"X” is for “Extraordinary”
[I cheated a little – the word doesn’t actually begin with “X.” :-)]
This is the story of an extraordinary play. Authors of most dramatic works ask their audiences for what is known in the trade as a “suspension of disbelief.” They say, in other words, “Try to believe that what I’m telling you actually happened – or could have happened.”
But with this play, Will Shakespeare doesn’t expect you to believe a word. Because the plot isn’t just extraordinary; it’s actually kind of nutty.
Yes, the creator of the greatest, most searingly powerful dramas ever written – like “King Lear,” “Macbeth,” “Hamlet” and “Othello” – was capable of kicking back and just having a bit of fun.
The bit of fun Our Will came up with is titled “The Comedy of Errors.” It’s as though he cooked up a holiday pudding and stuffed it with puns, slapstick, wordplay, mistaken identities, and any other wildly farcical device he could think of.
Check out this story.
The “hero,” if that is the word I want, is named Antipholus. Quite an ordinary name, wouldn’t you say? I’m sure you have a number of friends named Antipholus, as who among us hasn’t?
Well, this guy has a twin brother named – also – Antipholus. Again, nothing unusual about this. Just another case of twins both named Antipholus.
Well, the first Antipholus has a servant named Dromio. Here things begin to get a little odd, because the second brother also has a servant who is also named Dromio, and who is a twin brother of the first servant.
Are you with me so far?
So you have two chaps who look exactly alike and with the same name, served by a couple of servants who also look exactly alike and with the same name.
The only way we can tell the twin leading characters apart is if we call them “Antipholus of Syracuse,” because that’s where he’s from, and “Antipholus of Ephesus,” because that’s where he lives.
Well, long story short, the Syracuse guy shows up in Ephesus looking for his bro, whom he hasn’t seen in many years. He sends his servant to deposit some of his money for safekeeping. Later the other servant named Dromio shows up and, thinking it’s his boss, tells him to come home to dinner since his wife is waiting for him.
The Syracuse guy thinks his servant is playing a joke on him, so he whacks the fellow upside the head a couple of times, which is what one did with servants in those days. Things are made worse when he asks Dromio about the money he was supposed to have deposited and the servant claims to know nothing about it.
There are fine scenes where Antipholus of Syracuse has a great time going “home” and having dinner with a woman who believes she is his wife. And his servant Dromio of Syracuse learns that he too has a wife in Ephesus, a kitchen-maid who is a rather large woman, to put it mildly.
He describes her as "spherical, like a globe; I could find out countries in her buttocks." He claims he has discovered America "upon her nose all o'er embellished with carbuncles.” (This, by the way, was the first reference by Shakespeare of America.)
Things get wild and crazy as the plot develops. Les freres Marx never made a film of this one, but they should have.
If you’d like to get the whole story of the play, including how the “right” Antipholus arrives home to have dinner with his wife and finds himself locked out – while his lady is in there doing God knows what with some other man – along with a wide variety of other ludicrous deeds, exploits and situations, read the play. Or better yet, see it. There was a wild, far-out version done by the Flying Karamazov Brothers that is truly hilarious.
That’s “The Comedy of Errors,” Will Shakespeare as gag-writer. :-)
1 year ago