status they're prepared to play is not allowed to them," and these "spatial transgressions, dislocations, and displacements" (instances of mistaken identity) are more than simply confusion.
Barton, Anne, "The Comedy of Errors," In The Riverside Shakespeare edited by J. J. M. Tobin, Herschel Baker, and G. Blakemore Evans, pp. 79-82. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1997.
Provides an overview of The Comedy of Errors by comparing it to Plautus's Menaechmus, noting Shakespeare's additions and changes. Barton notes, for example, that Shakespeare explored more thoroughly the Syracusan Antipholus (the traveling/wandering brother), while Plautus was more concerned with the native brother.
Berry, Ralph, "And here we wander in illusions," In Shakespeare's Comedies: Explorations in Form, pp. 24-39. Princeton: Princeton...
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Bibliography (Cyclopedia of Literary Characters, Revised Third Edition)
Baldwin, Thomas Whitfield. On the Compositional Genetics of “The Comedy of Errors.” Champaign: University of Illinois Press, 1965. Likens Shakespeare to the Dromios, awed by their change from the rural to the urban.
Berry, Ralph. Shakespeare and the Awareness of the Audience. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1985. Discusses the “dark underside” of the play, which enriches and compliments the comedy. Argues that Aegeon may be more important to the plot structure than he seems to be.
Colie, Rosalie L. Shakespeare’s Living Art. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1974. Colie sees the plays as experiments with the craft of writing plays. Discusses Shakespeare’s improving on Plautus.
Dorsch, T. S., ed. The Comedy of Errors, by William Shakespeare. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1988. This edition features a comprehensive introductory essay, with a brief look at history, sources, characters, and plot.
Tillyard, E. M. W. Shakespeare’s Early Comedies. New York: Barnes & Noble Books, 1965. One of the most noted of Shakespeare’s commentators points out that Shakespeare probably did not read the Roman original for the play; the commentator focuses on a translated manuscript.
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