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The Comedy of Errors as Problem Comedy Dorothea Kehler San Diego State University Many elements combine in The Comedy ofErrors to create a genera mista: the tragicomedy of the Egeon frame, the romantic comedy of S. Antipholus's love for Luciana, the predominant farce ofa mistakenidentity plot with its knockabout humor. The plot develops out of a series ofquests: Egeon seeks his son and finds his family; S. Antipholus seeks his brother and finds Luciana; Adriana seeks her husband's love and finds . . . what? Despite the last-act clarification of identities, we wonder ifAdriana and E. Antipholus will be happier in an off-stage act 6 than they were in act 2; we also wonder if Luciana, whose most moving speech descants on not bringing trouble home (III.ii.1-28), is sufficiently convinced of her prospects for happiness with S. Antipholus to risk the "troubles of the marriage bed" (II.i.27) so amply illustrated in her sister's marriage. The play explores but does not answer a question answered emphatically in the negative throughout the Middle Ages: whether romantic love and marriage can co-exist. However earnest the Elizabethan wish to fuse desire and morality, Shakespeare was too keen an observer of human nature to provide simplistic solutions to profound problems. Errors, transcending its time in the honesty of its depiction ofthe marital estate, adds yet another "kind" to its heterogeneous form—the problem play. An awareness ofShakespeare's infinite generic variety exists among both past and present critics. Samuel Johnson observed that Shakespeare's plays are not in the rigorous and critical sense either tragedies or comedies, but compositions of a distinct kind; exhibiting the real state of sublunary nature, which partakes of good and evil, joy and sorrow, mingled with endless variety of proportion and innumerable modes of combination. (7:66) Gwyn Williams, following Johnson's lead, asserts, "Shakespeare criticism has from Meres to the present day been misled by the pedantic division of drama into comedy or tragedy" (63). With regard to The Comedy ofErrors Williams holds that "Without the two Dromios the play would hardly have had any farcical elements, except for the late introduction of Dr. Pinch .... Much less a farce, the play might not even have ended as a comedy" (65). W. Thomas MacCary sees Errors as pre-Menandrean or Aristophanic, a narcissistic or egocentric comedy taking as its goal the happiness of the self rather than the 229 230Rocky Mountain Review happiness of a heterosexual couple. Pointing out that "the marriage ofAdriana to Antipholus ofEphesus is left unreconstructed," he urges a re-examination of genre: "this is a comedy of a different kind [from Menander's romantic New Comedy]. Its entire argument prepares us not for the union of man and wife—its view of marriage is especially pessimistic—but for the reunion oftwins with each other and with their parents" (525).1 With these critical statements in mind, I wish to consider the problem play elements in The Comedy ofErrors.1 Both the final long silence between Adriana and her husband and the silence with which Luciana responds to her suitor's reiterated proposal produce an open ending that anticipates the problem plays All's Well That Ends Well and Measure for Measure. In the former, Bertram replies to the king rather than to his wife, who asks, "Will you be mine, now you are doubly won?" His answer is conditional: "If she, my liege, can make me know this clearly, / I'll love her dearly— ever, ever dearly" (V.iii.311-13, italics added). Bertram's silence toward Helena is underscored by Diana's silence toward the king. Disillusioned, Diana had declared, "Marry that will, I live and die a maid" (IV.ii.74); now the king offers her what earlier he had offered Helena: "Choose thou thy husband, and I'll pay thy dower" (V.iii.324). But she does not speak again. In All's Well we question whether the married couple will find love; whether the single woman will marry; and, if she does, whether she will be any happier than Helena. Measure for Measure also invites comparison with Errors, for both Luciana and Isabella have...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1948-2833
Print ISSN
1948-2825
Pages
pp. 229-240
Launched on MUSE
2016-01-06
Open Access
No
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