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on the same date and possibly in the same piece. It would undoubtedly, at anyrate from the business point of view, be so much more convenient for the company not to change the piece, that we may fairly regard Fleay's supposition as correct. "It may be assumed from the whole scope of the narrative [in the Gesta Grayorum] that the Comedy of Errors was not presented as a new piece. It was obviously put on as a makeshift," remarks Elton in his William Shakespeare, his Family and Friends, 1904, p. 198. But while put on as a makeshift, it was also obviously essential that the makeshift should be suitable to the occasion and to the audience. No piece could be selected for an audience of lawyers, scholars and university "wits" more suitable than a clever and recent piece like The Errors, founded as it was on a "classical" model, and preserving the unities and many of the situations of the Plautine play. If this be so, the first production of The Errors was clearly anterior to 1594; and the date 1591-2 is in great measure confirmed by one of the most important "internal" tests, viz., the allusion in III. ii. 125, first pointed out by Theobald, to the civil war which was then raging in France. Dromio of Syracuse, describing the "wondrous fat" kitchen-wench to his master Antipholus of Syracuse, and replying to the latter's question in what part of her body he had found France, says, "In her forehead, armed and reverted, making war against her heir." Here the play upon heir and hair is obvious. Theobald illustrates one side of this with an historical fact. In 1589, Henry III. of France had appointed Henry of Navarre as his successor; and in 1593 the latter was acknowledged King of France as Henry IV.
In 1591 Elizabeth had sent an expedition under Sir John Norris and the Earl of Essex to Henry's aid-a step undoubtedly dictated by the popular enthusiasm in England for the Protestant cause. The jest in the play would have fallen flat after July, 1593, when peace was made; and the reference, to have any striking dramatic point, must have been penned sometime between 1589 and 1593; most probably in the autumn or winter of 1591-2, shortly after the expedition was sent, and when the event was still fresh in men's minds. Dr. Johnson emphasises the other, and ribald, side of the quibble, when he says, "Our author, in my opinion, only sports with an allusion, in which he takes too much delight, and means that his mistress had the French disease. The ideas are rather too offensive to be dilated. By a forehead armed, he means covered with incrusted eruptions by reverted, he means having the hair turning backward." The reader may be left to judge for himself of the correctness and propriety of this explanation. The reference (III. ii. 140) to Spain sending "whole armadoes of caracks" naturally follows on the preceding reference to the civil war in France, and may well refer to the great Armada of 1588; and also tends to support an early date such as 1591-2. Shakespeare, as in the case of the MidsummerNight's Dream and other plays, was undoubtedly quick to discern and apply current events for his special dramatic purposes. In order, therefore, that this undoubted reference may have the necessary dramatic point, we must perforce hold that the play was written and produced shortly after the expedition of Norris and Essex in 1591. With reference to the anterior limit, 1589, it may be pointed out that
Shakespeare's use of the name Menaphon, in v. i. 367, "That most famous warrior, Duke Menaphon, your most renowned uncle," may possibly be a reminiscence of or derived from the title of Greene's Menaphon, which was published in 1589. Or Shakespeare may have taken the name directly from Menaphon, one of the "Persian Lords". in Marlowe's Tamburlaine the Great.
The popularity of Shakespeare's play was of some standing, if we may judge from another interesting reference to it in legal circles. A barrister named Manningham, describing certain revels at the Middle Temple, in a letter written in February, 1601-2, refers thus to the production of Shakespeare's Twelfth Night: "At our feast we had a play called Twelve Night, or what you will, much like the Commedy of Errores, or Menechmi in Plautus, but most like and neere to that in Italian called Inganni.”
Further, internal evidence shows that, generally speaking, the play is marked by all the characteristics of Shakespeare's earliest manner. This appears from the comparatively timid and shadowy nature of his delineation of character in The Errors as contrasted with the firm and precise characterisation of his later period; from his partiality for rhymed verse and euphuistic conceits; and from the budding luxuriance of poetic fancy which is visible in the other earlier plays, Love's Labour's Lost, The Two Gentlemen of Verona, Romeo and Juliet, and A Midsummer-Night's Dream.
Quatrains of alternate rhymes and rhyming couplets are introduced into The Errors, notably in the poetic love passages of Act III., as in other early plays just mentioned,
though to a somewhat less extent in the Two Gentlemen of Verona. These are the high water mark of his poetic achievement in The Errors. Such beautiful and harmonious lines as
O, train me not, sweet mermaid, with thy note,
To drown me in thy sister's flood of tears:
Sing, siren, for thyself, and I will dote:
Spread o'er the silver waves thy golden hairs, (111. ii. 45-48)
It is thyself, mine own self's better part,
Mine eye's clear eye, my dear heart's dearer heart,
My food, my fortune, and my sweet hope's aim,
My sole earth's heaven, and my heaven's claim, (111. ii. 60-64)
are not far removed either in point of time or in point of excellence from the loftier and more sustained poetic pitch of the Venus and Lucrece.
On this poetic usage, Knight in vol. i. of his Shakespere, p. 213, somewhat acutely remarks: "There was clearly a time in Shakespeare's poetical life when he delighted in this species of versification; and in many of the instances in which he has employed it in the dramas we have mentioned [Love's Labour's Lost, Romeo and Juliet, A Midsummer-Night's Dream], the passages have somewhat of a fragmentary appearance, as if they were not originally cast in a dramatic mould, but were amongst those scattered thoughts of the young poet which had shaped themselves into verse, without a purpose beyond that of embodying his feeling of the beautiful and the harmonious. When the time arrived that he had fully dedicated himself to the great work of his life, he rarely ventured upon cultivating these
offshoots of his early versification. The doggerel was entirely rejected, the alternate rhymes no longer tempted him, by their music, to introduce a measure which is scarcely akin with the dramatic spirit-the couplet was adopted more and more sparingly—and he finally adheres to the blank verse which he may almost be said to have created-in his hands certainly the grandest as well as the sweetest form in which the highest thoughts were ever unfolded to listening humanity."
Another characteristic of The Errors, and to a less degree of Love's Labour's Lost and The Taming of the Shrew, is the somewhat free use of the comic trimeter or so-called doggerel verses, the "rime dogerel" of Chaucer, already referred to, which Shakespeare almost always in The Errors puts in the mouths of the twin attendants, the Dromios. Roughly speaking, the trimeter occurs in this play in the following passages: II. ii. 47, 48, 202, 203; III. i. 11-83; III. ii. 146, 147; IV. i. 21; IV. ii. 29-62; V. i. 423-25; i.e., something less than 100 lines in all, but still a fair proportion in a short play of less than 1800 lines. The trimeter appears to have had its origin in one of the metres of Plautus himself. It was not unknown to Chaucer, who employs what is probably a modification of it in his Tale of Sir Thopas; see Canterbury Tales, Group B, 1906-7 (4 Skeat, 197; I Pollard, 288):
In bataille and in tourneyment,
But it is interesting to note that at line 2108" Heere the Hoost stynteth Chaucer of his Tale of Thopas" in the following pungent lines: