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!
Welcome Bard Brawlers. We are back and will release the first volume of our podcast next week. The play? The Comedy of Errors, Shakespeare’s first comedy and in the running for least plausible plot of all time.
Before you join us in our new format podcast, which will be released next week, feel free to watch the BBC version of the play staring Who frontman Roger Daltrey. It’s pretty good. Here’s part one, with the others all on the site.
Actually, there’s not too much in terms of adaptations of this play especially in film. It is a decent play to see live however. I’ve seen it once at Bard on the Beach, as has A.D. Rowe, who caught the steam punk version, which he liked. It’s pretty funny.
Here’s Ms. Lane’s six-minute take on the plot.
That should give you a taste of the play, and we’ll be back in to rip out the first act with dramatic readings and all.
Welcome back Brawlers to the Bard Brawl! Apologies for the delay but we had some technical difficulties with scene 2 of our recording. It got cut off, just like Lavinia’s tongue and hands, and just like (spoiler) Titus’s right hand.
In the end, we wrangled up some designated hitters and powered on through to bring you act III of Titus Andronicus!
Lavinia was raped and mutilated, Titus’s lemming sons Martius and Quintus have been framed by Aaron the Moor for it, and now Titus is begging the tribunes and senators not to put them both to death.
He’s begging his little heart out but they just pass him by and ignore him. He keeps pleading until his son Lucius shows up and points out that he’s standing on the street alone and no one’s there to here him beg for his sons’ lives. It’s not looking great.
Also, bad news: Lucius tried to rescue his brothers so now he’s been banished from Rome. More bad news: Titus sees Lavinia for the first time since Chiron and Demetrius raped her.
Thing’s aren’t exactly looking up for Titus but then Aaron shows up and tells Titus that if either Lucius, Marcus or Titus chops off their hand and sends it to the Emperor, that he’ll spare Titus’ sons.
Good deal, right?
The three of them argue about whose hand should be cut off but then Titus sends Lucius and Marcus off to get an axe to do the chopping and while they’re away, Titus has Aaron cut off his hand.
Why did Lucius and Marcus run off to get an axe? What the hell did Aaron use to cut off Titus’ hand? Come on, Shakespeare. You’re better than this!
Lucius and Marcus come back and Aaron runs off to deliver the hand. And then a few minutes later, a messenger arrives carrying the heads of Martius and Quintus. Oh, and Titus’ bloody hand.
That didn’t go so well. Maybe cutting off your own hand wasn’t the smartest move, dude. Kind of like stabbing your son to death was not too bright.
Well, since Titus pretty much has nothing left to lose, it looks like it’s time for some epic level revenge!
For starters, Lucius flees Rome and plans to recruit an army of Goths to overthrow Saturninus and Tamora. (Not sure why they would want to join the fight with the son of the guy who stomped them into the ground and stole their queen from them, though. Guess when someone offers you a chance to sack Rome, you take it.)
Meanwhile, in scene II, Titus and Marcus plan out how to kill Aaron. Actually, Marcus mostly tries to do that while Titus spends a lot of time whining. Then Marcus kills a fly, a black fly (get it?), and it’s as if the idea of killing Aaron occurs to Titus for the first time.
Heck, if between the two of them they can kill one fly, then for sure they can take on the Emperor, Tamora, Aaron and their cronies. Makes perfect sense.
But before that vengeance goes down, time for dad to read depressing stories to his daughter in a closet, while young Lucius watches.
Yeah. that’s not creepy.
Stay tuned for the next scene, where I’m going to assume some more people die.
Also, welcome back to the pod the Bard Brawl’s original sonneteer Maya Pankalla with sonnet 63!
Check out the rest of the amazing writers and artists in ‘Zounds!
Buy Volume II NOW. Volume III coming soon. Very soon. Like, Thursday, May 14th soon.
Bolingbroke has the crown in hand and Richard’s been sent to the tower, so it’s all over right? Bring on the hookers and blow and incriminating British tabloid pictures!
Nope. Hank Bolingbroke’s not in the clear yet.
When scene 1 opens, Richard’s wife is waiting for him along the road which leads to the tower to say goodbye before he gets locked up for good. She seems ready to give up but Richard tries to convince her to forget about this whole Queen business and run off to France before things get ugly. And the Northumberland shows up to tell him he’s going to Pomfret instead of the Tower. That can’t be good. Richard accuses Northumberland of helping Henry Bolingbroke to the throne and believes that sooner or later Northumberland will turn on Henry.
Too right, Richard. That one’s called Henry the Fourth but you won’t be around to see it. Your wife might survive but she’ll be long gone to France by then. She wasn’t in the sequel.
Back at the Duke of York’s palace the duchess of York gives us a portrait of Richard and Henry popular appeal: while the people were pumped about Bolingbroke, they threw garbage as Richard as he walked by with his armed escort. Thankfully though, York did okay in the change of leadership and even managed to plead on his son Aumerle’s behalf that he was totally committed, 100% to the new regime. Yup. No traitorous thoughts or loyalty to Richard at all.
Except there’s this sealed letter poking out of Aumerle’s jacket which says that he, Carlisle and a bunch of other nobles are planning to overthrow the new king. Dad’s pissed but there’s only one thing this NARC can do: run off to the king and rat his son out! Mom’s suggestion: just go tell the new king you’re sorry and that you won’t hang out with those losers if you can just be part of the team, even if that means being Rutland the towel boy.
You’d think you’d try a little harder to hide something like that from your dad. I bet York never found Aumerle’s secret weed stash. (Look for his special snuff-box, the one with the white rose on it and the Latin inscription which translates to: “Death to the Lancastrians.” Joke explained here.)
In scene 3 we learn that Henry’s got a deadbeat son when York busts in demanding to speak to the king. He spills the beans on his son and when Aumerle and his mother get there. York pleads with the king to kill Aumerle for his dishonour and Aumerle swears up and down that he really wasn’t into this whole rebellion thing and that the others pressured him into it. The duchess begs for her son’s life and King Henry forgives him. He doesn’t forgive the others though. They’re still going to die.
Scene 4 is super short but it’s kind of important: Lord Exton decides that because he overheard King Henry talk about how much better things would be if Richard weren’t around, he would probably get a huge reward if he went off and killed him on his own initiative.
So off he goes. He finds Richard in his cell, passing the time by debating with himself whether he’s better off now, in prison, or when he was king and surrounded with sycophants. He’s also pretty pissed that even his horse Barbary has betrayed him: it seemed happy to be carrying King Henry around instead of his sad sack. The jail keeper comes in with his supper so Richard asks him to taste the food first but Exton’s ixnayed that. Richard knows the jig is up so he goes into Hulk mode and snatches the keeper’s axe and offs him. He hacks down another servant before Exton finally runs in and kills him.
Except what seemed like such a good idea before kinda seems like a bad idea all of a sudden.
Henry’s feeling pretty good in the final scene: the conspirators have all been found or killed and things are looking up when Exton comes in with the dead king in tow. Too bad Henry isn’t feeling it. Oh sure, he’s happy that Richard’s gone but why oh why did he have to be murdered! Oh the humanity of it all! How could you, Exton? (Is anybody buying this yet?)
Quick everyone! Look over there: a Crusade in the Holy Land! Looks like fun so let’s join in!
And they lived happily ever after until the first few lines of Henry IV, part 1.
Stay tuned for the Richard II speeches podcast, followed by act I of a play which may have appeared in the pages of the last ‘Zounds!
David Kandestin rejoins the brawl and delivers a magnetic reading of sonnet 49.
And hey! Buy ‘Zounds!You’ll never regret or forget it. Volume II is OUT NOW.