I love the way Shakespeare plays with the boundaries of reality, not just in his comedies, but in every genre he pursues.
He uses fairly traditional magic devices; sprites and fairies, potions etc. He also plays with time and myth, but one his most successful devices is the recurring motif of confused identity.
In Comedy of Errors (COE), you've got mulitple characters that look identical and thus are confused with one another (the Antipholus' and Dromios). And in other comedies and tragedies, you've got characters in disguise, which can cause a lot of confusion and angst, like in Twelfth Night. But he also uses it as a simple plot device to create situations that wouldn't have otherwise happened, like in one of my favourite ever scenes, where Henry V wanders among his soldiers on the eve of battle to test the mood and have a chat with God... It's fabulous.
But the confusion of identities in COE creates for me the same joy but also angst that other farce comedy like Mr Bean (and I reckon The Office) creates. On the one hand, the situations are hilarious and fantastic if performed well (as Rowan Atkinson does par excellence). However on the other hand, I feel the awkwardness, pain and frustration of the situation too keenly if the performance is too accurate, which makes it a painful experience to watch... Does anyone else find this kind of farce excruciating?
I really feel for the confused characters of COE, especially Adriana (who as you may remember was already anxious about her husband's love), who experiences an excruciating day of her husband apparently going totally mad and cracking onto her sister.
Worse still, she is accused of sending him mad by nagging! Her jealousy is blamed for his supposed mental distress! (Eh-oh, I've started copying his synonymous parallelism!) But as her sister Luciana points out, Adriana's nagging is being rather built up, she loves Antipholus, and this is how she expresses it... Her love is further exposed by her extreme reluctance to leave him with the Abbess and her desire to nurse him...
Anyway, leaving the nagging issue aside, it must be very distressing for your nearest and dearest not to recognise you at all, to claim they are not married to you and have no idea who you are... (Although, I can also see the fun in simply pretending not to recognise your family at all, and demanding instead that they address as you as Sir Pontington, Knight of the Realm or something. Maybe I shall pretend to be someone entirely different tomorrow...!!)
But it all makes me wonder if anyone in Billy's time lived long enough to develop Alzheimers...? Not that you have to be old to get it of course, but it would seem it helps...
So even though the comedy is absolutely hilarious (I particularly recommend Act Three, Scene Two to all, Belgium will become for you a far naughtier locale than you ever thought it could be ;-), there is a tinge of sadness to it all for me...
And thus I leave Bill's 'first' comedy, highly amused and thoughtful (exactly the way I like it) and move on to history with the First Part of Henry the Sixth. Huzzah!
How delightful it is to tick something off a list, even though it's not the assignments I should have completed or the study I should have done by now ;-)
But I shall leave you all with one delicious word from COE to ponder - distemperatures.