The Comedy of Errors and Cymbeline

Friday, October 11, 2013


The Comedy of Errors
by William Shakespeare 
★★★

Have you ever seen the 1988 movie Big Business? If you have then you know the general idea of this play’s premise. Two sets of twins are born in the same place on the same night. One set of twins is wealthy, the other is not. The twins are separated at birth and one brother from each set end up growing up together as servant and master. Just to add to the confusion, the twins from each pair have the same name. 

The play is one big case of mistaken identity. Friends, lovers, foes, everyone is completely confused as they run into the brothers and mistake them for their twin. I think this would be an incredibly entertaining play for kids to see, especially if they’re new to Shakespeare’s work. It’s easy to follow and contains lots of big laughs. 

In later plays the Bard uses cases of mistaken identity and sets of twins to aid a larger story. This play feels like an early draft of the greater work to come, but it lacks the depth of his other plays. 

BOTTOM LINE: This is the shortest and shallowest of Shakespeare’s comedies. I have a feeling it would be really fun to see performed live, but it doesn’t work as well in the written form.


Cymbeline
by William Shakespeare 

★★★

This is one of Shakespeare’s most convoluted plots. It combines bits and pieces from his greatest works, but in a strange way. There’s a battle to rival that in Henry V, parental ghosts like Hamlet, a jealous husband like Othello and ill-fated lovers and faked death like Romeo and Juliet. In the midst of this jumble are the old standbys, a woman pretending to be a young page and banished people living in the forest. This play is divisive among Shakespeare scholars when it comes to its categorization, some consider it a tragedy and others a romance.

King Cymbeline of Britain is furious when he finds out his only daughter, Imogen, has secretly married Posthumus Leonatus, a man from his court. He quickly banishes Posthumus from his kingdom and shortly thereafter Posthumus meets Iachimo in Italy. He tells his new friend all about his beautiful Imogen. Iachimo isn’t impressed and makes a bet with Posthumus regarding her honor. Add in a devious Queen plotting the King’s death, her horrid son Cloten, missing heirs to the throne, warring Romans and a beheading and you’ve got the gist of it.

BOTTOM LINE: A strange mishmash of Shakespearean themes, but a satisfying if contrived ending. I’d love to see this one performed, but until then I’ll have to settle for the wild ride the play takes you on.

**I heard it’s currently being made into a movie with Ethan Hawke, Milla Jovovich, Ed Harris and Dakota Johnson. I’ll definitely be checking it out.  


I read both of these as part of the Let’s Read Plays yearlong event hosted by Fanda. From November 2012 to October 2013 participants will read 12 classics plays throughout the year, at least one each month.

4 comments:

Reading Renegade said...

I'm a huge Shakespeare fan but I've barely scraped the surface of his work. I'll keep an eye out for these two although Cymbeline sounds the better of the two.

(Diane) Bibliophile By the Sea said...

I was happy I tried this one as well. Glad u enjoyed it Melissa.

Jeanne said...

I saw The Comedy of Errors at the restored Blackfriars Theater in Staunton, VA and they did a wonderful job with it, accentuating the peculiarity of the coincidences in a delightful way. You should see a play there sometime; it's online as American Shakespeare Theater.

Melissa (Avid Reader) said...

Reading Renegade - It worked better for me, but it was still pretty complex.

Diane - I'm never sorry I read more Shakespeare!

Jeanne - That sounds so good! Obviously I need to check out that theatre as soon as possible! You've got to check out the American Players Theatre in Wisconsin some time. You would love it.