Garber, author of my favorite go-to book about the plays, explains how each event displayed physically in the play corresponds to something inside the characters. This inwardness is not what you would expect from a rollicking farce. Granted, the kids howl with laughter at all the slapstick and I don't belabor these "inner meanings" in class, but it's clear that most of them have picked up on them.
The Comedy of Errors is about a double set of identical twins. The masters - both named Antipholus, and their servants - both named Dromio, are separated at birth in a shipwreck. Everyone ends up in Ephesus and within a single day, mistaken identities cause confusion until the end of the play when all is made clear with happy reunions all around.
Does the "twins-separated-at-birth" theme sound familiar? Think Parent Trap, Twins or Big Business. The story is nothing new, as even Shakespeare "borrowed" this theme from an earlier work (The Menaechmi). One fun aspect for our class is that we have a set of twins with their own tales to tell. (!)
Shakespeare drew on certain passages from the Bible, and especially from the writings of Saint Paul, both in Paul's Epistle to the Ephesians and in the Acts of the Apostles, where Ephesus is seen as a city of magic and witchcraft, where the residents "use curious arts."(p. 163)
While it's not my favorite play, I have really enjoyed it. Clearly, I was mistaken in my initial assessment. I don't think I'd use it as an introduction to Shakespeare, but for the initiated, it is well worth it. I used excerpts from the BBC production and the Stratford Festival of Canada's production in class. Both are very different and fun to compare.* Have any of you had experience with this play?
*The Flying Karamazov Brothers have a hilarious and brilliant production which you can view on You Tube, but the unfortunate, over-the-top lewdness of the kitchen wench character prevented me from using it with the students.