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This is the final act of Comedy of Errors so, as one would expect, it’s time to untangle the mess of mistaken identities. So I guess that means that everyone will come together calmly around a table and compare notes so they can all have a good laugh about how they’ve been so confused for the past few days.
Except that’s not quite how it plays out because that would make too much sense and would clearly be the type of conclusion a lesser playwright might come up with.
Instead of this totally logical and amateurish ending, Shakespeare conjures up an abbess to step in and sort everything out. However, because that’s not quite enough of an impact, Shakespeare reveals that Aemelia is in fact the mother of the two Antipholi and the long-lost wife of Egeon.
I guess convents were basically just giant suspended animation chambers in the ancient world? Kinda.
Some people think that the Catholic elements that show up in Shakespeare’s plays reveal Shakespeare’s own secret Catholicism. Maybe, but probably not.
I just think that he liked the quasi-magical characteristics which Protestants often saw in Catholic ritual and dogma.
Basically, Catholicism just gives Shakespeare some extra dramatic tools. Like the idea of taking sanctuary in religious houses or being able to hide a mother/wife away in a convent for twenty years.
That doesn’t mean that there aren’t a bunch of religious or biblical elements to the play.
The abbess’ speech towards the end of the play seems to pretty clearly reference Jesus, the nativity and salvation.
Jesus was 33 years old when he we crucified. He then comes back to save humanity from the original sin, that “sympathized one day’s error” way back in the Garden of Eden. The abbess is a mother figure associated with the Virgin Mary.
Oh, and as a bit of a bonus: Ephesus was the city where the Council of Ephesus took place in the 5th century.Why might that be important? Well, that’s the big meeting where the church decided that the Nicene Creed would form the basis of orthodox Christian faith. Kind of a bog deal.
We might be wrong but Aemelia does save everyone in the play and sort of dispels the magic which seems to hang about Ephesus.
Here’s what we’re reading this week, if you want to follow along.
Act V, scene i (lines 29-112): “Thou art a villain to impeach me thus” (Characters: merchant, Angelo, Antipholus of Ephesus, Antipholus of Syracuse, Dromio of Ephesus, Dromio of Syracuse, Adriana, Abbess Aemilia, Luciana)
Act V, scene i (lines 392-end of play): “Renowned duke, vouchsafe to take the pains” (Characters: Antipholus of Ephesus, Antipholus of Syracuse, Dromio of Ephesus, Dromio of Syracuse, Abbess Aemilia, Solinus, Duke of Ephesus)
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