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Let’s talk cash money..
The setting for the Comedy of Error – the city of Ephesus – was an ancient trading city whose power rested on the power of its merchant ships. In this way it’s pretty similar to England in the 17th century. It’s also very similar to some other Mediterranean settings like Venice where a certain merchant ends up indebted to Shylock for a pound of flesh.
Some of these mercantile themes crop up even in a early play like Comedy of Errors.
What’s the setup?
Egeon, father of Antipholus of Ephesus and Syracuse, was found trespassing in the city while searching for his lost son(s). The punishment for that crime is death. Egeon’s story moves the duke but he states that he cannot change the law. However, if Egeon can somehow find his son and come up with bail money then he can go free.
Antonio mentions basically the same thing in Merchant of Venice but explains that the reason the duke cannot overrule the law when confronted by a sad story is that mercantile societies rely on the supposed impartiality of the rule of law:
The duke cannot deny the course of law.
For the commodity that strangers have
With us in Venice, if it be denied,
Will much impeach the justice of his state,
Since that the trade and profit of the city
Consisteth of all nations. (Merchant of Venice, III, iii, 26-30)
Money keeps changing hands in other way during the play. There’s the whole plot around a gold chain. The merchant keeps asking the wrong Antipholus for cash, the chain is given to the wrong one. The goldsmith needs the payment because he owes money to the merchant who is about to set off for Persia. Seeing as Antipholus doesn’t seem willing to pay, the goldsmith tries to have him arrested for not paying his debts.
The idea of bonds is paramount. It<s not just a matter of keeping one’s word and being honest. It’s also a matter of being good for it, of paying up when the time comes.
Here’s what we chose to read for you this week.
Act IV, scene i (lines 1-84): “You know since Pentecost the sum is due“
Act IV, scene iii (lines 1-67): “There’s not a man I meet but doth salute me“
Let us know how we did!
Here’s a link to the CBC article discussed in the pod about Indigenous authors trumping the bard in one teacher’s classroom.
And here’s a link to the Wikipedia article for Aimé Césaire’s re-write of The Tempest. (There’s a link on the Wikipedia page to an English translation of the play.)
See you next time!
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