Urbanisation in The Comedy of Errors

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      Directly related to the Elizabethan conception of the home, especially around London, was the extent of England's Urbanisation. In general, in any society, the context in which the home exists can be understood to bear a substantial impact on the nature of the home itself. The greater the number of people living in a community of a given size, the less space each individual person will be allotted. Thus, one consequence of urbanization could be increased feelings of claustrophobia - perhaps causing some men to feel a greater need to wander around their community, rather than remaining enclosed in their allotted spaces. E. Antipholus's waywardness, then, beyond being a prioritization of business matters over domestic matters, could be interpreted as a demonstration of a masculine response to urbanization.

      On the societal level, Gail Kern Paster finds a significant consequence of urbanization to be the institution of laws that, by their fixed nature cannot discriminate among various instances of criminality. That is a law almost always either broken or not  broken when laws are "bent, the perpetrator, not the system of justice, typically does the bending. Paster notes that this inherent property of laws is in effect a small argument against the sheer existence of the urban environment. She states that in The Comedy of Errors and also in other Shakespearean plays, "The city is confronted with the self-imposed necessity of enforcing a law whose consequences are so clearly inhuman that they can only make mockery of a city's reason for being." In this instance, of course, the inhumanity is Egeon's being sentenced to death simply for being poor and for looking for his son in a town that has, unbeknownst to him, banned his presence there. In Elizabethan times, when whipping, dismemberment, and beheading were in wide and public use, the breaking of laws and the punishment of criminals were of the utmost popular interest.

      As such, Shakespeare's depiction of crime and unjust punishment in ancient times was perhaps intended to stress negative aspects of the ever-increasing impersonality of cities.

      Hazlitt goes on to express the opinion that the nature of the situation - two twins being mistaken for each other - simply translates poorly into drama, as on the stage the twins will either be impossible to distinguish or so different as to shatter the illusion of their identicalness, while on the written page their characters fail to substantially distinguish themselves from each other. Hazlitt notes that Shakespeare was simply more virtuous as a creator than as an adapter: "We do not think his forte would ever have lain in imitating or improving on what others invented, so much as in inventing for himself, and perfecting what he invented."

      Many critics have given the play a fair degree of respect. The renowned German Shakespearean scholar August Wilhelm Schlegel remarked, with regard to the comically ambitious inclusion of two sets of twins, "If the spectator is to be entertained by mere perplexities they cannot be too varied." Making reference to both actual and possible reinterpretations of Plautus's drama, Schlegel concluded (in direct opposition to Hazlitt), "This is perhaps the best of all written or possible Menaechmi; and if the piece is inferior in worth to other pieces of Shakespeare, it is merely because nothing more could be made of the materials." This view is directly contrary to Hazlitt's opinion of Shakespeare's artisanship, which was that the play was "not an improvement" on Menaechmi.

      Some critics have gone as far as to bestow The Comedy of Errors with admiring praise. C. L. Barber argued that the presence of certain profound thematic elements cannot be ignored: "Shakespeare's sense of comedy as a moment in a larger cycle leads him to go out of his way, even in this early play, to frame farce with action which presents the weight of age and the threat of death, and to make the comic resolution a renewal of life, indeed explicitly a rebirth," T. S. Dorsch, in turn, seems to appreciate the play simply as a source of entertainment: "The Comedy of Errors is not only very good theatre, it is also very good reading. It is a finely-balanced mixture of pathos and suspense, illusion and delusion, love turned bitter and love that is sweet, farce and fun." In explicating the allegorical aspects of the plot, as tied to Egeon's plight, Barbara Freedman notes that many critics had reviewed the play negatively owing to their failure to "resolve two major issues central to an understanding of the play as a meaningful unity: first, the purpose of the farcical confusion of the twins identities in the main plot, and second, its relation to their father's progress in the frame plot from separation to reunion with his family, and from crime and debt to redemption."

      Indeed, if these issues are not resolved, the play seems little more than a exercise in farce with a few fairly substantial themes; Preedman's explication of what is perceived as the allegorical aspects of the plot, as tied to Egeon's self-redemption, leaves the play looking far more profound.

      As did Hazlitt, many critics have offered perspectives on how the presentation of the play in the theater might.

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