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MonkeyNotes-The Comedy of Errors by William Shakespeare
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PLOT

In The Comedy of Errors, Shakespeare conforms to the classical unities of time and place, for he uses the Plautine stage with its three street doors to represent the town of Ephesus, where all the action takes place, and restricts the time to a single day; therefore, the plot of the play is tightly structured. The pattern of the plot, however, is akin to that of a fast-moving kaleidoscope; the focal point is ever-changing with a rapidity that does not allow the audience (or the reader) the time to think logically or feel deeply. Comedy, however, is not meant to evoke the same strong emotions as tragedy does.

The entire plot depends upon the implausible double premise that the two Antipholus and their two servants, all of whom freely move about the city, will not meet each other in Ephesus. The tension in the play arises out of the element of suspense created by the mistaken identities and by the fact that Antipholus of Syracuse time and again promises to leave Ephesus before the play has arrived at its resolution. This main plot of chaos and confusion is enclosed within the romantic story of the separation of Egeon and Emilia, which occurred years before the actual action of the play takes place. At the end of the play they are touchingly reunited. This framework of true romance does not fit tightly with the farcical nature of the comedy it encloses.


Through the ages there has been much discussion as to whether the play is a farce or a comedy. M.H. Abrams' book, 'A Glossary of Literary Terms,' defines comedy as "a work in which the materials are selected and managed primarily in order to interest, involve, and arouse us; the characters and their discomfiture engage our pleasurable attention rather than our profound concern; we are made to feel confident that no great disaster will occur, and the action turns out happily for the chief characters." The Comedy of Errors definitely seems to fit into this definition.

Farce is defined by Abrams as "a type of comedy designed to provoke the audience to simple, hearty laughter-'belly laughs' in the parlance of the theater. To do so it commonly employs highly exaggerated or caricatured types of characters, puts them into improbable and ludicrous situations, and makes free use of sexual mix-ups, broad verbal humor, and physical bustle and horseplay." The play also clearly fits this definition.

The main characters in the play are caricatures that have been placed in a highly unlikely situations. As a result, they appear to lack the ability to make simple logical connections and often depend on explaining things as way as magic or witchcraft. The very title of the play suggests a mix-up -- a series of errors based on a confusion of identities. Appropriately, the language employed in the play is almost always devoid of lyricism, and the laughter brought about by the play is usually caused by low humor, clearly seen when Dromio of Syracuse describes the kitchen-maid. In addition, Shakespeare often makes use of prose and doggerel, which seems to confuse the poetic beauty of the play. Finally, even though the play develops a romantic strain in its many references to ships and travel and the romance of Egeon and Emilia, farce rises above courtly romance.

The Comedy of Errors is a farce because it subordinates credibility of character to rapidity of movement, and "its characters do not so much relate as collide with one another." Interaction between them is frequently physical and potentially violent. Shakespeare manipulates the characters and the action to evoke a humorous response from his audience. Remember the playwright calls the drama a comedy of errors and gives the audience much more knowledge about the action on the stage than the characters have themselves, creating delightful dramatic irony, while making the characters seem farcical and producing laughter in the audience.

All of the above factors seem to point the scale toward the belief that The Comedy of Errors is a farce; but it is a comedy as well. Most of Shakespearean comedy explores the dominant motif of the breakdown of normal order and the final restoration of harmony in the resolution. In this respect, undeniably, The Comedy of Errors, is a traditional Shakespearean comedy. It can further be distinguished as a comedy of intrigue, for the success of the plot depends on the ignorance and gullibility of the characters in the play.

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