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24 April 2006

The Comedy of Errors (2003)

A Fully Dramatized Reading of William Shakespeare's The Comedy of Errors (1592)

Vol. V of The Complete Arkangel Shakespeare by Audio Partners; David Tennant (Antipholus of Syra- cuse), Brendan Coyle (Antipholus of Ephesus), Alan Cox (Dromio of Syracuse), Jason O'Mara (Dromio of Ephesus)

The Wikipedia plot summary can be found here.

Review

What a crack up. This is Shakespeare's shortest play and, more impressively, this is the first of his comedies ever performed. Would audiences have found the change of tone and theme surprising? After all, this is the same man whose first four works were the heavy Henry VI trilogy and its sequel, Richard III. That would be like Ridley Scott or some other equally serious action director offering, as their next project, a film like The 40 Year Old Virgin.

So what does this play contain? Slapstick, puns of a great multitude, at least one fart joke, mistaken identities galore, wisecracks, two rather abused servants in The Three Stooges manner, and an ongoing discussion about a very fat, amorous cook. I laughed louder and more often with this play than with any dozen half-hearted sitcoms or lame Hollywood comedies.

The puns, however, can be frustrating, primarily because of how greatly the meaning of certain words has changed in 400 years and because I am not working from an annotated text. For example, the words "mated" and "gossip" are used in such a way as to make no sense to me with modern definitions (or even the more arcane ones I discovered). Because of the rapid-fire dialogue, I found myself contented, for the most part, with allowing all of that word play to wash over me in the hopes of registering at least every other pun. Many, many groans to be had at all that silliness.

The audio drama production added to the experience. Various stage comedy sound effects for slaps and pratfalls abounded, as did the use of sad, tongue-in-cheek piano music whenever a character waxed reminiscent to reveal a flashback. All of the techniques they employed are clichéd, eliciting a grin and a bit of eye-rolling from me, but the clichés themselves made the conventions of the plot more humorous. The comparison might be a modern sitcom using the laugh track intentionally - forcefully - in order to create another layer of wry, self-aware jest. Excellent, fast, fun.

Quotes

Adriana (Antipholus of Ephesus's wife) to her sister about men's freedoms: "Why should their liberty then ours be more?" Luciana: "Because their business still lies out o' door."

Dromio of Syracuse to his master about the fat cook who chases him: "Marry, sir, she's the kitchen-wench, and all grease; and I know not what use to put her to, but to make a lamp of her, and run from her by her own light. I warrant, her rags, and the tallow in them, will burn a Poland winter: if she lives till doomsday, she'll burn a week longer than the whole world."

More about the cook: "No longer from head to foot than from hip to hip: she is spherical, like a globe; I could find out countries in her!"

Dromio of Ephesus (the fart joke): "A man may break a word with you, sir; and words are but wind; / Ay, and break it in your face, so he break it not behind!"

Dromio of Ephesus to his twin: "Methinks you are my [looking] glass, and not my brother: / I see by you I am a sweet-faced youth."

Vocab & References

jars (conflict), mountebanks, carcanet, carbuncles (gem & infection), durance, lapwing, morris-pike, genius (guardian spirit), sere

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