Abbildungen der Seite
PDF
EPUB

INTRODUCTORY REMARKS.

• The COMEDY OF Errors' was first printed in the folio collection of Shakspere's Plays in 1623. This copy presents many typographical blunders, and in a few passages the text is manifestly corrupt. The difficulties, however, are not very considerable. The Comedy was clearly one of Shakspere's very early plays. It was probably untouched by its author after its first production.

In a work by Francis Meres, published in 1598, it is mentioned amongst other dramas of Shakspere. The chief evidence of its being a very early play is to be found in the great prevalence of that measure which was known to our language as early as the time of Chaucer by the name of “ rime dogerel.” This peculiarity is to be observed only in three of our author's plays,—in ‘Love's Labour 's Lost,' in “The Taming of the Shrew,' and in “The Comedy of Errors.' It was a distinguishing characteristic of the early English drama. The Comedy of Errors' was unquestionably suggested by 'The Menæchmi' of Plautus; and it furnishes abundant proof of Shakspere’s familiarity with that ancient dramatist.

Criticism has justly held that " The Comedy of Errors' is essentially a farce, and was meant to be so. Coleridge says,

“ A proper farce is mainly distinguished from comedy by the licence allowed, and even required, in the fable, in order to produce strange and laughable situations." Nothing, however, can be managed with more skill than the whole dramatic action of this farce. It has been objected that the riddle which is presented throughout the piece teases and wearies the reader and the spectator. Hazlitt says, “ In reading the play, from the sameness of the names of the two Antipholuses and the two Dromios, as well as from their being constantly taken for each other by those who see them, it is difficult, without a painful effort of attention, to keep the characters distinct in the mind. And again, on the stage, either the complete sinıilarity of their persons and dress must produce the same perplexity whenever they first enter, or the identity of appearance, which the story supposes, will be destroyed. We still, however, having a clue to the difficulty, can tell which is which, merely from the contradictions which arise as soon as the different parties begin to speak; and we are indemnified for the perplexity and blunders into which we are thrown, by seeing others thrown into greater and almost inextricable ones.” Hazlitt has here, almost undesignedly, pointed out the source of the pleasure which, with an “ effort of attention,"—not a “ painful effort,” we think,-a reader or spectator of “The Comedy of Errors' is sure to receive from this drama. We have “ a clue to the difficulty ;"- '-we know more than the actors in the drama ;-we may be a little perplexed, but the deep perplexity of the characters is a

constantly-increasing triumph to us. The spectators, the readers, have the clue, are let into the secret, by the story of the first scene. Nothing can be more beautifully managed, or is altogether more Shaksperean, than the narrative of Ægeon; and that narrative is so clear and so impressive, that the reader never forgets it amidst all the errors and perplexities which follow. It appears to us that every one of an audience of “The Comedy of Errors,' who keeps his eyes open, will, after he has become a little familiar with the persons of the two Antipholuses and the two Dromios, find out some clue by which he can detect a difference between each, even without “ the practical contradictions which arise as soon as the different parties begin to speak.” Each pair of persons selected to play the twins must be of the same height,—with such general resemblances of the features as may be made to appear identical by the colour and false hair of the tiring-room,—and be dressed with apparently perfect similarity. But let every care be taken to make the deception perfect, yet the observing spectator will detect a difference between each; some peculiarity of the voice, some “ trick o' the eye,” some dissimilarity in gait, some minute variation in dress ; and, while his curiosity is kept alive by the effort of attention which is necessary for this detection, the riddle will not only not tease him, but its perpetual solution will afford him the utmost satisfaction.

But has not Shakspere himself furnished a clue to the understanding of the Errors, by his marvellous skill in the delineation of character ? Pope forcibly remarked that, if our poet's dramas were printed without the names of the persons represented being attached to the individual speeches, we should know who is speaking by his wonderful discrimination in assigning to every character appropriate modes of thought and expression. It appears to us that this is unquestionably the case with the characters of each of the twin-brothers inThe Comedy of Errors.' The Antipholus of Ephesus is strikingly opposed to the Antipholus of Syracuse : he is neither sedate, nor gentle, nor truly-loving, as his brother is ;-he has no habits of self-command ;-his temperament is sensual. The two Dromios each have their “merry jests ;" they each bear a beating with wonderful good temper ; they each cling faithfully to their master's interests. But there is certainly a marked difference in the quality of their mirth. The Dromio of Ephesus is precise and antithetical, striving to utter his jests with infinite gravity and discretion. On the contrary, the “ merry jests” of Dromio of Syracuse all come from the outpouring of his gladsome heart. Of course the characters of the twins could not be violently contrasted, for that would have destroyed the illusion. They must still

“Go hand in hand, not one before another."

« ZurückWeiter »