No way. He can’t have taken it this far. It’s just so ridiculous! It couldn’t have happened that way. It’s just not possible!
Okay, yeah, but it was funny.
I could stop there. As opposed to other works by the Bard, this play comes off as nothing more than an entertaining means to pass time during which Shakespeare sharpens his wit and seemingly challenges himself to extend this comedy of errors as far as can be contained within the limits of a small group of characters effected by a single coincidence.
The play itself boasts brilliant and playful writing with its simplistic poetic rhythms, creative word-play and puns; unfolding a plot which seems to boast a maniacal swagger while executing a challenge well beyond its bounds. There inlies the deeper humour. I imagine audiences aghast at the pile of errors; so much so that they simply laugh – not necessarily at jokes or clever lines, but because they don’t know how else to react. It feels like witnessing someone accepting a dare and performing it with brilliant ease. One can only laugh despite the danger and insanity of the deed. That is, after they lift their jaw from the floor, remove their hand from their forehead and blink.
I must acknowledge that I read this play in the year 2018 and do not watch it during the 16th century. British culture at that time versus American culture now can be described, at best, as long distance cousins. So I cannot say with much fervor that Shakespeare intentionally implanted a subtle thread of social commentary. However, it does seem so.
During Adriana’s speeches regarding the feminine plight under the male yoke, one notices a slight difference in tone and meter; imagery and beauty takes the place of puns and foolish reasoning. In the 16th century, audiences undoubtedly laughed at male actors expounding on the dire existence of the fairer sex as many would laugh at any kind of stereotype.
Or consider Pinch’s religious explanations for Antipholus’ apparent madness when mistaken for his twin brother. Was Shakespeare poking fun at clergy stereotype blaming misfortune or ill-behavior on demon possession or sin?
In the 21st century, readers and patrons might see time-honored rants against injustices perpetrated upon women and the folly of blindly adhering to religious dogma. But in the 16th century, perhaps seeing this play gave them reprieve from these aspects of their lives; a chance to laugh at what they believe is ridiculous knowing they would still go back to living that same foolishness in a few short hours. Shakespeare may have said, “Within these theater walls, you may laugh at what you cannot outside of them. You must wear actor’s costumes outside but in here you may shed them and call your lives ridiculous.”
At the zenith of the errors, the play resolves with the characters’ realization of what the audience has known throughout the entire endeavor. This leaves me feeling less satisfied but rather relieved. Shakespeare does not force the characters to call attention to what they have learned. No one apologizes, really. Perhaps adding a romantic element such as an intellectual epiphany would have ruined the play leaving sour dispositions funneling through the theater doors; grabbing their actor’s costumes on the way out.
But I do appreciate the simplicity of the ending. The characters go back to their lives much like the audience will; the fools walking together to their abusive lots.