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SHAKESPEARE'S COMEDY: Comedy and Errors & Twelfth Night
1. Comedy of Errors
Like Plautus, it begins with a narrative that recounts the past and supplies important information about the present. Shakespeare changes the setting from Epidamnus to Ephesus, a play which seems equally inhospitable and threatens both wallet and soul and self of a man!:
Say this town is full of cozenage As nimble jugglers that deceive the eye, Dark-working sorcerers that change the mind, Soul-killing witches that deform the body, Disguised cheaters, prating mountebanks, And many such-like liberties of sin. (I. ii. 97-102).
Emphasizes witch craft rather than Plautine thievery, Shakespeare follows the lead of St Paul and his depiction of Ephesian society. In doing so he emphasis the ancient folklore of this type, a witch commonly lures the husband, but winds up with the traveling twin.
Shakespeare subordinates the moral episode to the main catastrophe, which occurs when the twins finally meet and recover their identities. He here employs the dramatic entrance to full effect.
As in classical comedy, the conclusion features an untying of knots and a clarification of confusion; the meeting of the twins resolves the plot rather than effects any moral lesson or occasions any substantial change in character.
Shakespeare thus subscribes to an ancient conception of comedy, defined in the Tractatus Coislinianus. Shakespeare surpasses the classical models here, adding to the joyful discovery of the twins that of the Abbess as wife and mother, thus providing an inclusive family structure that unites the other reconciliations.
2. Twelfth Night
The revision of The Comedy of Errors in Twelfth Night shows Shakespeare reshaping Plautine materials maturing in his comic vision. Plautus is a much lesser verbal influence on the later play. The real influence, resides in the use of setting, convention, character, and ordering of events.
Features the basic two house setting of New Comedy. Twelfth Night features interesting variations on the mock-duel. The ruse discomfits Viola, momentarily caught in her own wiles, helpless in the situation. The trick backfires on the tricksters, Sir Toby and Sir Andrew, who mistake Sebastian for Viola and get beaten off-stage.
In this beating, Shakespeare suggests the excesses of the Carnival ethic, the immoderate and single-minded pursuit of pleasure, just as he had exposed those of Malvolio Lenten one.
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