Monday, January 9, 2006

RE: Comedy of Errors - Some Response

I continue to be concerned primarily with the contemporary tradition from which a play comes and with how it speaks to its own times. That grounds it for me, although general theories are interesting, if they are compelling.

I note that many pastoral and escape-from-civilization plays were written during the ten years coming down to 1591-2. These include:
  • Rare Triumphs of Love and Fortune [Munday?] (1582),
  • Campaspe [Lyly] (1580-84),
  • Sappho and Phao [Lyly] (1582-4),
  • Two Italian Gentlemen [Munday?](1579-84),
  • Gallathia [Lyly](1584-88),
  • Alhpnsus, King of Aragon [Greene] (1587-88),
  • Endymion [Lyly] (1588),
  • Two Angry Women of Abingdon [Porter] (1588-90),
  • Three Lords and Three Ladies of London [Wilson](88-90),
  • Friar Bacon and Friar Bungay [Greene] (1589-92),
  • George A. Greene, The Pinner of Wakefield [Greene] (1590),
  • A Looking Glass for London and England [Lodge, Greene] (1590),
  • Love’s Metaporphosis [Lyly](1588-90),
  • The Cobbler’s Prophecy [Wilson] (1589-93)
  • Fair Em, the Miller’s Daughter [Wilson?, possibly bits by Shakespeare] (1589-91),
  • Mother Bombie [Lyly] (1587-90),
  • Mucedorus [?, possibly bits by Shakespeare] (1588-98).
There are, of course, many others whose MSS no longer survive. I would say that one thing found in a lot of these plays is servants—so common that it may not have been such a giant step for Shakespeare to semi-automatically add them to his version of Plautus. The Rare Triumphs of Love and Fortune, which I will no doubt come back to, is a particularly interesting Shakespeare influence (in a number of writers’ eyes). However, here, it is Lyly’s Mother Bombie which interests me. Its plot is not particularly important, perhaps, but it does have the distinction of allowing its 16 characters to be arranged in a perfectly symmetrical character diagram made by me during my dissertation days. There are four servants in the play, one of whom is named Dromio. So there you have something, perhaps.

Personally, I found Anne Barton’s introduction to the play in The Riverside Shakespeare especially helpful. In it, (among other things) she says, “Shakespeare, even at the beginning of his dramatic career, seems to have been wedded to the idea that happy endings must, to carry conviction, be won from a serious confrontation with mortality, violence, and time.” Then she goes on to point out the peculiar sufferings which Antipholus of Syracuse, Adriana, old Egeon (of course), The Duke (arguably) and, in a very special way, Luciana must undergo before they “find themselves” before the curtain. Antipholus of Syracuse concludes, “He speaks to me. I am your master, Dromio./Come go with us, we’ll look to that anon./Embrace thy brother there, rejoice with him."

Luciana is especially interesting in that she is an early example of the Isabella-like idealist (with good reason, considering what she sees of marriage in the world about her) who will come, over the course of the play, to a position where she can get married (find herself and join the world of doers). And she will marry a man who has suffered and has finally found himself as well. This is a moral statement which sounds like Shakespeare to me.

Corrections: I, of course, meant Gilbert’s anonymous “professor” (not his “mentor”) in my previous discussion. My wife, Betty, kidded me about implying that she was someone on whom I depended for part of my own self to be carried out. It could sound condescending, but it’s true, dammit. We do this with slaves, with spouses and siblings, with students.

Note: I have never seen a production of C/E. And I am sure I have seen far fewer productions of any of these plays than the three others of you. I would certainly get a kick out of Gil’s discussing some of the differences among the three (or more) productions he has seen—perhaps with respect to a character or two. Dromio. Wherefore art thou Dromio?

More to come.


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