Today we’re getting into my tiny (admittedly) Shakespeare collection, and we’re starting with The Comedy of Errors. This is Shakespeare’s shortest play, and one of my least favorite, definitely the one I like the least of the ones I own.
Why do I own it? Two reasons: My sister was getting rid of it (because she’s got one of those massive “complete Shakespeare” books), and as a literature major and future English teacher I really do need to have a sizable Shakespeare collection.
This is the story of not one set of separated identical twins, BUT TWO. Creating chaos as only Shakespeare (and maybe Joss Whedon) knows how, one rich guy and his servant end up in the town where the twin rich guy and his twin servant are living, and this causes all sorts of shenanigans to ensue.
To be honest, there’s not a lot interesting about this play, and it wasn’t very well-liked by the audiences of the day. Despite the fact that it’s been adapted six ways to Sunday (because it’s Shakespeare), there’s a reason you probably didn’t read it in school. It’s not got the one thing Shakespeare’s plays are really famous for: stunning, almost larger-than-life characters. There’s no Portia, no Beatrice, no Romeo, no Hamlet. It’s just kind of a Three Stooges slapstick kind of comedy.
The only thing of note critically is that it’s one of only two Shakespeare plays (the other being The Tempest) to follow the classical unities, as defined by Aristotle, that were considered essential for good theatre for a very long time, particularly in France.
Just because it was considered classically important, though, does not mean that it is the best idea moving forward. The play wasn’t especially interesting or innovative, even in its time, and to be honest it really could have been written by any decent playwright of the era. The reason we remember it?
It’s got Shakespeare on the byline.