The Comedy of Errors has often been dismissed as a mere farce, unworthy of any serious attention. Yet, when the author is Shakespeare, even a "farce" is well worth a second look. Shakespeare himself may have takent his comedic work quite seriously, for audiences expected comedy of his day not only to entertain, but also to morally instruct. It is not surprising, therefore, that for one of his earliest comedies, Shakespeare found a model in the plays of Plautus and Terence, which were studied in all Elizabethan Grammar Schools, praised by schoolmasters, and critically respectable. (Muir 3)
The Menaechmi was the first Plautus play to appear in translation, and was a popular school text (Muir 16). Amphitruo, the second Plautus play informing The Comedy of Errors, was available in English translation by 1562-63, and was similarly taught (Miola 22). Plautus and Terence texts served the schools not as entertainment, but as teaching tools for literature and both oral Latin and vernacular languages. Schoolmasters even used prepared study guides to the plays in their instruction:
The academic approbation of Roman comedy in the Renaissance was largely a linguistic, rhetorical, and didactic enterprize: commentators provided lexical and metrical information, expository paraphrase, grammatical analysis, explanatory notes, classical cross references, and the identification of rhetorical figures. (Miola 4)
Richard Bernard, for example, translator of the first complete bilingual edition of Terence, organized from the text a helpful list of Formulae loquendi (phrases useful for Latin conversation) and Sententiae (wise sayings) to accompany each scene (Muir 4). If no w...
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...owever, indicates that Shakespeare meant The Comedy of Errors to provide more than just a good laugh.
Works Cited and Consulted
* Brockett, Oscar G. History of the Theatre. Fifth ed. Boston: Allyn and Bacon, 1987.
* Epstein, Norris. The Friendly Shakespeare. New York: Viking, 1993.
* Miola, Robert S. Shakespeare and Classical Comedy: The Influence of Plautus and Terence. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1994.
* Muir, Kenneth. Shakespeare's Comic Sequence. Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 1979.
* Riehle, Wolfgang. Shakespeare, Plautus, and the Humanist Tradition. Cambridge: Brewer, 1990.
* Shaheen, Naseeb. Biblical References in Shakespeare's Comedies. Newark: University of Delaware Press, 1993.
* Shakespeare, William. The Riverside Shakespeare. Ed. G. Blakemore Evans, et al. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1974.