Wednesday, November 25, 2009


            Metin Boşnak                                                                                     
In The Brothers Menaechmus [BM]  Titus Machius Plautus (254?-184 B.C.) presents one of the remarkable examples of comedy of mistaken identity and comic situation.2  While the playwright fills his play with comic intrigues of mistaken identity, the background of the story is tragic.  Only about one third of the play consists of spoken dialogue passages.  Nevertheless, Plautus manages to make his audience laugh by flattening his characters and adding farcical elements, and stressing his plot.  William Shakespeare's The Comedy of Errors [COE], written in 1591, an assimilation and extension of the Plautine model, is similarly a comedy of mistaken identity. The twin masters, Ephesian Antipholus [EA] and Syracusian Antipholus [SA]; and the twin servants, Ephesian Dromio [ED] and Syracusian Dromio [SD] are entangled in comic situations throughout the play. 
            While, by doubling the servants, Shakespeare makes his plot more complicated than Plautus', he also adds a more poignant background and more farcical elements for comic effect.3 Moreover, Shakespeare, frequently rendering the servants more subtle and more humorous than the masters, adds a flavor of master-servant conflict as well, which is at the verbal level,  and evokes laughter [e.g., in IV. 25-30].  What follows is an analysis of  the similarities and differences between these two plays.
            I. i. Time, Setting and Plot 
            Although his plot is not as complicated as Shakespeare's, Plautus handles the action of his play with considerable histrionic skill.  He carefully foreshadows the consecutive scenes so that the audience can be in a position to relish the misunderstandings and confusion of the characters.  Bound to a very narrow unity of time and setting, the action takes place mostly in front of Erotium's house next to Menaechmus', in Epidamnus. This limitation creates a number of problems in verisimilitude, but the audience or the reader has almost no opportunity to grow uneasy at the improbable coincidences or the obtuseness of the characters. It is the plot which mainly contributes to the comic situations in which the mistaken brothers are involved.
            Shakespeare, though  usually cinematic in his other plays, rambling from one country to another in a single  play, presents no problems concerning the so-called "unities" in his COE.  As a matter of fact, all the acts of COE seem to be confined to the supposedly Aristotelian rule, "within a circuit of the sun."  The first act starts with the arrest of Egeon in the daylight.  The merchant, warning SA, says that, according to the Ephesian law, a Syracusian [Egeon] will die before "the weary sun set in the west" [I.II.3-8].  The same merchant says that he will meet SA at five o'clock at the mart, and accompany him "till bedtime" [I.II. 24-7].  Egeon is later saved by his wife on his way to execution.  Therefore, it is clear, the action of COE does not take more than a single day.4
            Plautus, on the other hand,  sets his play in Epidamnus. Although there are references to bad women, etc., in the town, he does not frequently allude to this.  Shakespeare, however, while adapting the depiction of Epidamnus to Ephesus, frequently has his characters talk about the notoriety of the town [e.g., I.II. 97-102; II. II. 214-5; II. I. 187-92; III. II. 154-62; IV. III. 1-11, 67-68].  Shakespeare's Ephesus is more overtly liable to evil than Plautus'.  That Shakespeare uses Ephesus as setting is related to and serves his purpose.  The town was the cradle of the Romans, a pagan civilization, notorious for her mysterious and wicked atmosphere.  St. Paul passed through Syracuse from Ephesus when he was traveling to Rome.5  Thus, that Ephesus is substituted for Epidamnus implies the tendency of a kind of baptism by Shakespeare of the Plautine play.  "Now, as I am a Christian, answer me," says SA [I. II. 77],  implying both his religious identity as well as his trust in its power and vulnerability [IV. III. 43].6  SD, moreover, has recourse to Christian terminology when he wants to shield his master and himself from external "evil" involvement [IV. III. 43]. 
            In the BM, a prologue, which corresponds to the preceding pages of the first act of the COE, recounts the tragic background of the story to the audience.  According to it, an old Syracusian merchant has twin sons.  When they are seven years old, the merchant goes to Tarentum,  accompanied by one of them.  There the boy strays from his father and is picked up, and later adopted, by a merchant of Epidamnus, who has a lot of wealth but no children.  The father dies of grief in Tarentum.  The news of this pathetic event reaches Syracuse, where the other twin lives with his mother.  The grandfather changes the name of the remaining twin to that of the lost one, Menaechmus, as he still nourishes a special love for the latter. The merchant of Epidamnus, having adopted the lost boy, provides him with everything necessary to set up a home, including a wife.  After his death, his foster child inherits all his property as well.
            Following the prologue, appears Peniculus, the parasite.  Out in the street he  comes across Menaechmus, and wants to him in expectation of food to devour as usual. Meanwhile, his twin, Sosicles, is about to come ashore in Epidamnus where all the action takes place.  Menaechmus comes out of his house complaining about his wife's constant prying into his activities, and proposes to Peniculus that they dine together.  He has bought his wife a gown,  which he now intends to present to the courtesan, Erotium, so that, for its sake, they can dine at her house. They call on the courtesan to present the gown, and tell her to prepare a fine dinner. In the meantime, they go downtown to do some business.  Thus, in compliance with her lover's "order,"  Erotium sends Cylindrus off to buy food after the two leave. This part of the play, though not specifically divided, corresponds to the first act in the COE.
            Plautus' BM is the undisputed main source which accounts for most of the story and the plot of Shakespeare's COE.7 Shakespeare appears to have discarded the explanatory prologue in his play. However, to let the audience know the tragic background of the story of the twins, he introduces the poignant and poetic father.  It is through Egeon that Shakespeare, in reply to Solinus's questions about Egeon's whereabouts, recounts the pathetic incidents the family [Egeon's] has gone through.  Since, unlike the father in the BM, Egeon, as well as his wife, is alive, Shakespeare is able to transmit the preceding phases of the story through him.  This is an innovation by Shakespeare, and deviation from his Plautine model.  Besides, the story Egeon tells of his family and the circumstances he is under, are different from what Plautus presents in BM.  He, too, is a merchant from Syracuse, but his life is to be forfeited under the Ephesian law since the law forbids anyone of Syracusian birth to enter Ephesus.  Egeon, therefore, must die unless he can pay a ransom of one thousand marks; but the goods he has with him are worth no more than one hundred.
            Asked by Solinus why, despite the danger, he has come to Ephesus, Egeon tells how his wife had identical twins and he bought another pair of twins to be the slaves of his sons.  In a shipwreck, which is not available in Plautus, Shakespeare severs the members of the family from one another; one  of each pair of twins remains with one of the parents.  When the boys reach eighteen, Egeon, together with SA and SD, sets out to seek the lost twins and his wife.  This is the reason, Egeon says, why  they have come to Ephesus, jeopardizing their lives.  Although the Duke expresses his sympathy, he has to tell the jailer to keep Egeon in the dungeon until someone ransoms him.
            Meanwhile, at the marketplace in Ephesus SA and his SD are advised by a local merchant to say that they are from Epidamnus, lest they be apprehended as Syracusians.  When SA sends his purse with SD to the Centaur Inn, all the confusion starts.  When ED appears; SA mistakes him for his slave, who, in turn, supposes that SA is looking forward to seeing him.  Naturally, SA does not understand what he is talking about and thinks that the latter is kidding.  The first act ends with SA starting to manhandle ED, who, then, escapes him and runs away. 
            In the second act of BM Sosicles enters with his servant Messenio, relieved to be on land;  they have been looking for the lost twin for seven years.  Messenio warns his master that Epidamnus, in which all the action takes place, is a town of rakes, swindlers, and prostitutes.   As soon as he gives the warning, the confusion of mistaken identity starts.  Cylindrus runs into them at the marketplace and involves Sosicles in a conversation, speaking of the dinner he is going to prepare, to the latter's surprise.  Later, he goes indoors, equally dumbfounded, and tells his mistress, as ED does to his in COE, of this.
            Then enters Erotium to greet Sosicles affectionately, who thinks she must be mad or drunk to address a stranger so effusively.  Although, at first, he protests that he does not know her, since she knows his name, etc., he accepts the situation and goes in to dine.  However, before entering the house, he sends off Messenio with his wallet to find an inn as a precaution against any possible theft.  In he goes, and enjoys Erotium as well as her hospitality.
            In the second and third act of COE it is the Phoenix, scene of central crisis, upon which all attention is focused. When the second act opens, Adriana and Luciana are in suspense why EA is not coming.  ED comes and explains that his master is out of his mind, but Adriana sends him back to fetch her husband.  This time, SA sees his Dromio, but he thinks it is the same Dromio as before.  When SD proclaims his ignorance of the whole thing, SA beats him.
            Enter Adriana and her sister.  The former reproaches SA for ignoring her; but he, of course, claims not to know her, as does SD.  Nonetheless, the two men decide to humor them and take advantage of the situation, going off to dinner with them.  In Plautus, it is only Sosicles who enjoys the privilege of dinner and the courtesan.  In Shakespeare, however, both SA and SD enjoy the hospitality, which Adriana and her sister [not to mention Luce] offer.  Moreover, Shakespeare does not let SA enjoy Adriana's femininity [III. II. 45-51].  Although he makes some advances to Luciana, SA does not make love to her, either.  SA's love of Luciana, though as fast as a thunderbolt, does not seem purely physical, whereas in BM Menaechmus is so libertine as to  compete with Peniculus to choose who will enjoy Erotium.8
            In the third act of BM Peniculus appears, complaining that Menaechmus [actually Sosicles] has cheated him of the dinner.  As he is fretting about it, Sosicles comes out of Erotium's house carrying the gown.  Sosicles is surprised to hear all this, and gets angry.  Peniculus reacts to Sosicles by threatening to  going off  to reveal everything to his wife, who already suspects that he has been cheating on her.  Then, Erotium's maid comes out to commission Sosicles to take a bracelet to be refurnished at a jeweler's.  Thus, Sosicles rejoices in his good fortune; he plans to sell both the gown and the bracelet and leave the town [forgetting his actual mission!].
            In the third act of COE, Shakespeare substitutes the Plautine maid and the gifts [the gown and bracelet] for a goldsmith, Angelo, and gold chain respectively.  EA, worried about being late for dinner, asks Angelo to explain to his wife that her husband has lingered at his shop [Angelo's] selecting a piece of jewelry [the chain] that he has promised her.  Meanwhile, ED puzzles EA with the story of the money SA has asked for.  They try to get into EA’s house, but cannot, as it is locked.  Therefore, they decide to go to the courtesan, with whom EA has been dallying for quite a while, in order to cause a scandal and to take revenge at  the same time.  To spite Adriana, EA plans to give the chain to his [unnamed] courtesan, as Menaechmus purloins his wife's belongings to present to his own courtesan. Inside, Luciana berates SA for neglecting and openly cheating on her sister.  SD has similar problems; the kitchenmaid has mistaken him for ED.  Hence, SA and SD come to the conclusion that their hostesses are mad or morally bad.  The third act ends with Angelo's bringing the gold chain to the wrong Antipholus [Cf. this to Erotium's maid who, similarly, gives the gown and the bracelet to the wrong twin].  SA, like Sosicles, is astounded to get the chain without knowing why.
            As has been observed, Shakespeare's first three acts are almost the same as Plautus'. The fourth act of BM leads the characters into further confusion.  Meaechmus' wife appears, with Peniculus, bitterly complaining of her husband's behavior in going to the courtesan.  They draw aside as Menaechmus comes on, who is also complaining of having to waste all his time by a client at the forum, and consoling himself with the thought of Erotium.  Since, running away with this idea, he inadvertently confesses his affair, his wife needs no  more evidence of his infidelity, and rains accusations on Menaechmus. Menaechmus, overwhelmed by all this, makes flimsy excuses.  However, his wife shuts him out of his own doors, and will not admit him until he returns the things he had purloined from her.  When Menaechmus goes to Erotium ask for his gifts back,  she slams the door in his face because she has already given them to Sosicles, whom she has mistaken for him.    
            In the fourth act of COE Shakespeare juggles the plot much more than Plautus does.  His creditor presses Angelo for the payment of a debt; he, in turn, presses EA.  It is SA who has the chain, but Angelo charges EA. EA denies having received the chain and gets arrested.  SD, again, mistakes EA for his own master.  EA sends him home, mistakenly, to bring bail money from his wife.  Adriana gives the money to SD, and follows him later.
            In a public place SA, already amazed by the apparently familiar attitudes of the townspeople to him, runs across the courtesan.  She asks for the chain around his neck and the return of a valuable ring.  SA, like Menaechmus, thinking of leaving the town with what he has got as soon as possible [IV. IV. 147-8], rejects her wish.  Then she, like the parasite feeling betrayed in BM, goes off to Adriana to spy on the wrong Antipholus.
            In the street, EA, now under arrest, runs into ED, who rushes him a rope instead of the bail money; and he beats the wrong slave again.  Later on, Adriana, Luciana, the courtesan and Dr. Pinch, whom Adriana has engaged to cure her "mad" husband, is involved in  the scene.  When EA gets furious, Pinch and some others tie him up and take him away for exorcism.  Shakespeare elaborates on the madness scene more than Plautus does.  Besides, while, in COE, this scene mainly takes place in the fourth act, it is put off until the last act in BM.
            In the fifth act of BM, Sosicles returns, having failed to find Messenio, to be accosted by his brother's wife.  She rails at him, and then he, approaching, questions her sanity.  She sends a servant for her father, and complains to him upon his arrival.  The father, like the Abbess and Luciana who are in favor of the husband, thinks that she must be at fault.  He, addressing Sosicles, wants to make peace between them.  Nevertheless, when Sosicles justifiably denies any kinship to them, they decide that he is actually mad.  Helpless, the father demands that four of his men take him home; but Sosicles scares them off by threatening to give them harm.  Whereas succeeding in this, he rushes off to his ship in BM; in COE SA and SD take shelter in an abbey, which has serious Christian implications because it serves as a shelter for him [see  note #6].
            The father, seeing Sosicles' feigned madness, sends for a doctor, and on  their way back, they encounter Menaechmus.  The Plautine prototype of the Shakespearean Pinch, the doctor, similarly, questions him about his supposed madness.  As the play moves towards its denouement, Messenio appears, just in time to help his mistaken master to escape from those who try to take him to the doctor's house.  As a reward for his help, Messenio begs for his freedom, and Menaechmus grants it; the former goes off to fetch the money in his charge, and the latter to try once more Erotium's mercy.  At this point Messenio returns with Sosicles, who denies having set him free. Meanwhile, Menaechmus comes out of Erotium's house.  The twins meet there for the first time, and their recognition irons out all problems of mistaken identity.  Although the reunion of the twins and freedom of Messenio contribute to a happy ending, Menaechmus's problem with his wife is left unresolved.  The play ends with Menaechmus proposing to auction all his property, including his wife, and return to Syracuse with his brother.
            As for the denouement of COE, an argument arises about whether the supposed EA denies having received the chain.  Adriana enters and tries to have SA and SD taken to her house; they take shelter in an abbey.  The Abbess questions the pursuers as to what is happening.  She refuses to deliver the mistaken husband to Adriana until he is restored to his senses.  The latter, then, appeals to the duke passing by the abbey on his way to the execution of Egeon.  Enter Adriana's real husband and his slave, and the latter appeals to the duke, too, for justice.  It is when the Abbess lets SA and SD come out of the abbey and face the other pair of twins that this turmoil is resolved.
             The Shakespearean resolution is more hilarious than the Plautine.  As Ornstein puts it,  although the knots of the plot are untangled by the ingenious use of accident and coincidence, "the emotional resolution depends on an assurance of the fundamental decency of the characters."9  The twins, the Antipholuses as well as the Dromios, get to know each other; Egeon is restored to his life and to his wife, Emilia.  SA's love of Luciana, too, brings into mind the possibility of a more faithful and less troublesome marriage.
            I.ii  Characterization. 

            Neither of the plays is the magnum opus of its writer, especially   Shakespeare's.  COE is one of Shakespeare's earliest works.  As in the other comedies of his early career in COE humor arises from action rather than character. There is no significant development  of the main characters.10 Instead of developing his characters, Shakespeare manipulates them into situations, which creates the comic effect on the audience.  It is mainly plot rather than characterization that attracts attention. Shakespeare, as Champion says, takes fewer pains than Plautus to give "a logical underdropping to his comic fantasy."11 Shakespeare creates, e.g., two sets of twins with the same names, and does not give any explanation why they were not called differently. On the contrary, Plautus strives in the prologue at least to explain why Menaechmus' father changed the name Sosicles to Menaechmus.  In COE, the action is so flagrantly stylized that the spectator's interest is in what is happening not to whom it is happening.12  However, this is not to say that the Plautine stereotypes are more delicately delineated than Shakespeare's dramatis personae. 
            In BM, the following personae appear; Menaechmus, his wife, his twin Sosicles, Messenio, Peniculus, Erotium, Cylindrus, a maid in Erotium's house, the father of Menaechmus' wife, a doctor, some slaves and porters.  Appearing in COE are Solinus, Egeon, SA, SD, EA, ED, Balthazar, Angelo, a merchant [SA's friend], another merchant [to whom Angelo is a debtor], Dr. Pinch, Emilia, Adriana, her sister Luciana, Luce, a courtesan, a jailer, officers and other attendants.  According to their roles in the plays, roughly speaking, the characters have their counterparts as follows:
              In BM                                                In CE
            1. Menaechmus of Epidamnus            Antipholus Ephesus
            2. Sosicles                                Antipholus of Syracuse
            3. Erotium                                           The  "Courtesan"
            4. Messenio                                         Dromio of Syracuse
            5. Missing                                            Dromio of Ephesus
            6. Menaechmus' wife             EA's wife
            7. Medicus                                          Pinch
            8. Erotium's maid                               Missing
            9. Cylindrus                                         Missing
            10. Missing                                         Solinus (the Duke of Ephesus)
            11. Dead father                                   Egeon
            12.[possibly] Dead mother                 Emilia (the Abbess)
            13. Missing                                          Angelo and the merchant  
            14. Missing                                          The jailer and others
            15. The father-in-law's slaves             Missing
            16. Missing                                          Luciana
            17. Missing                                          Luce
            18. Peniculus                                       Missing
            19.  The father-in-law             Missing
            20.  Missing                                         Balthasar
            Shakespeare, as has already been shown, retains most of the Plautine characters and plot.  While changing the names of  some of the Plautine characters, he sticks to the essential characteristics in their roles [e.g. the categories 1-7 above].  On the other hand, he has shifted the speeches and functions of some of Plautus' characters onto people of opposite sexes or of different social status.  For instance, in BM it is the father who justifies the actions of his son-in-law, Menaechmus, and berates his daughter.  In COE, Shakespeare has Emilia [and Luciana] act in a similar way, in favor of the husband rather than the wife.   Compare such instances below:

1. [Father to his daughter]: "...How  many times have I told  you that I won't have you, either of you,  running to me with  your complaints? (p. 131) "'s your  business to try to please your husband, not keep spying on everything he does,  always wanting to know where he's going and what he is up to" [p. 131-2].  Do you expect your husband to be your slave?  You might as well expect him to do the housework" (p. 132).13

2. [Peniculus to the wrong Menaechmus]: "Have you gone mad?  Oh dear, this is the end.  Did't I see you come out your house this morning....You'll find this high-handed treatment will recoil on your own head.  I'll make you pay for eating  up that lunch, you see if I don't" (p.121).                  

1. [Luciana to Adriana]: "A man is master of his liberty. / Time is their master, when they see time, / They'll go or come; if so, be patient, sister...  [Men] are masters to their females, and their lords; / Then let your will attend on their accords" (II.I. 7-25).
[The Abbess to Adriana]: "And thereof came it that the man was mad. / The venom clamors of a jealous woman / Poisons more deadly than a mad dog's tooth. / It seems his sleeps were hind'red by thy railing..." [V.I. 69-73].
2.  [The Courtesan's soliloquy]: "Now, out of doubt, Antipholus is mad, / Else would he never so demean himself. / Both one and other he denies me now. / My way is now to hie home to his house, / And tell his wife that, being lunatic, / He rushed into my house and took perforce, / My ring away" [IV.III. 83-97].
            As was mentioned above, Shakespeare cares about vraisemblance in his characterization less than Plautus does.  However, our counter-argument is that while Plautus draws on stock characters [e.g., a nagging wife, a parasite], Shakespeare presents more distinct personalities in his play.  Shakespeare's deviation from his model is most eminently marked by his introduction of Egeon and Emilia.  As a matter of fact, COE is a successful mingling of the comic with the tragic, and is more down-to-earth because life itself is such a melange.  If one could ignore some of his scenes of slapstick confusion "through the willing suspension of disbelief," his drama is, as Johnson says, "the mirror of life."14
            Shakespeare adds some romantic as well as ethical elements to his play, while Plautus's is purely a cynical Roman comedy.  The latter has the father of the twins die of grief after the loss of the twin.  On the contrary, the former keeps both of the parents and only severs them from each other and from the twins.  Therefore, Shakespeare provides Egeon with a poignant and poetic role.  Although we see Egeon only at the beginning and at the end of the play, he gives to the play a kind of tragic and romantic overcast.  Despite the years that have elapsed, Emilia seems to be equally poetic and passionate.  A religious as well as a maternal figure, she offers Pauline counsel to those who come to her.  Moreover, as Dorsch also observes, she acts like the Euripidean "deus ex machina" who resolves the play's complication in its catastrophe.15  Egeon and Emilia, representing the old generation, provide guidance to the young generation, and are perfect examples of how a married couple should be. Shakespeare also introduces Luciana to give a lyrical and tender touch to his play.  Luciana, in many ways, is a distant echo of the Abbess, apparently sharing most of the latter's ideas about marriage, and male dominance.  It is quite possible that she will marry SA and, following the Emilia model, will make a loving [and not a nagging] wife.
            Shakespeare treats the marriage theme more tenderly than Plautus does.  Similarly, he treats Adriana more affectionately and sympathetically.  It is true that she is also temperamental, but not as much as Menaechmus' wife.  When she learns of  her husband's affair, she gets furious and spits out her instant hatred of EA [IV. II. 18-22].  Nonetheless, she is concerned about her husband's plight, too.  She immediately expresses her concern when Dromio asks for money to bail out Antipholus.  Thinking her husband is entangled in a trouble, she rushes to help him and calls him "gentle husband" [IV.  II. 25-8, 65-6].
            An even more significant alteration in COE of its model is the introduction of the twin servants.  However, though they are identical in appearance, both pairs of twins have some distinct personal traits, not present in BM.  Although both Dromios are humorous, faithful to the masters, the Syracusian stands out.  He has assumed the task of entertaining his master when the latter is pensive and crestfallen [I.II. 19-21].  While ED is less witty and has a prosaic nature, SD frequently uses poetic metaphors [III. II. 113-35], and has a better command of all tricks of language  than ED does.16 
            Shakespeare, unlike Plautus, provides his twin masters with some different character traits, too.  First, neither of them is so callous about women as to auction them, which the Menaechmi are.  Second, the two Antipholuses are dissimilar in some ways.  The Syracusian has a melancholy personality and is poetically as well as tragically inclined [I. II. 36-52].  He is very much like his father in this respect.  He also treats his Dromio in a more affectionate and friendly way than EA does his, not to mention the Plautine Sosicles. The Ephesian, on the other hand, is a respected and wealthy businessman.  However, his respectability seems to stem from his wealth rather than his morally plausible attitudes.  He is a man of double standards: while he is having extra-marital affairs with the courtesan, he wants to exercise strict moral standards on his wife.  Granted, Adriana is a stereotype of a nagging wife, but this does not justify his own infidelity to her.  He has conflicts with his slave, and usually beats him.  However, we should stress, again,  that it is the plot, not the characters, that is essential to COE.
            II.   The Two Playwrights and Bergson’s Theory of Comedy

            Both Plautus and Shakespeare, in particular, prove that they practically knew, before Bergson put it, the comic effect in any imposition of the mechanical and the duplicative. In fact, the two playwrights seems to have generated many of the arguments and formulations of Bergson about comedy.  In his essay, "Laughter: Essay on the Meaning of the Comic", Bergson argues that one needs a kind of “temporary anesthesia of the heart” to be able to laugh.17  As, he argues, sensitivity and sentimental emotions are the very enemies of laughter; it is indifference and lack of sensitivity that enable people to laugh.  As a matter of fact, one needs to ignore the emotion and the pity that arise, e. g., when Egeon tells of the catastrophic events in the first act of COE.  The audience would certainly be surprised to witness a tragic drama when it has come to see a comedy.  However, Shakespeare the psychologist knows very well how the human  emotions can be manipulated, so he begins his comedy with a tragic scene and then follows the comic sequence of events.  Shakespeare provides Egeon with such a tragic and poetic story that even Solinus cannot help sympathizing with Egeon despite the latter’s violation of the Ephesian law;

                        Hapless Egeon, whom the fates have marked
                        To bear the extremity of dire mishap!
                        Now trust, were it not against our laws,
                        ... My soul should sue as advocate for thee. [I. I. 140-5]
            The audience, witnessing this poignant scene and SA's melancholy disposition [I. II. 35-40] can by no means raise laughter unless it has lack of sensitivity.  Therefore, by harmoniously blending the tragic with the comic, Shakespeare increases the effect of the latter.  In other words, he increases a cathartic effect of the comic by indulging in the tragic.  Thus, the audience, first put under the pressure of the tragic, will later be relieved of that pressure, and enjoy the comic situations more than it could have done if the play had been a pure farce.
            Bergson also argues that identical faces or twins have a comic effect when they are seen together although neither is laughable alone.  Here he is referring to the mechanistic and repetitive nature of what we usually consider specifically human and unique.  Underlying his argument is that life should never repeat itself and that when life turns in the direction of the mechanical, it is the cause of laughter. Therefore, when two people are ultimately identical, they remind their viewers of the products going through the assembly line. Somehow, they represent a kind of automatism, peculiar to mechanical production, whereas we think only the products out of a factory can be so identical.
            The cause of laughter when twins are seen is that they convey material characteristics and are stripped of human qualities as they are not singularly individual.  Bergson, in a sense,  formulates one of the essential characteristics of  COE. By doubling the servants as well as the masters, Shakespeare creates comic situations of confusion based on the complexity of his plot.  The audience cannot help laughing when even the twin masters fail to recognize which Dromio is his own servant.  It is almost, as Bergson explains, as if human begins were transformed into things.
            Furthering his argument, Bergson draws attention to the comic in the repetition of words.  According to him, the repetition of words is not laughable in itself, but when it becomes a symbol of a completely material game.  One could apply this to Dromio's play with words perfectly well.  Consider, e. g., the alliterative and mechanical use of words Dromio utters:
                        "Tis dinner time', quoth I: 'My gold!' quoth he.
                        'Your meal doth burn,' quoth I: 'My gold!' quoth he.
                        'Will you come?' quoth I: 'My gold! quoth he-
                        'Where is the thousand marks I gave thee, villain?'
                        'The pig,' quoth I, is burned': 'My gold!' quoth he.
                        'My mistress, sir-, 'quoth I.... [II. I. 58-66]

            Thus, Bergson formulates the Shakespearean comedy and his Plautine model.  He also shows that over the centuries human beings have laughed at similar things, and that comedies of penetrating characteristics can still raise laughter despite  elapsing centuries.

            1.  For the texts of BM and COE, I have referred to Maurice Charney, ed., Classical Comedies (New York and Scarborough: Signet, 1985) 105-233.
            2. For  more information, see N. Moses and M. Hammond, eds, Introduction, Menaechmi by Plautus (Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard U P, 1935) 20-21.
            3. Many critics agree that COE is a product of Shakespeare's "contamination" of the Plautine BM and Amphitryon.  Referring to the doubling of the servants, e. g., Levin explains that Amphitryon accounts for it.  According to him, two of Shakespeare's most effective scenes where the homecoming master and the slave are turned away from their threshold are directly inspired by that  Plautine work.  See H. Levin, ed., Introduction, The Comedy of Errors by Shakespeare (1961, New York: Signet, 1965) XXVII.
            4. For more information about the unity of the play, see also R. A. Foakes, ed., Introduction, The Comedy of Errors (Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard U P, 1962) XI.
            5. T. W. Baldwin analyses this point at length in his On the Compositional Genetics of The Comedy of Errors (Urbana: U of Illinois P, 1965) 147-57.
            6. This is not to assert that Shakespeare is a thoroughly Christian writer.  However, Christian elements are always there in Shakespeare.  As a matter of fact, Dorsch also draws attention to this aspect: "The Bible, always present to Shakespeare, did two things in particular for him... it helped him to refine the atmosphere that he wanted to evoke in Ephesus--he avoided the coarse and immoral aspects of Plautus' epidamnus; and it encouraged him to impart moral feelings to his comedy."  See T. S. Dorsch, ed., The Comedy of Errors (Cambridge: Cambridge U P, 1988) 10. Referring to the Christian elements of the play, Kenneth Muir also says that "Shakespeare, writing in a nominally Christian society, himself believing in marriage tie, goes some way to minimize the guilt at Antipholus of Ephesus."  See Kenneth Muir, Shakespeare's Comic Sequence (New York: Barnes & Noble, 1979) 16.
            7. Referring to the similarities in plot as well as in theme, Baldwin says that "Plautus certainly constructed Menaechmi in five units, and these physical units were made concretely evident by the stage of "classical theory."  For further information, see T. W. Baldwin 76.
            8. Menaechmus of Epidamnus, e.g., says the following to Erotium: "He and I are going to have a battle; and whichever proves himself the superior fighter on the battle-field, becomes your conscript.  You shall be umpire and choose which you will have for your night [186-9].
            9. See R. Ornstein, Shakespeare's Comedies:   From Roman Farce to Romantic Mystery (London & Toronto: n.p.,  1986) 33.
            10. L. S. Champion, Evolution of Shakespeare's Comedy: A Study in Dramatic Perspective (Massachusetts: Harvard U P, 1970) 9.
            11. See  Champion 7
            12.  A. Leggatt, Shakespeare's Comedy of Love (London: Methuen &CO., 1974) 3.
            13. Since the acts and scenes are not as distinct in BM as in COE, I have used the page numbers to refer to my quotations from the former.
            14. See M. K. Danziger, ed., Samuel Johnson on Literature: Milestones of Thought (New York: Frederick Ungar Publishing CO., 1979) 17.
            15. Both quotations are from Dorsch 18.
            16. For more details, see Dorsch 14.
            17.  For the entire text of Bergson's essay, see Charney 557-564.


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