As a Gemini, I loved this little play full of doppelgangers, losing and finding oneself and mistaken identities. Shakespeare juggles two sets of look-a-likes like four balls: Antipholus of Syracuse and Antipholus of Ephesus with their corresponding bondsmen, Dromio of Syracuse and Dromio of Ephesus. (Bondsmen. After 18 plays and five weeks, a person starts talking about bondsmen like they’re nothing out of the ordinary.)
The two Antipholi are twins that have been separated since birth. Both have acquired, against all odds, twin slaves who were also separated at birth. Antipholus(S) arrives in Ephesus with Dromio(S) while on a quest for his long lost twin brother. Ephesus reminds me of Northhampton, Massachusetts. The downtown area of both places are an on-going carnival with dancing dogs, fortune tellers, people in costumes, street vendors, dancing and performance art on every corner. The setting is whimsical (rather than sin-darkened like the Bible’s characterization of Ephesus) giving it a dream-like setting, which to me signals that there is symbolism to explore.
There’s a carnival whirl of a plot, too, with confusions like these: 1) Antipholus (S) gives Dromio(S) a bag of ducats to take to their hotel for safe-keeping. Shortly after Dromio (S)leaves, Dromio (E) shows up to call his master to dinner. When Antipholus (S) asks him what he has done with the ducats, Dromio (E) doesn’t know what he is referring to and Antipholus (S) does not understand why he’s going on about a wife and dinner. 2) Antipholus (S) dines with Antipholus’ (E) wife (who can’t tell he isn’t her husband, of course) and locks her actual husband out of the house. Repeat with a dozen variations, creating a comedy of errors. Finally at the end all is revealed.
The play is full of people losing and finding themselves. The two Dromios are both quite merry fellows and when they recognize each other, they are delighted. Of the two Antipholi, one is affable, the other is disagreeable. When they acknowledge each other at the end of the play, they seem less than thrilled and they keep their distance. I saw the two Antipholi as suggesting the dark and light side of the same person. Sometimes we don’t want to know our darker aspects. And sometimes we are ashamed of our superficialities. And sometimes we like to keep things permanently disassociated.
There’s another theme of Being Seen and Being Known. Antipholus (S) is uneasy when he walks through the town and everyone seems to know him. He sends Dromio to the harbor to see if they can ship out the very afternoon of the morning they come in. Being seen and being known can make a person uneasy. (Aha, here’s a chance to plug my radio interview. An NPR interview had been in the works for a few months. When I got word that it was going to air last weekend, I got panicky. More people are going to hear a particularly difficult part of my story. It’s a lot of exposure and even though it’s what I signed on for when I published a memoir, it still has to be lived through. I understand the impulse to ship out. Here’s the link: http://www.kuow.org/program.php?id=27466.)
The plot winds itself around the theme of mistaken identities and I got to thinking about ways we mistake ourselves and others: We mistake someone else’s true nature, we mistake our own natures, and we mistake how others see us. I can forget that while I live in my own internal world, so does everyone else live in theirs. I don’t have any control over what others think of me.
This play has to be seen. It’s too hard to keep everyone straight while one is reading. The BBC has a great production with Michael Kitchen as the Antipholi and Roger Daltrey of The Who as the two Dromios. And here are some lines I liked:
*He that commends me to mine own content,
Commends me to the thing I cannot get (I, ii)
*Why, headstrong liberty is lashed with woe,
There’s nothing situate under heaven’s eye
But hath his bound. . . (II, i)
*They say every why hath a wherefore. (II, ii)
*There’s something in the wind. (III, i)
*If she lives til doomsday, she’ll burn a week longer than the whole world. (III, ii)