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Thursday, 29 November 2012

The Comedy of Errors, by William Shakespeare, Reviewed

Heresy! Infamy! Thou darest malign the Bard?

The Comedy of Errors appears to be based on a premise that I found impossible to swallow, for two simple reasons. First; why would the twins, both sets, not have been named prior to their separation and therefore have different names? It seems unlikely that these infants were so young as to have been denied such a basic ceremony as naming. Secondly, and perhaps more to the point, why were both sets of twins dressed identically, bearing exact copies of the same hairstyle, using the same manner of speech? So identical, in fact, that they could not be separated by the intimate servants or, in the case of Antipholus of Ephasus, by his wife and her sister. One was raised in Syracuse, a town in Sicily, with, admittedly, Greek influence. And the other in Ephasus, in Turkey, again, with Greek influence. However, the manner of speech in these two widely distant provinces would undoubtedly have been equally wide. Manner of dress, customs, mannerisms etc would all have been very varied, and Shakespeare would have been aware of such regional differences from his exposure to such during his everyday life in England.

A farce, and this play is definitely a farce, requires the audience to suspend their disbelief in order to appreciate the confusions caused by the plot. I found I was unable to suspend my incredulity to the extent necessary to enjoy this piece of comic drama.

I’m an admirer of our national Bard; what writer of English could fail to prize the literary skills of this world renowned wordsmith? But I couldn’t push past what quickly became an insuperable barrier to my enjoyment. This impediment was further reinforced by the poor quality of the poetry of the piece. We’re all used to the subtlety, variety, cleverly composed and richly metaphorical nature of Shakespeare’s dialogue. But in this, one of his earlier plays, he seems not to have quite got the hang of things. The language is unnecessarily convoluted, as if he’s more concerned with impressing the audience than with conveying his meaning. The usual contemporary references aside, I found the meaning often difficult to determine because of the structure of the sentences and the employment of obtuse metaphors. I accept, when reading Shakespeare, that some of the language’s more subtle meanings will be lost on me: I’m not a scholar of the period and I lack the time to delve into references that require lengthy searches to unpick. But, in this play, I felt the playwright was more concerned with fireworks than with substance. Also, although I’ve never seen a production, I very quickly knew the outcome, since this was flagged too clearly in the first act.

So, not the best of his work, but, hell, it’s Shakespeare, so it must be good, yes? 

To my regular readers, my apologies for the lack of a piece on writing today. My ME/CFS has returned and it limits my energy and creativity. I'll try to get back to normal next week. Thank you for your patience.

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