Here We Wander in Illusions

The Comedy of Errors, Act IV

Each of the four plays that I have read so far has involved the misapprehension of reality to some degree.  In Othello, Titus Andronicus and Richard III, the truth is manipulated for temporary advantage – and ultimately tragic ends.  In The Comedy of Errors, the driving force is not a man’s malevolence, but strange twists of fate.  And the results are not murder and mayhem, but laughter, love and family reunion.

In Act IV, the farce is stretched to its breaking point.  Antipholus of Ephesus is arrested for failure to pay a debt, his wife thinks him mad, Dromio chastises him (with right) for being cruel, Luciana believes him to be a scoundrel (even if she might not mind were he not wedded to her sister) – and now he’s headed for jail.

The fortune that flees this Antipholus fattens up his twin from Syracuse who can’t help but marvel at his good fortune.  Women throw themselves at him, strangers hand him gold chains and purses of money, people greet him warmly wherever he goes.  From his perspective, this place must be bewitched.  He can’t wait to set sail with his booty intact at the first opportunity.

Perspective thus becomes a key to understanding how Shakeseparean drama works.  For there always seem to be multiple meanings at play, variances of awareness and clashes of mis/understanding – dramatic ironies, if you will, from the audience’s point of view.  Some characters know things that others do not.  We know things that the characters do not.  And Shakespeare knows things that we do not.

Maybe that too is another reason that we hold Shakespeare to be such a master.  For our actual lives exist on a variety of competing levels, only some of which we are aware of at any given moment.  We create our own fortunes and yet find ourselves the victims of cruel circumstances.  Things happen for reasons we never fully comprehend.

For the span of a play, Shakespeare allows us the luxury sit back and enjoy a complex web of destiny spun around other people.  We, the theatergoers, are in on the joke.  We hiss at the evil doers, cheer for the heroes, yearn for star-crossed lovers to hook up, knowing the whole while that Shakespeare’s got it all under his control. 

We’re in good hands, even when the world outside the theater can seem a little…well… shaky.

[Exit, pursued by a bear.]


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