Farce and Satire in Shakespeare's Comedy of Errors Essays

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Farce and Satire in The Comedy of Errors

All is not as it seems in The Comedy of Errors. Some have the notion that The Comedy of Errors is a classical and relatively un-Shakespearean play. The plot is, in fact, based largely on Plautus's Menaechmi, a light-hearted comedy in which twins are mistaken for each other. Shakespeare's addition of twin servants is borrowed from Amphitruo, another play by Plautus. Like its classical predecessors, The Comedy of Errors mixes farce and satire and (to a degree) presents us with stock characters.

Besides being based on classical models, is it really fair to call The Comedy of Errors a serious play? I'm not sure it is. Three-quarters of the play is a fast-paced comedy based on
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What is it, after all, that makes one person different from another? In the case of twins, where everything physical points to identity, how can we tell one person from the other? Some of the characters even begin to doubt their own identity. Dromio of Syracuse says, "I am transformed, master, am not I?", and his master wonders, "Am I in earth, in heaven, or in hell?/ Sleeping or waking, mad or well-advis'd?/ Known unto these, and to myself disguis'd?" (II.ii.195, 212-14).

The play may also be taken as commenting seriously on the limits of human perception and understanding. Both in the last scene and earlier, the strange happenings raise the questions of magic and madness. Antipholus of Syracuse says he thinks Ephesus may be full of "sorcerers" or "witches" (I.ii.99; IV.iii.11; III.ii.156), and he wonders more than once if he has gone mad. Dromio of Syracuse thinks he is in "fairy land" (II.ii.189). The play reveals the limits of human understanding, not only through the mistakes made throughout the play, but also through the fumbling attempts to account for what is happening in the final scene. The Duke wonders if everyone is "mated, or stark mad" (V.i.282), and Antipholus of Syracuse wonders if he is dreaming (V.i.377). Adriana (wife of the other Antipholus) puts the matter most directly when she says that her husband's presence in two

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