A Slight Change of Plan

As I said last weekend, I spent the Royal Wedding reading Much Ado About Nothing. With equal appropriateness, I spent the Canadian federal election last Monday reading The Comedy of Errors. I’d intended to discuss them in that order too, but on reflection I’ve decided to take The Comedy of Errors first. It may not be Shakespeare’s greatest play, but it’s not his worst either, and not the worst to bring on early; it’s lightweight, but it’s funny, farcical, and accessible. There’s a reason it’s so popular during the summer.

It also makes better sense to take The Comedy of Errors first for our understanding of Shakespeare. It almost certainly is one of his earlier plays, and it’s less complicated in one specific respect. It is all about mistaken identity, lacking the other elements Shakespeare combined in Much Ado and other plays to invent the romantic comedy. So logically it should come first, and now it will. (By the same token perhaps The Taming of the Shrew should come after it, although I foresee discussion of that play getting swallowed up in the question whether it’s as dreadfully sexist as it sounds or is instead an ironic attack on the sexist attitudes of Shakespeare’s time. I have the Arden Third on order, thanks yet again to Bookfinder.com, so I’ll be reading it soon in any case.)

Lest you think, O my brothers and only friends, that all I do for you is read Shakespeare, know that in connection with The Comedy of Errors I am trying to reread Anthony Burgess’s Nothing Like the Sun. There is a specific incident in this “Story of Shakespeare’s Love-LIfe,” as the subtitle has it, that connects with the play, but I’m finding the book even more revolting than when I first read it years ago. I know it’s beloved of Shakespeare professionals; my college teacher Three-Last-Names recommended it warmly to us. I wonder, though, whether that’s because he thought it would appeal to us students because it shows Shakespeare spending much more time fucking than working, the very condition we aspired to. The book does provide rich material for discussion, so if I don’t get to it in connection with the Comedy of Errors I probably will when we discuss Shakespeare biography, since there is no more hallucinatory example of how wrong even a conventional portrait can go—and thus of how wrong the whole enterprise is.

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