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Comedy of Errors.
PRELIMINARY REMARKS. The general idea of this play is taken from the Menæchmi of Plautus, but the plot is entirely recast and rendered much more diverting by the variety and quick succession of the incidents. To the twin brothers of Plautus are added twin servants, and though this increases the improbability, yet, as Schlegel observes, ' when once we have lent ourselves to the first, which certainly borders on the incredible, we should not probably be disposed to cavil about the second; and if the spectator is to be entertained with mere perplexities, they cannot be too much varied. The clumsy and inartificial mode of informing the spectator by a prologue of events, which it was necessary for him to be acquainted with in order to enter into the spirit of the piece, is well avoided, and shows the superior skill of the modern dramatist over his ancient prototype. With how much more propriety is it placed in the mouth of Ægeon the father of the twin brothers, whose character is sketched with such skill as deeply to interest the reader in his griefs and misfortunes. Developement of character, however, was not to be expected in a piece which consists of an uninterrupted series of mistakes and laughter-moving situations. Steevens most resolutely maintains his opinion that this was a play only retouched by the hand of Shakspeare, but he has not given the grounds upon which his opinion was formed. We may suppose the doggerel verses of the dramas and the want of distinct characterisation in the Dramatis Personæ, together with the farcelike nature of some of the incidents, made him draw this conclusion. Malone has given a satisfactory answer to the first objection, by adducing numerous examples of the same kind of long verse from the dramas of several of his cotemporaries; and that Shakspeare was swayed by custom in introducing it into his early plays there can be no doubt; for it should be remembered that this kind of versification is to be found in Love's Labour's Lost, and in The Taming of the Shrew. His better judgment made him subsequently abandon it. The particular translation from Plautus, which served as a model, has not come down to us. There was a translation of the Menæchmi, by W. W. (Warner), published in 1595, which it is possible Shakspeare may have seen in manuscript, but from the circumstance of the brothers being, in the folio of 1623, occasionally styled Antipholus Erotes or Errotis, and Antipholus Sereptus, perhaps for Surreptus and Erraticus,
while in Warner's translation the brothers are named Menæchmus Sosicles and Menachmus the traveller ; it is concluded that he was not the poet's authority. It is difficult to pronounce decidedly between the contending opinions of the critics, but the general impression upon my mind is that the whole of the play is from the hand of Shakspeare. Dr. Drake thinks it is visible throughout the entire play, as well in the broad exuberance of its mirth, as in the cast of its more chastised parts, a combination of which may be found in the character of Pinch, who is sketched in his strongest and most marked style. We may conclude with Schlegel's dictum that “this is the best of all written or possible Menæchmi; and if the piece is inferior in worth to other pieces of Shakspeare, it is merely because nothing more could be made of the materials.'
Malone first placed the date of this piece in 1593, or 1596, but lastly in 1592. Chalmers plainly showed that it should be ascribed to the early date of 1591. It was neither printed nor entered on the Stationers' books until it appeared in the folio of 1623.
DROMO of Syracuse,}
SOLINUS, Duke of Ephesus.
two Antipholuses. ANTIPHOLUS of Ephesus, twin brothers and sons to Ægeon ANTIPHOLUS of Syracuse,
and Æmilia, but unknown to
COMEDY OF ERRORS.
SCENE I. A Hall in the Duke's Palace. Enter Duke, ÆGEON, Gaoler, Officer, and other
Duke. Merchant of Syracusa, plead no more;
A gilder was a coin valued from one shilling and sixpence to two shillings.
Again, If any Syracusan born,
Duke. Well, Syracusan, say, in brief, the cause
Æge. A heavier task could not have been imposed,
2 i. e. natural affection.
3 The old copy reads he : the emendation is Malone's. It is a happy restoration; for the manner in which Steevens pointed this passage gave to it a confused if not an absurd meaning.
A joyful mother of two goodly sons ;
4 The word poor was supplied by the editor of the second folio.
5 Instance appears to be used here for symptom or prognostic. Shakspeare uses this word with very great latitude. VOL. IV.