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COMEDY OF ERRORS.
THE general idea of this play is taken from the Menachmi of Plattus
; but the plot is entirely recast, and rendered much more diverting by the variety and quick succession of the incidents. To the twin brothers of Plautus are added twin servants, and though this increases the improbability, yet, as Schlegel observes, “when once we have lent ourselves to the first, which certainly borders on the incredible, we should not probably be disposed to cavil about the second; and if the spectator is to be entertained with mere perplexities, they cannot be too much varied.” The clumsy and inartificial mode of informing the spectator by a prologue, of events, which it was necessary for him to be acquainted with in order to enter into the spirit of the piece, is well avoided, and shows the superior skill of the modern dramatist over his ancient prototype. With how much more propriety is it placed in the mouth of Ægeon, the father of the twin brothers, whose character is sketched with such_skill as deeply to interest the reader in his griefs and misfortunes! Development of character, however, was not to be expected in a piece which consists of an uninterrupted series of mistakes and laughter-moving situations. Steevens most resolutely maintained his opinion that this was a play only retouched by the hand of Shakspeare; but he has not given the grounds upon which his opinion was formed. We may suppose the doggerel verses of the drama, and the want of distinct characterization in the dramatis persone, together with the farcelike nature of some of the incidents, made him draw this conclusion. Malone has given a satisfactory answer to the first objection, by adducing numerous examples of the same kind of long verse from the dramas of several of his contemporaries; and that Shakspeare was swayed by custom in introducing it into his early plays, there can be no doubt; for it should be remembered that this kind of versification is to be found in Love's Labor's Lost, and in The Taming of the Shrew. His better judgment made him subsequently abandon it. The particular translation from Plautus which served as a model, has not come down to us. There was a translation of the Menachmi, by W.W. (Warner), published in 1595, which it is possible Shakspeare may have seen in manuscript; but from the circumstance of the brothers being, in the folio of 1623, occasionally styled Antipholus Erotes or Errotis, and Antipholus Sereptus, perhaps for Surreptus and Erraticus, while in Warner's translation the brothers are named Menachmus Socicles and Menæchmus the traveller, it is concluded that he was not the Poet's authority. It is difficult to pronounce decidedly between the contending opinions of the critics; but the probability is, that the whole of the play is from the hand of Shakspeare. Dr. Drake thinks it " is visible throughout the entire play, as well in the broad exuberance of its mirth, as in the cast of its more chastised parts, a combination of which may be found in the character of Pinch, who is sketched in his strongest and most marked style." We may conclude with Schlegel'8 dictum, that “this is the best of all written or possible Menechmi; and if the piece is inferior in worth to other pieces of Shakspeare, it is merely because nothing more could be made of the materials."
Malone first placed the date of this piece in 1593, or 1596, but lastly in 1592. Chalmers plainly showed that it should be ascribed to the early date of 1591. It was neither printed nor entered on the Stationers' books until it appeared in the folio of 1623.
SOLINUS, Duke of Ephesus.
Ægeon and Æmilia, but
unknown to each other.
ÆMILIA, Wife to Ægeon, an Abbess at Ephesus.
Jailer, Officers, and other Attendants.
COMEDY OF ERRORS.
SCENE I. A Hall in the Duke's Palace.
Enter Duke, ÆgEON, Jailer, Officer, and other At
Ægeon. PROCEED, Solinus, to procure my fall, And, by the doom of death, end woes and all.
Duke. Merchant of Syracusa, plead no more; I am not partial, to infringe our laws. The enmity and discord, which of late Sprung from the rancorous outrage of your duke To merchants, our well-dealing countrymen, Who, wanting gilders to redeem their lives, Have sealed his rigorous statutes with their bloods, Excludes all pity from our threatening looks. For, since the mortal and intestine jars 'Twixt thy seditious countrymen and us, , It hath in solemn synods been decreed, Both by the Syracusans and ourselves, To admit no traffic to our adverse towns; Nay, more, If any, born at Ephesus, be seen At any Syracusan marts and fairs, Again, If any, Syracusan born, Come to the bay of Ephesus, he dies, His goods confiscate to the duke's dispose; Unless a thousand marks be levied, To quit the penalty and to ransom him. Thy substance, valued at the highest rate,
Cannot amount unto a hundred marks ;
Duke. Well, Syracusan, say, in brief, the cause
Æge. A heavier task could not have been imposed,
1 i. e. natural affection.'
2 The old copy reads he: the emendation is Malone's. The manner in which Steevens pointed this passage, gave to it a confused if not an absurd meaning
3 The word poor was supplied by the editor of the second folio.
My wife, not meanly proud of two such boys,
That mourned for fashion, ignorant what to fear,
1 Instance appears to be used here for symptom or prognostic. Shakspeare uses this word with very great latitude.