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.
This week we talk proto-feminists, servitude and abuse. And yes, this is somehow still a comedy and this is all very funny, right?
First, we take a look at our twinned servants as they face off in a battle of words to gain access to Antipholus of Ephesus’ house. Dromio of Syracuse and his master are inside Antipholus of Ephesus’ house, but the rightful master has been locked outside while his wife thinks the wrong Antipholus is her husband.
While this is happening, Antipholus of Syracuse is inside the house macking on ‘his’ wife’s sister, Luciana. She’s freaked out that he brother-in-law is creeping on her and keeps trying to get Antipholus of Syracuse to act like a proper husband. (In this case, like Antipholus of Ephesus.)
I guess it’s kind of reassuring to think that Antipholus of E. might be a pretty decent husband because Adriana deserves it. She and her sister certainly put up with a lot of crap throughout the play for the sake of these two Antipholuses. (Antipholii? Whatever.)
After being brushed off by Luciana, and being forced to play husband to Adriana, Antipholus of Syracuse again describes the city of Ephesus as some sort of dangerous magical place filled with witches and mermaids.
That’s some pretty strongly gendered language for a play in which two sets of men spend all of their time confusing the hell out of all the women around them.
Because we know you’re just too shy to ask but are dying to know, here’s a famous line from this act to memorize:
“How many fond fools serve mad jealousy” – Luciana.
You’re welcome. There may be a quiz in a few weeks. Just saying.
Here’s a link to Shakespeare Kelowna, a company that will be putting on Comedy of Errors May 17-28. If you’re in the area, you should go check it out. If you know of any other companies staging Comedy of Errors, let us know. We’d love to get the work out!
Catch us next week as we continue to get lost in the side-streets of Ephesus with our Dromios and Antopholi! (Antipholuses? Whatever.)
Welcome to Act I of The Comedy of Errors brought to you by the Bard Brawl. And happy birthday, Will!
We think it’s your birthday, anyway. Although Google may disagree or else feels that you’re not important enough for a doodle this year. I mean, you were baptised on the 26th of April so April 23rd seems like good enough of a guess, right? It also happens to be the day you died on. Weird.
Well, we promised it, and at last we’ve delivered.
Nope, once again it’s not act V of Titus Andronicus, even though you promised you wouldn’t bring it up again.
It’s a brand new play with a brand new Bard Brawl format. Instead of reading out each act of the play in its entirety, we’ve picked out some of our favourite bits. Kind of like a sports highlight reel but unlike this shameful display, or this one, there are no losers and the commentators don’t speak in those awful sports jock radio voices.
In between these speeches, which will be read by a revolving cast of Brawlers, our Bardic talking heads will try to point out what we think is interesting, noteworthy or just plan awesome about each act.
So grab a listen, subscribe and tell us what you think as we go pound for pound with the birthday boy!
“… let no quarrel nor no brawl to come taint the condition of this present hour,” Fabian
Welcome back to the Bard Brawl and to the final act of our Twelfth Nightredux!
The gauntlet of relatives, three heaping platefuls of cipâtes, your second copy of Moneyball in as many days (*pokes Niki Lambros), that the guy you made out with at the New Year’s Eve party who you later discovered was your second cousin (Dramatization, may not have happened.), you survived it all.
You made it! Pat yourself on the back, enjoy what’s left of the bubbly (we sure did) and have a listen as we wrap up Twelfth Night in true Bard Brawl style with a little NKOTB.
Side note: Enjoy the “crusher” guitar intro. We sure did.
Only one scene in this act but it’s a pretty wild one.
Orsino, that lazy, pathetic ass, has finally decided that if he wants Olivia he should probably make some sort of effort himself to win her over. He runs into Feste and Fabian outside of Olivia’s house. Insert a couple of jokes about friends and asses before Orsino sends Feste to fetch Olivia. While he waits, Viola (yup, still disguised as Cesario) notices Antonio being lead before the Duke by an officer. Orsino immediately recognises him as a pirate, but Viola tries to plead for mercy as Antonio defended her from Sir Toby and Andrew Aguecheek’s attacks.
Antonio attempts to defend his presence in Illyria by explaining that he was bewitched by Sebastian’s good looks and obvious character into making stupid decisions like exposing himself to the death penalty by being caught wandering the streets of Illyria. To make matters worse, he accuses Viola (thinking it’s Sebastian) of having refused to give back the money he had given him in trust. Of course, everybody thinks he’s a little nuts because Viola honestly has no clue what the hell he’s talking about. Both Orsino and Antonio claim to have been with “Viola” for the last 3 months.
Olivia arrives and once again refuses Orsino’s advances. To make matters worse, she hits on ‘Cesario’ who she thinks she just married an act ago. When Viola says she plans on following the person she loves, Orsino, Olivia accuses her ‘husband’ of being unfaithful. Viola denies it, of course, but just then – by total coincidence – the priest comes in and backs Olivia.
Moments later, Aguecheek comes in asking for a doctor for Sir Toby who was just injured by ‘Cesario.’ More confusion as Aguecheek blames Viola for Sebastian’s actions. As Belch and his buddies are lead out, Sebastian walks on stage. Finally we have both siblings on-stage at once! Olivia seems particularly happy at the prospect of two Cesario’s: “Most wonderful!” I’ll let you finish the porn joke in whatever way seems best to you.
Sebastian and Viola tease out the moment where they finally admit that they’re brother and sister and that, strangely, all of this is totally okay in the end. Olivia is just as happy with Sebastian, Sebastian is all too happy with Olivia’s money; Viola finally gets to have Orsino, who now seems perfectly happy to give up his hot widow for woman he has spent the entire play confusing for a boy. This will make for some interesting swinger parties.
There are a few other loose ends to warp up. They read Malvolio’s letter and realise that maybe he’s not nuts so they may as well let him out of the asylum. Malvolio accuses Olivia of having toyed with him but Olivia denies that she had anything to do with it. Malvolio swears vengeance. I imagine everybody just laughs.
We also learn that Sir Toby and Maria are getting married but I’m sure they won’t be invited to the swinger party.
New Year’s Eve has passed but there are still a couple of days before Twelfth Night which means a few more days of eating, drinking and pranks. Hope you kept some space for cakes and ale!
And don’t mind the funny-looking raisins.
On a Two Gentlemen of Verona note, there’s a new production coming out soon. “2GoV” (that’s how the cool kids send text messages or Tweets about it) is not done often, which is odd seeing as another one of those “I will love you forever but then get distracted by the first beautiful girl I see” romances is done, like, all the time.
Before everything untangles itself, Shakespeare’s going to up the ante and string us along for another act of mistaken identities and practical jokes.
Cesario (Viola in what has to be one hell of a disguise), is mistaken for Sebastian (Viola’s mystically identical twin brother) by Antonio at the end of act III. In act IV, scene 1, it’s Sebastian’s turn to be confused for Cesario. Feste mistakes him for Sebastian and only leaves after Sebastian gives him some cash. Then, Sir Toby, Fabian and Andrew Aguecheek come on stage, planning to attack the defenseless Cesario but they are beaten by Sebastian who, unlike Viola, is an able swordsman. Olivia shows up, breaks up the fight and invites Sebastian in thinking that she has finally managed to win over Cesario.
Confused yet? You shouldn’t be – I’m sure you’ve had all the practice tracking disguises when you listened to our The Taming of the Shrew Brawl.
Sebastian has never seen Olivia in his life but figures, what the hell? How often does a beautiful, rich widow throw herself at you and offer to give you everything she has? Seems like the natural thing to do. (I’m told it happens to Daniel all the time.)
If it helps, this is a composite image of the Olivia Shakespeare probably had in mind:
While Sebastian follows Olivia Wilde out of her garden and into her sex den house, Maria, Sir Toby and Feste decide that they’re going to spend scene 2messing with Malvolio. They dress Feste up as a priest who is visiting ‘Malvolio the Lunatic’ to exorcise his demons. They taunt him and toy with him until Sir Toby calls off the prank. He’s afraid that his niece Olivia will get mad at him if he pushes the joke too far. At the end of the act, Malvolio calls for some pen and paper – he means to write a letter proving that he’s not crazy.
The third scene is very short. It’s the marriage of Sebastian and Olivia. I’m not sure how this is supposed to work. Olivia thinks she’s marrying Cesario, Sebastian has no clue who he’s marrying but she’s clearly hot and has a lot of money. (See picture of Shakespeare’s inspiration above if you don’t believe me.) They don’t even have each other’s identities sorted out.
Unless they learn to communicate, I can’t see how this is going to work for either of them.
Join us next week for the final act!
Though you’re far away, you’re near in our hearts Zoey Baldwin here reading sonnet 29.
The third instalment of ‘Zounds! is coming. The Mad King is destined to be amazing with some great submissions already in. If you would like to be a part of the epic journey along with the Bard Brawlers, click here and check out the submission guidelines. Better yet, buy a previous edition and get the idea of what ‘Zounds! is all about.
Hypercolour t-shirts? Yeah man. My armpits were blue and the rest of my shirt was pink, but it was cool. Lipstick pink Juicy Couture velour tracksuits? Hot, in a Paris Hilton kind of way (glittery trucker hat mandatory, of course). Rave pants and soother necklaces? Sweet dude, just don’t forget your angel wings.
These are all lovely memories and everything, but we all hope they remain the stuff of ironic Halloween costumes and nothing more.
Perhaps you shuddered a little like I did when leggings came back in style, around 2005. Gazing at the racks of flimsy legwear at the retail store where I was working at the time, all these memories of lace trimmed white leggings I wore in grade 2 came flooding back to me.
And I was expected to build a wall display with these things?
I mean right in front of me I had evidence that the trends I wore as a kid had now cycled back into the forefront of designers’ minds, which would mean that they were vintage. That was a blow my 23 year old mind had a hard time absorbing, though I’ve since gotten used to the phenomena. (Hedi Slimane’s 2013 ‘grunge’ collection for St. Laurent was the real kicker.) I’m now sort of numbed to any further appropriations.
Fashion trauma aside, it would seem that leggings are here to stay, clinging to the flesh and gripping onto every contour and sinew in all their spandex glory. Printed with skulls or crosses à la Alexander McQueen, classic black, or granny style floral, tights are the ubiquitous fashion non-statement that just won’t quit. Stubbornly resistant to the ebb and flow of fashion, we see them turn up time and again under skirts, shorts and tunics.
Black Milk Clothing leggings (see right) are a favourite of the Bard Brawl and may just appear in the third instalment of ‘Zounds! Yep. That’s the first act of Hamlet on her legs.
Even for men.
Yes, in case you hadn’t heard, ‘meggings’ first appeared on Givenchy’s runway in 2013 with black tights worn under shorts. The look has since become a streetwear trend in Europe and New York, with designers like Rick Owens following suit, er…Spandex. They are even somewhat acceptable worn as ‘pants’ for gals, despite the fact we can see right through them to the polka dots on the wearer’s underpants.
Though I understand the popularity of such a comfortable no brainer garment, I can’t say I agree with such practices – especially the above mentioned “pants impostor” faux pas that assaults the eyes far too often.
Hmmmm…I actually do think meggings are pretty cool though.
Before we gasp at the daring of Givenchy’s meggings, we should really take a minute to remember that there is nothing new under the sun. Indeed, a few centuries ago was penned a play featuring a hilarious quandary about a certain pair of yellow tights, cross gartered.
When I first read Act II of Twelfth Night, where Maria writes to Malvolio in the guise of Olivia, urging him to don his ‘yellow stockings, cross-gartered’ and woo her, I couldn’t quite picture the look. It sounded delightful, though. A little research at bardbrawl.com, and I quickly discovered that cross gartered yellow tights were de rigeur in court at the time Twelfth Night was written. Yellow was the ‘It’ colour of the season, and the decorative cross garters were an innovation to hold up the stockings before the advent of our dear friends, Lycra and Spandex. Who knew?
Check it out.
Poor Malvolio. It’s kind of tragic.
He was so excited! I mean, he was taking a real fashion risk and expressing himself and then it blows up in his face. I can just imagine him strutting his stuff, thinking this outfit was really gonna seal the deal with Olivia, while she looks at him like he’s gone mental and all the while Maria and co. are snickering at him from behind the bushes.
You know, I really think Malvolio was hanging out with the wrong crowd. They just weren’t ready for his avant-garde fashion sense. Too insecure.
Hello! I thought this play was supposed to be set in Italy. How far is Illyria from Milan, anyway? I guess it’s a little too far from the fashion capital for anything to trickle down. Like showing up at the Calgary Stampede in meggings, it’s just not going to be well received with this crew.
The truth is we just don’t know how to handle stockinged men. There was a whole Mel Brooks movie mocking it – remember Robin Hood Men in Tights? I do. I may or may not be able to quote the whole thing, which is something I probably shouldn’t admit to. “We’re men, we’re men in tights, we roam around the woods looking for fights….”
I do think there is a greater lesson to be learned from Malvolio’s mishap. When you step out and make a bold fashion statement, you become an easy target. Crowds are uncomfortable with the audacious confidence required to try out, say, peplums. So should Malvolio be ashamed, hang his head and exit the stage to Charlie Brown music like that Arrested Development episode? Maybe not. I say wear what you love, what makes your imagination run wild, what inspires you, what tells a story. Hold your head high, and remember you have Bill Cunningham on your side!
In the end, I think Malvolio had the last laugh. What started as sabotage turned into a sartorial mainstay.
For real, let me know when everyone has stopped wearing leggings for good. I doubt that day will come anytime soon.
Check out the rest of the amazing writers and artists in ‘Zounds!
What’s in store for this act? Probably a lot of things that we would call bullying today. Although if we were to bully anyone, we could do worse than to pick on Malvolio. Seems to me like someone’s a little light on Elizabethan holiday spirit. What better way to send a message than through public humiliation? I can’t think of any.
Turns out we’ve already reprised this podcast back when we were working on our first issue of ‘Zounds! (Which remains me that you can get your copy of issues 1 and 2 here, and that you can send submission for the upcoming Mad King issue here.)
But I’m sure you’ll forgive us as not only is this a particularly rockin’ and raucous episode but it was also our farewell brawl for Brawlers-for-life power couple “Second” Jay Ovenden and Zoey Baldwin.
So here’s to all the Brawlers out there, near and far.
And to those who cannot be with us, I’ll shotgun an extra bear just for you.
Viola (still in disguise as Cesario, of course) is waiting outside of Olivia’s house at the start of act III. She is waiting to be admitted with yet another suit from Orsino and is engaged in a witty exchange by Feste, the clown. The two exchange a bunch of jokes about husbands being fools, words being whored out through misuse and overuse, with some punning about the young Cesario ‘wanting’ a beard thrown in for good measure: The beard she ‘wants’ is attached to Orsino’s face, get it?
While she waits, Andrew Aguecheek and Sir Toby arrive and invite Viola in. Before they can enter, however, Olivia meets with them and is left alone with ‘Cesario.’ Olivia is enraptured by ‘Cesario’ and tries to get him to drop his suit on behalf of wooing for himself. She confesses to the ploy with the ring intended to get Cesario back here but Viola doesn’t bite. Viola says ‘Cesario’ won’t return given that it will be impossible to convince Olivia to love Orsino but Olivia ask that Cesario return anyhow, ‘just in case’ he might be able to convince her somehow…
It seems the Aguecheek saw the whole exchange between Cesario and Olivia in the garden and has decided, at the start of scene 2, that he has no chance with Olivia and should probably just leave. Fabian and Sir Toby convince him that what he needs to do is demonstrate his valour by challenging Cesario to a duel. Sir Toby asks him to write a challenge letter which he will deliver to Cesario. Seems like this is another prank and Sir Aguecheek just another fool. Maria arrives and informs that Malvolio’s all dressed up and ready to make a fool of himself.
Antonio catches up to Sebastian on his way to Illyria in scene 3. Despite the danger to himself, Antonio is moved to help Sebastian. We find out that the reason Antonio is a wanted man is because he stole from Orsino and was recognised in fleeing. He hands Sebastian some money and agrees to meet him at an inn called ‘The Elephant.’
Scene 4 is a monster of a scene, with a lot going on.
As the scene starts, Olivia is waiting impatiently for Malvolio. He arrives dressed as the letter suggested, with his bright yellow stocking, cross-gartered. Olivia immediately assumes he’s lost his mind and ask him to go to bed… which of course he takes as an invitation. He starts quoting bits of the letter as he kisses Olivia’s hand. She, of course, has no idea what the hell he’s talking about.
When Cesario is announced, Olivia asks Maria and Sir Toby to take care of the maddened Malvolio. Malvolio, though, assumes that this is just a test and that he’s supposed to exercise his ‘new authority’ over Sir Toby. They toy with him a bit and when Malvolio walks off, they decide to ties him up and put him in a dark room. Sir Andrew then arrives with his challenge letter. As it is a letter which would betray that Aguecheek is a moron, Sir Toby decides to deliver the challenge to Cesario himself, in his own words.
Olivia and Cesario are in the garden replaying the same scene: Olivia trying to convince Cesario to love her, Cesario trying to convince Olivia to love Orsino. When they take their leave, Sir Toby approaches Cesario and issues Aguecheek’s challenge. Of course, Viola is ignorant of any offense she might have given Aguecheek so she asks Sir Toby to find out what exactly Aguecheek is accusing her of. She asks Fabian about Aguecheek cheek and he describes him as a dangerous and skillful warrior. Sir Toby gives basically the same description of Cesario. While both of the combatants hope the combat will be avoided, Sir Toby manipulates them into it and they are interrupted by Antonio as they draw their swords. He has clearly confused Viola for Sebastian. (The impossible identical twins, remember?)
Moments later, some officers arrive and arrest Antonio. Thinking that he’s speaking with Sebastian, Antonio asks for his money back to bail him out of this mess. Viola denies having the money but offers half of what she has to help him. Antonio is incensed that ‘Sebastian’ has denied him but he is taken away by the guards. Viola slips away with Andrew Aguecheek and the others giving chase.
Hope you’re nice and buzzed because today we continue with our special Twelfth Night redux of Twelfth Nightwith act II.
Finally got those yellow stockings you were pining for this Christmas? Tonight’s the night to bust a New Year’s Eve fashion move and rock those cross-gartered wonders in all their glory!
If you didn’t get your yellow stockings – like that Nintendo you kept asking for and not getting because you were told that there just wasn’t room in Santa’s sleigh – you can use the line that was used on me as a kid: Ah! There’s always next year!
In the first act of the play, Viola disguises herself as Cesario, the young eunuch page in service to Orsino. Olivia has continued to refuse his advances but though better of his envoy, Cesario. A bit of a problem for everyone involved in that scenario…
Oh, but what do we have here at the start of act II? Why, a young man, washed up on the shore, who bears a striking resemblance to Viola in her Cesario disguise? Hmm… wonder where Shakespeare’s going with that. Anyhow, this is Viola’s brother Sebastian who she thinks is dead but who is – as we can see – very much alive. He was found washed ashore by this Antonio fellow. Sebastian decides that he’ll seek out Orsino (presumably to figure out a way home) and, despite having enemies in Orsino’s court, Antonio is moved by his love for the young man and decides to follow him anyway.
Malvolio, whom Olivia had sent after Cesario, catches up her in scene 2 and gives her a ring. When Viola tries to turn down the ring because it is not hers, Malvolio insists that not only is it her ring but that she threw at Olivia. Malvolio drops the thing on the ground and leaves. This is where Viola realises that maybe her disguise was a little too good. Ooops.
We return to Olivia’s house for scene 3 where Toby Belch, Sir Andrew and Feste the clown are singing, drinking and generally making a racket. Maria comes to tell them to quiet down nut the noise brings Malvolio. He immediately tells Sir Toby that he is only welcome here if he can check his excesses at the door. Sir Toby’s response? Something along the lines of “who the @$&# do you think you are?” He reminds Malvolio that his self-righteous behaviour might make him feel important but he’s still just a twerp. Like my 11 year old niece, Malvolio stomps off to go tell Olivia. They decide that they’ll play a (kind of mean) prank on him to take him down a peg: Maria will forge a fake letter to make Malvolio think that Olivia is in love with him. This is basically going to lead him to make a fool of himself.
This next scene is a little complicated to explain but actually quite simple. Orsino is listening to music when Viola arrives. He notices that ‘Cesario’ seems to be showing the signs that he’s fallen in love. Orsino. Seeing as he can’t feed is own appetite for love, he figures he can at least get some enjoyment
from hearing about ‘Cesario’s’ love interest. Of course, seeing as he is the object of Viola’s love, a lot of his questions are answered with: “she’s kind of a lot like you are. Like exactly.” Orsino says some stuff about how much better men are at love than women but Viola then tells him a story about her ‘sister” unrequited love to show that women love deeper than men. Orsino sends her back to Olivia’s house for more wooing!
The last scene of act II takes place in Olivia’s garden. Sir Toby, Sir Andrew and Maria have brought a friend, Fabian, along to watch Malvolio make a fool of himself. They all hide in the bushes. Malvolio walks on the stage talking to himself about how great it would be to be a count. He starts thinking of precedents to ladies marrying underlings. He imagines kicking Sir Toby out, having the run of the house. Eventually, he finds the letter written by Maria. Of course, he decides to read it aloud and describe his thoughts about the cryptic love letter. He ‘brilliantly’ deduces that the letter is written by Olivia and was left there on purpose for him to find it. Emboldened by this letter, he determines to follow its instructions and confess his love to Olivia. Of course, the gawkers chase after him so they won’t miss seeing him be shot down by Olivia.
The letter Malvolio finds mentions that its mysterious author wants to see Malvolio in yellow stocking, “cross-gartered.”
Before the advent of elasticized socks, men wore their socks up to their knees held up by straps or garters. It seems that there were several ways of gartering your socks. The “regular” way would have had the garters running down the side of the leg, parallel to the leg. Cross-gartering instead runs the straps or bands in a criss-cross pattern up the calf and to the knee.
Here’s how that might have looked:
I have no idea just how bad of a fashion faux-pas this would have been in Shakespeare’s day but I’ll take a guess. If we translate that into contemporary terms, the letter might as well have said: “I would really love for you to wear these skin-tight black and fluorescent green bicycle shorts when we go out for brunch with my mother this weekend.”
While I mentioned that Feste is the clown in the play, the real clown – in many ways – is Malvolio. He’s the one everybody’s laughing at. And I’m guessing that Malvolio would have looked just as ridiculous to Shakespeare’s audience as he does to us wearing those bright yellow sock, cross-gartered.
If, like me, you like taking pleasure at the misfortunes of others, you won’t want to miss the next act!