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We are discovered, however, in the act of lèse-majesté towards the matronly figure of Adriana. But Adriana it is, surely, impossible to take very seriously. Oddly enough, it is precisely in this character that critics of the past have enforced themselves to see, not merely the special art of Shakespeare, but numerous traits of his personal habits and even of his autobiography. "Oh! that second-best bed at Stratford," the commentators have cried, even as they have actually been reminded of his own twin-babies by the brothers of Syracuse and Ephesus! But the fact is that it was no precocious observation of the shrewishness of wives, any more than any domestic note of the similarity of twins, that produced these features of "The Comedy of Errors." As com pletely as Luciana belongs to Shakespeare, so does Adriana belong to Plautus. We have only to turn to the "Menæchmi" to see that the wife of the brother in Epidamnus (the invading brother is in each play still unmarried) is precisely such a shrew as Adriana is. Her petulantia lingua, her hasty freakish temper, her qualities of a scold and a termagant, are not indicated by Shakespeare more clearly than by Plautus, although more carefully, with less of the flying touch of a mere brilliant sketch. But the wife of Menæchmus fidgets and fusses exactly as Adriana does; her husband does not scruple to call her a "lioness," and she has a father whom Shakespeare ignored — who acknowledges and deprecates the violence of her temper.

At the close of the "Menæchmi," the indignant wife flies into the house in terror of the violence of Menæchmus

Sosicles, and we see no more of her. Plautus was not sufficiently interested in her to let us hear how she was affected by the clearing up of the mystery of the two brothers. But Shakespeare is infinitely more subtle than this. He is too closely touched by the misfortunes of Adriana to pack her off, mystified and punished, in her rebellion of spirit. The feigned madness of the husband occurs in each play, but it is Shakespeare only who imagines the cry from Adriana's heart :

"Hold! hurt him not, for God's sake! he is mad,"

and who makes her in her remorse accuse herself of offences against her husband, which are so much too emphatic that the gentle Luciana is obliged at once to protest. It is more than doubtful, indeed, whether either Menæchmus in the farce of Plautus would be held by the audience to deserve such consideration. The part of the Courtesan (she is called Erotium in the Latin play) has been preserved and rather closely transferred by Shakespeare to "The Comedy of Errors." But Antipholus is rather a wayward visitor than anything worse, whereas Menæchmus of Epidamnus is the bearer to Erotium of presents which he has impudently stolen from his wife's wardrobe. The other brother is not less of a rogue, for he is content to rob Erotium of her mantle and her bracelet; and slight as is the change which Shakespeare has introduced, in the business of the goldsmith and the chain, we feel it to produce in every particular an improvement in grace and moral decorum. So, too, it will be noticed that on each occasion Plautus's slaves are

much more impudent and disloyal than Shakespeare could ever allow his to be, even at their most petulant


In the beginning of the third act of "The Comedy of Errors," Shakespeare enriches his material by borrowing from another comedy of Plautus, the "Amphitruo." In that play Jupiter takes the shape of the Theban general while he is away from Thebes, fighting for his country, and the god is accompanied by Mercury in the guise of Sosia, Amphitryon's slave. The general returns, and is driven away by the intruders, the imbroglio being almost exactly the same as that accepted by the English poet. Shakespeare, however, with his customary tact, redeems the situation from its Latin coarseness, and keeps this incident also in the light, high key of the rest of his farcical comedy. It might be worth while, before we lay down "The Comedy of Errors," to see how the "Amphitruo" episode was treated later on by Molière, and, more independently than is commonly realised, by Dryden. The curious reader should, at the same time, glance at "Les Jumeaux," in which Rotrou made his adaptation of the "Menæchmi” plot.

On the whole we see that what is particulary observant in the general character of "The Comedy of Errors" is the light it throws on the advancing technical skill of Shakespeare. Up to this time the genius of the youthful dramatist had shown itself more in splendid passages and single lines than in the building up of a whole play. The more closely we examine these earliest years, it must be confessed, the more vague do the lines of biography

become, the more do the outlines flicker in the dim air of our ignorance. However, we do see faintly, as precedent to our "Comedy of Errors," a chain of chronicle-plays on the reign of Henry VI. with such unmistakably Shakespearian things in them as the death of Mortimer and the farce of Jack Cade; more dimly still we see a "Titus Andronicus," perhaps by Kyd, which Shakespeare may have touched; while really the only very certain testimony to his skill as a craftsman is "Love's Labour's Lost," to which all critics combine in assigning priority among Shakespeare's productions for the stage.

The plot of "Love's Labour's Lost" is of the slightest and the feeblest, and it is moreover believed to be Shakespeare's invention. It is plausible to suppose that the thinness of it was patent to him as he revised it, and that he persuaded himself that he had been too ambitious in taking upon his sole fancy so arduous a task. In the chronicle-play and in the Roman horror, he merely embroiders upon some rough texture woven by Kyd or Greene or a humbler playwright quite unknown. None of these, nor yet his own still callow invention, satisfies Shakespeare, whom we now find in "The Comedy of Errors" going humbly and attentively to school. This is a work of mental discipline; here he is sitting at the feet of Plautus, no rough amateur with a brilliant notion of stage-business, like Kyd, but a finished and exquisitely accomplished master of the theatre. One of the slightest pieces of this Latin playwright, one which is so slight that it is almost a sketch, Shakespeare takes and adapts with a careful sense of his own deficiencies and of the

requirements of the new and ardent English public. He looks to Plautus to learn how to please, but already he is tall enough to peer over the Latin poet's shoulder and to see theatrical possibilities of which Plautus never dreamed.

Our task, therefore, is to weigh these possibilities, to examine these embroideries. We find that they are all of them, without exception, additions in the direction of what is humane and graceful and fanciful. The note of Plautus, with all his boisterous high spirits, is hard and dry; his humour is that of a daring and brilliant schoolboy. Shakespeare introduces the adult mood; even his farce is tender and indulgent. Where Plautus sees nothing but the obvious horse-play, the nuances of humanity reveal themselves to Shakespeare. The characters in the "Menæchmi" are marionettes, moved about the stage, indeed, with marvellous adroitness and turning somersaults with dazzling agility, but in their essence mechanical, with an energy that is vicious, puerile, and practically non-existent. Shakespeare comes and clothes these dolls with romantic life, adding here a touch and there a movement which just suffices to remove them out of the realm of the puppet-show. He is not yet a perfect master of his own genius, and in consequence the trans-. formation is not complete. The little figures seem to palpitate for a few minutes, and then they stiffen again into marionettes. But at all events, the breath of life has passed over the stage; the first puffs of it brighten the eyes and fill the hair of Luciana and Ægeon.

It would take us too far to enter very closely into the

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