« IndietroContinua »
COMEDY OF ERRORS.
Adapted for Scholastic or Private Study, and for those qualifying for
BY THE REV. JOHN HUNTER, M.A.
One of the National Society's Examiners of Middle-Class Schools;
THE first publication of Shakspeare's Comedy of Errors was in the Folio collection of 1623; but it is evidently one of his very early plays. The 'long doggrel verses' in which a considerable portion of it is written, and which were a prevailing feature in the style of Shakspeare's dramatic predecessors, argue it to have been, like Love's Labour's Lost and The Taming of the Shrew, a production of his youthful mind, when the growth of his powers had not yet given him boldness to deviate much from established models. The play is referred to by Meres in his Palladis Tamia, 1598, in an enumeration which includes The Merchant of Venice, Romeo and Juliet, and several others of our author's noblest dramas. We are therefore willing enough to go at least five or six years beyond that date in endeavouring to ascertain the time of the production of this comedy; and an opinion of Theobald, founded on a passage in Act III. Scene 2, seems to indicate 1592 as the probable time. For when Antipholus of Syracuse there asks his servant in what part of the cook's person France was situated, the servant answers: 'In her forehead; armed and reverted, making war against her heir!' Here a quibble between hair and heir seems to be intended, and to imply reference to the civil contests in France, 1589-93, concerning the succession of Henry IV. We have reason, then, for supposing Shakspeare's Comedy of Errors to have been the play that was performed at Gray's Inn in 1594, according to the following entry in the Gesta Grayorum, published in 1688:-'After such sports, a Comedy of Errors (like to Plautus his Menechmus) was played by the players; so that night was begun and continued to the end in nothing but con
fusion and errors; whereupon it was ever afterwards called the Night of Errors.'
The Menæchmi of Plautus is the original source of the plot of this play; but it is not at all likely that Shakspeare took the trouble of reading the Latin comedy: we doubt whether he had sufficient knowledge of Latin to do so, although probably he had received a considerable amount of grammar-school instruction. We know that in all other instances in which his plot was taken from ancient classic story, he had recourse to English versions. It was at one time supposed, therefore, that he might have founded this comedy on a translation of the Menaechmi by W. Warner, published in 1595; but in the Folio of 1623 we find the stolen son distinguished as Antipholus Sereptus (properly Surreptus, stolen), and the other as Antipholus Erotes, or Errotis (probably a corruption of Erraticus, wandering), and these epithets are not in Warner, nor do we find any coincidence of expression in Warner and Shakspeare. Moreover, we have seen that a Comedy of Errors was acted at Gray's Inn in 1594. We may, therefore, safely dismiss Warner, and suppose that some earlier hand than Shakspeare's had converted the Menæchmi into an English play. In the Accounts of the Revels at Queen Elizabeth's Court, Malone found that a play called The History of Error had been acted at Hampton Court in 1577; and this may have been Shakspeare's immediate source of suggestion for his Comedy of Errors.
'THE Comedy of Errors is the subject of the Menæchmi of Plautus, entirely recast and enriched with new developments. Of all works of Shakspeare this is the only example of imitation of, or borrowing from, the ancients. To the two twin brothers of the same name are added two slaves, also twins, impossible to be distinguished from each other, and of the same name. The improbability becomes by this means doubled; but when once we have lent ourselves to the first, which certainly borders on the incredible, we shall not perhaps be disposed to cavil at the second; and if the spectator is to be entertained by mere perplexities, they cannot be too much varied. . . . . In short, this is perhaps the best of all written or possible Menæchmi; and if the piece be inferior in worth to other pieces of Shakspeare, it is merely because nothing more could be made of the materials.'-SCHLEGEL.
'This drama of Shakspeare's is much more varied, rich, and interesting in its incidents than the Menaechmi of Plautus; and while, in rigid adherence to the unities of action, time, and place, our poet rivals the Roman play, he has contrived to insinuate the necessary previous information for the spectator, in a manner infinitely more pleasing and artful than that adopted by the Latin bard; for whilst Plautus has chosen to convey it through the medium of a prologue, Shakspeare has rendered it at once natural and pathetic, by placing it in the mouth of Ægeon, the father of the twin brothers.