The Towns Of Syracuse And Ephesus
While Shakespeare set 21of his 37 plays in Mediterranean locations, the irony is that he may never have set foot in that part of the world. Shakespeare's Syracuse could have been in either Italy or Greece. Archimedes, the famous Greek Geometer, Mathematician, Inventor and Engineer was born in Syracuse, Greece. And, in Sicily Italy an archaeological site exists called Syracuse.
The action in Comedy of Errors takes place entirely in the city of Ephesus. In Roman times, Ephesus was the most important Greek city in Ionian Asia Minor, the ruins of which lie near the modern village of Selcuk in Turkey. Ephesus is now the best-preserved classical city on the Mediterranean and perhaps the best place in the world to get the feeling for what it was like in Roman times. One of the most important features of the city was that it served as an important port, linking Sardis to Susa, and the Ephesians used this factor to their advantage. As a strategic coastal gateway to the Eastern world, this Ionian refuge grew to the second largest city in the Roman Empire, the site of a Christian Shrine and one of the seven wonders of the Ancient World. Even Alexander the Great, was mesmerised by the city as he passed through Anatolia, largely because of the significance he accorded to the temple of Artemis.
In 17AD, Ephesus was completely destroyed when an earthquake hit it. Fortunately, the city was reconstructed, bearing the seal of Roman architecture. It retained its political and mercantile supremacy during this period and began to have religious significance during the Christian era, as it was said to have been the place of residence chosen by the mother of Christ after his crucifixion. By the early middle ages, the city began to degrade into silt, gradually causing the decline of the city as a trading port, before eventually becoming completely blocked with silt and uninhabitable.
Shakespeare's choice of Ephesus for the setting of The Comedy of Errors is one of the major differences between his play and Plautus's Menaechmi, which is set in Epidamnum. Some scholars argue that Ephesus represented a more fertile setting for the zany action of the play, however, the city provided a lot more than just that. In Roman times, all roads led to Ephesus; goods coming from the East ended up in its market places before they were shipped to Europe. With this in mind, the symbolic value of an East–meets–West town might have seemed the perfect setting for a story of colliding worlds. While some of Shakespeare's audience may have known Ephesus as a trade centre, the majority would have known its name only from its prominent role in the New Testament. Ephesus was one of the Seven Cities of Asia, and a major site for the preaching of the apostle Paul. Therefore it can be argued that the seemingly random relocation of the play allows Shakespeare to import the cultural meanings of Ephesus and enrich its potency as a setting.
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The Globe Theatre
The Globe is known to be a theatre in which Shakespeare's plays were performed. Records reveal it was burnt down in 1613 when a real canon was fired in a performance of Henry VIII. A second Globe was soon built and continued to stand until 1642 when a puritan revolution saw all theatres in London demolished.
We know that the first performance of The Comedy of Errors was staged in an inn. With this in mind discuss the differences between staging the play in Queens Park with modern lighting and a shipwreck set and, staging the play in a cramped inn. Examine a picture of The Globe theatre and consider how The Comedy of Errors may have been staged bearing in mind that props and sets were very minimal. It's estimated that 2 500-3 000 rowdy people could attend a performance which were held in the daylight hours of two and five o'clock. How might this have affected a performance? Compare this to USQ's production. What elements of the performance would be different or similar? Discuss with class.
Performance History: The Comedy of Errors
The Comedy of Errors was written by Shakespeare in 1591 and is regarded by academics and thespians alike to be one of his early plays. For the next one hundred years The Comedy of Errors all but disappeared from the English stage at which time it was resurrected as a serious farcical comedy. In text length, The Comedy of Errors is Shakespeare's shortest play.
As early as 1920 a black and white silent movie version was produced (). In 1940 The Comedy of Errors was performed on Broadway as a Musical and Edward Sutherland adapted the stage production to the big screen in a musical comedy titled The Boys From Syracuse. Interestingly, this production took place more than a decade before Cole Porter's musical version of Kiss Me Kate; a Broadway production adapted from Shakespeare's The Taming of the Shrew and the Shakespeare in the Park Festival's mainstage production in 2005.
In 1978, the Royal Shakespeare Company starred in a television version of the play with Dame Judy Dench in the role of Adriana. This production was also a musical. In 1983 Roger Daltry, the front man of the rebellious and infamous sixties rock band The Who, played the Dromio twins in another television version of The Comedy of Errors.
Last year at the Crucible Theatre in Sheffield, The Comedy of Errors accompanied by perms, flares and body shirts opened to an expectant English audience. The director, Johnathon Munby, set the scene in the seedy back streets of Los Angeles in the 1970s. The lead, played by Martin Hitson, based his Antipholus of Ephesus on actor Marlon Brandon whose rumoured dark, moody side suited his Antipholus.
To modernise Shakespeare and make his work more accessible for younger generations, his work is often set in current environments using modern language. Baz Luhrman's Romeo and Juliet is a prime example of the attempts made to bring Shakespeare into the 21st Century and highlight the relevance of his work in today's society. Divide your class into small groups and have each group choose a short scene from The Comedy of Errors. Work with them to recreate the scenes in modern language and ask them to change the setting to a current and familiar location. Group by group perform the straight scene as Shakespeare wrote it, following the scene directions from the text. Next perform the altered modernised version of the scene for the rest of the class.
How does changing the scene alter the humour of the action?
Does the rest of the class engage more readily with the performance?