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The comedy of the "Menæchmi" has been called dry and bare. It is, as we have admitted, less clothed upon in the raiment of romantic poetry than even some of its own coevals. But it cannot be depreciated without danger of injustice, and still more shall we be liable to that charge if we attempt to minimise Shakespeare's debt to it. The central notion of the twin-brothers, who have not met or heard of one another since early childhood, each suddenly infringing on the social province of the other, and starting a myriad burlesque confusions,— this may or may not be original in the Latin dramatist. But we know of no earlier version of it, and we may be content to suppose it, as Shakespeare of course never doubted it to be, the invention of Plautus.

It is one of the most innocently diverting and most successfully farcical of all the germ-plots invented or adapted by Plautus; and we may see that Shakespeare


who knew other plays by the same dramatist, since there are clear evidences of his acquaintance with the Amphitryon" and "The Captives”—was drawn to it at once by its inherent excellence and perhaps by the comparatively meagre use which Plautus had made of its opportunities for farcical movement.

Shakespeare began by falling into what was, I suppose, a small direct error. The scene of the "Menæchmi' was Epidamnus (or "Epidamnum," as Shakespeare calls it). This place was situated on the eastern shore of the Adriatic, in what is now Albania; the modern name of it is Durazzo, and it lies exactly south of Dulcigno. Not only was this town in relation with Syracuse, and not

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at all with Ephesus, but Shakespeare's own story brings in Epidamnum and Epidaurus, too; some critics have suggested that he chose Ephesus because it was a centre of witchcraft. I confess I cannot pretend to follow the geography of "The Comedy of Errors," although that of the Menæchmi" is intelligible enough. In manipulating the story, however, Shakespeare's next change was altogether an improvement upon Plautus. Egeon, whose name in the Latin play is Moschus, had died of grief long before the "Menæchmi" begins, and it is the grandfather who survives and who is the prime mover of the search; he remains, however, in Syracuse, and all the beautiful first scene of "The Comedy of Errors," with the humane Duke of Ephesus, and the sad, romantic figure of the sea-worn Ægeon, is wholly Shakespeare's in conception as well as in execution. This scene, too, contains one of his splendid shipwrecks, not less fine, in its quieter way, than the celebrated description in "Pericles." And Æmilia, too, the Abbess, who in such a charming, childish fashion turns out at the end of the play to have been Ægeon's wife, and mother to the restless and unobservant Antipholus at her doors, she also is one of Shakespeare's sketches, and responds to nothing at all in the "Menæchmi."

It is particularly worthy of notice, in this connection, that "The Comedy of Errors," if we compare it closely with the rest of its author's very early plays, is remarkable for its solid and consistent architecture. It seems, in a word, to have a better structure than they have. This is directly owing to Plautus, and it is very interesting

to see how, at this early stage in his career, the man who was to become the greatest maker of plays in the world, admitted the superior judgment of his great Latin predecessor. When he was conceiving "The Comedy of Errors," say in 1589, Shakespeare had not attained, in this technical matter of the building up of a good stageplay, the vivid and sprightly art of Plautus. I do not know anything more interesting in its way than the evidence which "The Comedy of Errors" offers us of the fact that Shakespeare was aware of his own immaturity. In this play, and in this alone, we see him face to face with a writer of his own class, who is still his superior as an artist, and we find him loyally acknowledging that, in the conduct of a lively plot, Plautus still knows the business better than he does.

In the central intrigues of the play, we discover that Shakespeare does not diverge at all from his Latin original. As the " Menæchmi," so "The Comedy of

Errors" rests on the humorous situation of a twin-brother unexpectedly turning up in the domestic life of a man who has never given him a thought, yet who is practically so identical with the intruder that those most intimate with the one cannot distinguish him from the other. In all this essential part of the story, the conception of the two Antipholi is precisely the same as that of Menæchmus of Epidamnus and Menæchmus Sosicles. And the unities of time and place which Shakespeare on other occasions ("The Tempest" being the great exception) has treated with so much indifference, are here carefully transferred from the Latin. There is even the same

confusion, or heedlessness, about the age of the brothers. The commentators of "The Comedy of Errors" have been much occupied in reconciling the "thirty-three years" of which the Abbess speaks at the end of the fifth act with Ægeon's vague arithmetic in the first act. But Plautus is just as uncertain, and unless we read him very closely, we be led to believe that the twin-brothers were only in their twelfth year when Sosicles came to Epidamnus.


Throughout, the nature of Shakespeare's change is not in the direction of complete modification of the plot, but in that of adornment, addition, enrichment. The most striking instance of this is the creation of the second Dromio, as twin-slave, who repeats, in an exquisitely entertaining way, the embarrassing identity of his master. In Plautus, the slave of the invading Menæchmus is named Messenio, and he has no counterpart in Epidamnus. The place there of the other Dromio is filled partly by Cylindrus the cook, partly by Peniculus the parasite. By omitting these characters, Shakespeare lost a little in variety, but he gained extremely in richness of humour. He doubled his effects, and, in doing so, we notice his skill in intensifying instead of distracting our keen and delighted observation of the Master Twins. For the odd adventures of either Dromio are so conceived that they never disturb the imbroglio, but always add to it, and this little change of purview increases at every turn the fun of the intrigue.

To support his Dromios, - who have now to be relieved of some of the comic business, - Shakespeare has in

vented Balthazar, Angelo, and the Merchants. But it

is observable that in the figure of Pinch, the schoolmaster, he adopts, with very slight alteration, a truly Plautan creation, the unseemly being who is an unnamed Doctor in the "Menæchmi." These changes are quite unimportant, but that is not the case with the beautiful and touching figure of Luciana, the sister-in-law of Antipholus of Ephesus. This was a conception which could never have occurred to the boisterous Latin playwright, and no more exquisite example of Shakespeare's delicate humanity, of the "gospel-light" in which he lived and worked, could be given than this introduction of a pure, generous, and romantic girl into the background of his romping farce. He forgets all about Plautus on the few occasions on which he allows this pretty creature to entertain us, and in the earliest and almost the only scene in which a long speech is given to Luciana, she comes on to the boards with Antipholus of Syracuse in a smiling temper to which nothing short of two complete sonnets can give expression. And in these pieces of flowing, rounded verse, we have, perhaps for the first time, that note of gentle amenity, of persuasive feminine sweetness, which Shakespeare was to create in English poetry:

"Alas! poor women! make us but believe,

Being compact of credit, that you love us;
Though others have the arm, show us the sleeve;
We in your motion turn, and
you may move us!"

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so Luciana murmurs, like a brooklet or a wood-lark, and we forget for a moment that she is dancing hand in hand with Punch and Judy.

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