The Roman culture embraced comedy and plays as they were part of the entertainment that most of the citizens looked forward to. Plautus was a well known Roman comedy writer as his talent in the area was evident through the plays that he held. His inspiration came from the Greek originals during the period of the new comedy. However, some of the people found his comedies vulgar and this attributed to the fact that his audience was mainly uneducated and just sought entertainment. It is from Plautus that Shakespeare developed the plot for Comedy of Errors. This is one of his shortest plays that revolve around a case of mistaken identity involving two twin brothers. The central plot is derived form the Menaechmi which was originally done by Plautus. He added additional characters and enhanced the role s of some of the characters in the play. Therefore, this paper is going to look at the comedy of errors and Plautus.
The comedy of errors revolves around the separation of two sets of twins. Unlike the Menaechmi plot where the sere was only one set of twins, Shakespeare introduces a new twist by presenting a new pair of twins that is separated as well. Therefore, the case of mistaken identity is not only exercised on one pair but on both pairs. The women in the play are also given a rather engaging role and seem to have more voice than in the previous play. All these factors attract criticism in reflection of Plautus and his original play. However, the Comedy of errors is considered to be rather interesting and engaging than the original plot. Shakespeare also gives another different approach to the play, where he allows it to take place on a single place in Ephesus and the events take place in a single day. The case of the separated servants is also borrowed from another work of Plautus referred to as Amphitruo. Therefore, the combination of the plots from the two plays was able to bring out the comedy of errors play.
The set of twins: case of mistaken identity
As mentioned earlier the play is base on the separation of two sets of twins. One set of twins belong to merchant Egeon and his wife Emilia while the other set of twins belonged to a poor woman. The twins were purchased by Egeon to act as servants for his twins. The separation of the twins takes place after Egeon and his wife Emilia had gone to Epidamnum, where she bore the two sons who could only be distinguished by their names. During the visit the twin servants were also purchased as they were born during the same time frame. As they were returning back to their home, they are caught up in a storm and each decides to tie themselves to the ship. After the storm, they are separated from each other where each person is left with one son and one servant.
Antipholus of Ephesus (Antipholus E)
Antipholus E. plays one of the main characters in the play as he is the twin brother of Antipholus S. He is also the son of Emilia and Egeon. During the shipwreck he is separated from his family and ends up with his mother. His life turns out quite well as he becomes a well known and wealthy merchant as well as the husband of Adriana. His mother later explains to him that after the shipwreck they were rescued by the men of Epidamnum. Antipholus E and his servant Dromio E were stolen by fishermen from Corinth and later on he was taken from Corinth to Ephesus by the uncle of the Duke Solinus. When his twin Antipholus S arrives in Ephesus, there are a series of confusing events where Antipholus S is mistaken to be Antipholus E. this is mainly done by his wife and friends who later conclude that he is possessed and that he requires an exorcism. However, at the end of the play, the confusion is solved by an explanation from Emilia and Antipholus E. is reunited with his family again.
As much as Antipholus E is identical to Antipholus S, there are some differences between the two characters. Antipholus E appears to have more possession of wealth than his brother. He is a rich merchant and is well respected and he has a wife as well. Therefore, this gives him a sense of identity unlike his brother who has not built a name for himself yet. His emotions are not as controlled as those Antipholus S since he responds to new challenges with anger and violence. He lacks any sense of humor as well.
The character of Antipholus E is very similar to that of Menaechmus, who is separated form his father during one of his business trips. He is later adopted by a wealthy merchant and when he reaches manhood, he marries a rich wife.
Antipholus Syracuse (Antipholus S)
He shares the role of the main lead as well as he is the twin brother of Antipholus E and the son of Egeon and Emilia. Just like Antipholus E, he got separated from his family during the shipwreck where he ends up with his father and Dromio S. When he reaches 18, he makes a point of leaving to go and look for his brother and his mother. When he arrives at Ephesus, he stirs a lot of confusion not knowing that his mother and father were also in the same place. He is immediately mistaken for his brother when he is in Ephesus but it does not strike him that his brother could also be residing in the same place. He attributes the confusion to the sorcery and witchcraft that the city is famously known for. Fear immediately engulfs him and his first reaction is to leave but the circumstances delay his departure. When invited for dinner by Adriana he immediately agrees and tends to get attracted to Luciana who is the sister of Adriana. At the conclusion of the play, the confusion is cleared and he is free to pursue Luciana again.
At the beginning of his pursuit, Antipholus S is lost and has lack of identity as his main mission is to find his lost family. He claims that it is the only thing that will complete him. The relationship that he has with his servant Dromio is friendly and he is willing to have new experiences as he accepts the invitation of Adriana. His character is quite similar to that of Sosicles in Menaechmi. As he is the one who sets out to look for his lost brother once he reaches manhood and does not stop in his quest until he finally finds him.
Dromio of Ephesus (Dromio E)
Dromio E is the twin brother of Dromio S and they were both born at the same time that the Antipholus twins were born. However, they were born to a poor woman and had to be sold as slaves. They were also separated from each other during the time of the ship wreck and Dromio ended up with Egeon father of the Antipholus twins. Once he sets out with his master Antipholus E to Ephesus, he mistakes Antipholus S to be his master during the whole time. He ends up being sent for errands only to return to the wrong master with the wrong information or items, as a result he gets beaten. His role is to emphasize on the case of mistaken identity in the play. This does not only apply to the young masters but to the servants as well since the masters cannot be able to tell the difference between the servants. Therefore, Dromio E ends up getting punished for not being able to identify his master or vice versa. He has no difference from his brother Dromio S and they are the two clown of the play.
Dromio of Syracuse (Dromio S)
Dromio S has the same fate as that of his brother only he ended up with the mother of the Antipholus twins instead after the shipwreck. During the encounters that he servants had with the twin masters, they both were beaten for bringing the wrong information or items to the wrong master. During this encounter Antipholus S does not realize that the servant is not Dromio S but rather his brother. This shows that the resemblance was high and that neither the servants nor the masters were able to recognize each other. At the end of the play the two servants are reunited as well. Their reunion is rather emotional and more touching than that of the Antipholus twins.
In Plautus' play Menaechmus Sosicles takes his servant Messenio in his journey to look for his brother. Messenio encounters Menaechmus E first and immediately mistakes him for his master. The events that ensue are filled with confusion as the identity crisis manifest itself in the play. Eventually, the confusion is solved and Messenio is set free due to his help in the problem. Although, there is no twin servant in the play, the aspect of confusion is brought out quite well as Messenio treats the two twins like one person.
The aspect of mistaken identity is highly reflected on in both plays. This is done in a comical manner where characters are seen to confuse the twins in the plays. Shakespeare decided to add on an extra set of twins in his set so as to emphasize on the theme. This is brought out clearly that neither of the young masters was able to identify their servants despite all the confusion and the same applied to the servants as well. Plautus was also able to bring out this aspect well with the one servant that is present in his play. Messenio cannot be bale to tell between the two twins. However, in the end of both plays the confusion is sorted and there is the reunion of families.
Egeon who is a merchant is the husband of Emilia and father of the twin sons both named Antipholus. The role that Egeon plays as a father is a tender one as he is seen to take care of his children. He immediately buys servants for his sons despite the fact that they are still babies as well as the servants. Therefore, he is looking out for their best interest. Egeon is seen to be frustrated and saddened by the separation of his child and wife. Being a merchant from Syracuse, he is forbidden to be in Ephesus but he ignores the consequences and goes to Ephesus anyway. He is desperate to find his family and the son Antipholus S. who had recently left him to look for his brother. He is aware that the penalty of being caught in Ephesus is death but he is focused on finding his family. He is arrested and cannot be able to pay the ransom thus, given the death penalty. However, the duke is rather interested with the merchant and inquires about his presence in Ephesus despite the penalty. The Duke takes pity on Egeon after listening to his purpose and gives him a day of grace to look for the money. Later on his son Antipholus E offer to pay the ransom but the Duke pardons Egeon instead.
However, there is a contrasting difference in the roles taken by the father in comparison to Plautus' Menaechmi. Moschus, who is the father of the twins, is grief stricken when he looses one of his sons. However, he does not take it upon himself to go and look for him but his other son takes the responsibility. This is quite similar to the twins in comedy of errors, only the father does not play an engaging role. Egeon even has encounters with the Duke of Ephesus and continues in his search for his family. Therefore, the role that the father was given by Shakespeare was more meaningful and engaging.
Role of the Women
Emilia is the mother of the Antipholus twins and had also been separated from her family for quite a long time. During the shipwreck, she had tied herself with Antipholus E. and Dromio E. they had been later rescued by the people of Epidamnum where the two children were stolen from her by fishermen. In the play, she is viewed as the Abbess as she appears later on in the pay to resolve the conflict hat was ensuing and explained to everyone what had occurred before. She is seen to offer advice to Adriana, who is the wife of Antipholus E. Emilia reprimands Adriana for her shrewish behavior when she was dealing wither husband, who takes the advice to heart and agrees to change. The role taken up by Emilia is mainly vocal and it is most applicable at the end of the play. The role of women is not highly considered by Plautus in the Menaechmi.
Adriana takes on the role of the wife of Antipholus E and is the sister of Luciana. Her character in the play comes out as strong and very vocal, she is described to be a shrewish woman who is very possessive of her husband. Her jealousy seems to be the driving point for her and this proves to be too much for Antipholus E. being an outspoken woman, she is quite fierce in her marriage and does not agree with the double standards that apply to both men and women. The aspect of marriage taking control of the women's freedom does not sit well with her and she is willing to defy the standards set for married women. Her jealous nature makes her make her own conclusions when she sees her husband having a friendship with the courtesan, which makes her think that her husband is having an affair. Since her husband is usually absent from home, she thinks it is because she has lost her attractiveness and he was no longer interested in her.
However, she is ready to change at the end of the play where she is rebuked by the Abbess due to her shrewd behavior. This meant that she would try and be gentle towards her husband and assume the attitude that her sister had. Despite her jealous fits Adriana's love for her husband was not doubted as she was willing to pay his ransom when he is arrested.
The wife of Menaechmus Erotium in Plautus comedy, is portrayed to be shrewd, the role given to her is minor and not as significant. He has no voice but her jealousy is heavily portrayed. She does not seem to be offended by the marriage standards and does little to express her herself vocally.
She is the sister of Adriana and presents a quite opposite view of Adriana. She assumes the role of a woman in the ancient times and respects the dutiful wife character that women are required to observe. Although she is unmarried, she takes on the responsible aspect of being a good wife and constantly advises her sister on how she should behave with her husband. She advises her to be patient wither husband and continue being a good wife despite her husband's absence she encourages Adriana to be submissive but Adriana is strong on her opinions claiming that wives are not servants. However, Luciana claims that the trouble marriages that she has encountered are the main reasons why she has not yet married. Luciana also confuses Antipholus S. with the husband of Adriana. She is even shocked when Antipholus S makes romantic advances at her and she immediately reports him to Adriana who in turn makes a point of exorcising Antipholus E.
Despite the fact that Luciana is able to bring out the role of women as being submissive to their husbands, she is able to bring out the concept of mistaken identity as well. She cannot tell the difference between the Antipholus twins and mistakes Antipholus S for being the husband of Adriana. Adriana is also seen to take part in the case of mistaken identity. She cannot be bale to recognize her husband when she is talking to Antipholus S since the resemblance is too much. The change in behavior raises her concern but she attributes that to the witchcraft and sorcery in the area and opts to have him exorcised.
The courtesan plays the role of a prostitute and a friend to Antipholus E. The wife of Antipholus E is jealous of the friendship that the husband has with the prostitute. At some point the prostitute confuses Antipholus S when she was asking if she could get her ring back. The role played by the prostitute is similar in both plays where she was used to make the wife of Antipholus e jealous and emphasize on the mistaken identity aspect.
In general the role of the women is portrayed as being submissive to the husbands. The servants are also required to be submissive to the men. This idea does not go well with Adriana as she does not see how she can be submissive to the husband just like the servants are. The theme is derived from both plays although Shakespeare tends to give the women in his play more voice and significance than Plautus did in his plays.
In general, the central plot in Plautus' play was used by Shakespeare in his comedy of errors to bring out the same concept only in a much engaging manner. The plays are of a comical context that is brought out by the confusion concept when none of the characters can be able to tell the twins apart. Other than the mistaken identity concept, other themes are also picked up such as the role given to the women. There is a difference noted but this can be explained with the change of times. Therefore, the subjects that are portrayed in the plays are able to bring reflect on the themes appropriately.