A reflection on “The Comedy of Errors”

 

 

 

 

 

 

Professor James P.  Conlan

English 4001 (OU1)

26 October 2008

A reflection on “The Comedy of Errors”

 

After reading the play and revising my notes, I find that what stands out to me is Stephen Greenblatt’s[1] introduction to the text. I find that his assessment of the play is very accurate. The play makes me question myself some very basic things, like “Who am I?”, “What makes “me” me?” The play confronts me as a reader with the fragility of my human identity, how my relationships, my job, my kids, my ideas make up who I am, and how ridiculously fragile the whole setup is. What guarantees are there that it won’t all come tumbling down in a flash? Does my identity really hinge on all these things? Would the loss or confusion of my identity really kill me? My name, Efraín (Spanish for the Hebrew name Ephraim, or “doubly fruitful”) Suárez (“Son of Suero” of the Visigoths of Spain) is just a joining of two words. I could say that the joining of these two words is indicative of a specific person with specifics traits, in the same way that there is a Antipholus of Ephesus and a Antipholus of Syracuse, there could be another Efraín Suárez somewhere. Actually there is a housing project on the island called “Residencial Efraín Suárez”.

 

So, perhaps in the same way that “Comedy of Errors” is carried forward by a series of incredible coincidences, maybe all our lives are just a series of interwoven circumstances and coincidences that keep it all together.

The loss of community and family, the search for the self and in the case of the twins, the other self, and the challenge to the identity that occurs when one twin is mistaken for the other bear looking into. What is the effect, other than comic, when a person is so thoroughly mistaken for someone else? When a father believes he has lost both sons and a wife? When years are spent searching for completeness?

Stanley Wells, in his introduction to the Penguin edition of The Comedy of Errors, says[2], “He will not merely give up his own concerns while seeking his brother, but will also, by being treated as if he were someone other than he really is, be made to feel that he has lost his own identity”. Similarly, R.A. Foakes[3] focuses on the serious theme: “…It … invites compassion, a measure of sympathy, and a deeper response to the disruption of family and social relationships which the action brings about.”

In the end I think the play is about the tension between appearance and reality. When a person mistakes appearance for reality, conflict and disorder will surely follow. The Comedy  uses comic absurdities to explore deep human values and concerns. It is, as we mentioned, a play about identity, about knowing oneself in order to have productive and satisfying relationships with others. According to Janie McCauley[4] “Who am I?” and “What is reality?” are universal themes in both tragic and comic drama. Shakespeare would return to these ideas and materials again and again in his works.

 

Notes

Cook, Kay K. In All Seriousness: The Comedy of Errors, from Insights 2003, <http://www.bard.org/Education/resources/shakespeare/comedyserious.html>

Gibaldi, Joseph, MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers, Sixth Edition the Modern Language Association of America 2003

McCauley, Janie, Doubles with a Difference: Twins in Shakespeare’s Plays, Bob Jones University, 2001, <http://www.bju.edu/campus/fa/cod/cp/comedy/&gt;

The Norton Shakespeare”, Second Edition – Stephen Greenblatt (General Editor),Harvard University Press, 2008

 

[1] “The Norton Shakespeare”, Second Edition – Stephen Greenblatt (General Editor),

[2] As cited by Kay K. Cook in his article, In All Seriousness: The Comedy of Errors

 

[3]  In his article, Serious Themes: The Comedy of Errors, Readings on the Comedies San Diego: Greenhaven Press, 1997, 86. I’ve also quoted this from cook’s article

 

[4] In her article, Doubles with a Difference: Twins in Shakespeare’s Plays

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