Nicholas (nwhyte) wrote,
Nicholas
nwhyte

30 days of Shakespeare: Day 8 - Your favourite comedy

A birthday treat for me, writing on a happy subject. Just for reference, the comedies are generally considered to include:

All's Well That Ends Well
As You Like It
The Comedy of Errors
Love's Labour's Lost
Measure for Measure
The Merchant of Venice
The Merry Wives of Windsor
A Midsummer Night's Dream
Much Ado About Nothing
Pericles, Prince of Tyre
The Taming of the Shrew
The Tempest
Twelfth Night
The Two Gentlemen of Verona
The Two Noble Kinsmen
The Winter's Tale
Cymbeline


Among these, there is one that really stands out for me. I dimly remember the Rowan Atkinson sketch where he is a schoolmaster trying to beat respect for English literature into the heads of a host of invisible and improbably named schoolboys. One of the great lines is when he insists that there is only one joke in Shakespeare, and it is in The Comedy of Errors, when "Two people look like each other. Twice." Pause. "It's not that funny!"

Well, actually, it is that funny. Here Shakespeare has boiled together bits of Plautus (who was also pretty funny in his day) to produce a mock-classical, proto-pantomime slapstick piece which is also mercifully short. The play itself relies on the stable foundation of farce, where we the audience know what is going on but the characters don't; two visitors to Ephesus get mistaken for their long-lost twin brothers who are local residents, and hilarity ensues. The key to the mystery is held by their father, who appears only in the first scene and the last, to set the scene for us and then to help resolve matters. Shakespeare himself was the father of twins, born in 1585, though they were not identical, being a boy and a girl. Still, I imagine it gave him a certain inspiration as he wrote this play in the early to mid 1590s.

The key drama in the play is the story of the visiting Antipholus of Syracuse, who finds that though a complete stranger, Adriana, incomprehensibly claims him as her husband, he is much more attracted to her sister Luciana. (His twin, the local Antipholus of Ephesus, seems to be much more of a bastard; and their servants, the two Dromios, are basically clowns.) There are other bits of tension, mainly to do with arbitrary justice and summary execution, but that is the main plot. With the right people, it can work very well.

I remember seeing a Cambridge student version where the two twins were played by frantically doubling actors, wearing different coloured cravats to indicate who was who. In the last scene they twisted the cravats to show both colours, and confronted themselves in mirrors. In Arkangel's audio version, David Tennant turns in a great performance as Antipholus of Syracuse, doing his English accent, but The Ephesians are all Irish - Adriana and Luciana played by two of the Cusack sisters (Niamh and Sorcha), and a generally well-chosen run of accents populating the town - Pauline McLynn, for instance, is the Courtesan. Most gloriously, the sorcerous Dr Pinch is played with an Ulster accent, clearly intended to be reminiscent of Ian Paisley. It's almost worth listening to for his brief scenes alone.

Still looking for a good video clip here, I'm afraid. You'll just have to imagine it!

The 30 days:
Day #1: Your favourite play
Day #2: Your favourite character
Day #3: Your favourite hero
Day #4: Your favourite heroine
Day #5: Your favourite villain
Day #6: Your favourite villainess
Day #7: Your favourite clown
Day #8: Your favourite comedy
Day #9: Your favourite tragedy
Day #10: Your favourite history
Day #11: Your least favourite play
Day #12: Your favourite scene
Day #13: Your favourite romantic scene
Day #14: Your favourite fight scene
Day #15: The first play you read
Day #16: Your first play you saw
Day #17: Your favourite speech
Day #18: Your favourite dialogue
Day #19: Your favourite movie version of a play
Day #20: Your favourite movie adaptation of a play
Day #21: An overrated play
Day #22: An underrated play
Day #23: A role you've never played but would love to play
Day #24: An actor or actress you would love to see in a particular role
Day #25: Sooner or later, everyone has to choose: Hal or Falstaff?
Day #26: Your favourite couple
Day #27: Your favourite couplet
Day #28: Your favourite joke
Day #29: Your favourite sonnet
Day #30: Your favourite single line
Tags: 30 days of the bard, writer: shakespeare
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