Comedy of Errors

April 14, 2019

Comedy of Errors

 

No, not the seemingly endless debate, squabble, argument, nightmare (choose one of the above or add your own word) relating to the UK’s apparent withdrawal from the European Union but The Comedy of Errors believed to have been written in 1594 by William Shakespeare and first printed in the 1623 Folio.

 

Before anyone decides to stop reading at this point, let me hasten to add that this is not the introduction to a critical analysis of the play or Shakespeare. What it is hoped to be, is an encouragement to choose this play as a child or young person’s first introduction to a performance of a Shakespeare play. Indeed, for anyone older who has avoided watching Shakespeare on stage or whose earlier experience of being taken to watch another Shakespeare play has been less than inspiring or even enjoyable, this play is one to try.

 

I emphasise, performance, rather than reading the play in the first place. Shakespeare wrote his plays to be performed first and foremost and not to be studied as academic texts. It is thought that Shakespeare was most likely an actor before he became a playwright. 

 

For me, The Comedy of Errors can be regarded at one level as the ‘godfather’ of British pantomime (‘Panto’) or farces. Yes, pantomime roots can be found in Italian theatre before Shakespeare but in my view no pantomime or farce comes near to matching this Shakespeare play. I appreciate that many do not like pantomime or farces, even when they are armed with a good script matched by convincing performers, but I have yet to find a child who does not enjoy them.

 

Leaving aside the verbal dexterity and rythms of language, the play is so much more than a modern pantomime not least because of its cleverness in constructing a sustained and very entertaining structure on to a very old and simple comic ploy of ‘mistaken identity’. Put simply, the play is built on the humour, confusion and misunderstandings arising from having twin brothers who have not seen each other for years with the same first name, Antipholus, who each have a servant who is one of twin brothers who share the same first name of, Dromio. Add to the mix the father of the ‘Antpholus’ twins who is searching for them and for his long lost wife, the fact that one of the twins is married and has an unmarried sister in law, that the other twin is unmarried, a gold chain, a ring, debt, money going missing not to mention subplots involving the ‘Dromio’ twins and you can see where the fun and games come from.  I should add that all the action takes place in one location and covers a timescale of a few hours.

 

Its plotting, non stop action and visual gags in particular in a fast paced production by good actors make it a treat for young and not so young. A very enjoyable way to spend a couple of hours - it is Shakepeare’s shortest play - and so much more fun than the performance I mentioned at the start.

 

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