Probably written in the early 1590s, this play really lived up to its name – even just reading it, I laughed. First of all, the premise is just preposterous, but like all stories, if you can suspend your dis-belief, its very entertaining, and confusing, but entertaining, but so confusing. First of all because two of the main characters are named Antipholous, and two others are named Dromio. Secondly, they both wear the exact same costumes as their twin. This must have been the birth of slapstick comedy, because even before seeing the production, I could imagine the physicality and word emphasis used to get laughs, along with with fart jokes, mistaken identity, and the staging that makes that all possible. I learned from the associated reading that some of it is surprisingly highbrow, like its central theme about marriage vs friendship, and the biblical teachings about marriage making the couple one self, one body, one heart.
So there are two sets of identical twins separated at birth, one set born to the successful merchant Egeon and his wife Amelia, the other set to a poor couple who agree to sell their sons to Egeon. The parents and both sets of twins all set sail for Syracuse, but are separated (one of each set together with the mother, and one of each set together with their father) by (again Will?) a shipwreck. 33 years pass. The twin, Antipholus of Ephasus, and his servant the twin Dromio of Ephasus, who were with their mother are well known in the city and are both happily married, the mother, for some reason has become a nun.
Meanwhile the twins that were with their father, Antipholous of Syracuse, and Dromio of Syracuse have grown up on the Island of Syracuse, only just in the past few months started to search for their other halves. The play begins when the father, Egeon, in search of his missing sons, has landed in Ephasus where Syracusians are executed. He is arrested and sentenced to death. He tells this tale of woe about his two sons and their servants, so the Duke agrees to let him have the day to try and find someone to lend him the bail money.
Meanwhile again, Antipholous and Dromio of Syracuse also land in Ephasus, where the townspeople, and their estranged twins mistake them for Antipholous and Dromio of Ephasus. Clear as mud? I thought so.
Once I learned that the Greek translation for Dromio means to run, (or something similar) it was funny to listen to the characters allude to that. In one instance Dromio enters panting and Luciana asks, “Dromio, why do you lose your breath?” He answers “from running fast.” Its funny on its own, but coupled with the fact that he’s saying “duh woman, my name is Dromio, its what I do” makes it funnier. In another instance, Dromio also enters running, and Antipholus asks why he runs. While it’s for another reason entirely, Dromio gives pretty much the same answer: “Do you know me sir? Am I Dromio? Am I your man? Am I myself?” Sort of a take on today’s sassy comeback of ‘um, have you met me?’
Read, or watch this great play, or better yet – read, AND watch.