The Comedy of Errors
Dr. Michael Delahoyde
Washington State University
THE COMEDY OF ERRORS
The real Ephesian husband, Antipholus, is anxious to get back to his wife who he says is “shrewish” when he’s late (III.i.2), and excuses himself from Angelo, a goldsmith making a “carcanet” (III.i.4) — a jewelled necklace (see Sonnet 52) — for the Ephesian Antipholus’ wife. With the minor character Angelo, Oxford may be thinking of Agnello, the “goldfinder” who, as Michael Lok’s partner, helped promote the financially disastrous second expedition to the northwest (Ruth Loyd Miller, in Clark 21-22). In any case, “It is surely a nobleman who speaks so familiarly about the making of a carkanet” (Ogburn and Ogburn 112); and like Timon of Athens too, the Earl of Oxford (for the Queen in 1575) is on record for ordering the work of jewelers (Ogburn and Ogburn 113).
“His” Dromio (the Ephesian one), is rankling: “If the skin were parchment, and the blows you gave were ink, / Your own handwriting would tell you what I think” (III.i.13-14). He, Angelo, and the merchant Balthazar go with Antipholus to his home, but inside are the other twins and Dromio of Syracuse won’t open the door. Ephesian Dromio is perturbed: “O villain, thou hast stol’n both mine office and my name: / The one ne’er got me credit, the other mickle blame” (III.i.44-45). This assertion regarding the name makes no sense (except as a later insertion regarding the authorship problem). The servant, Luce, gets involved, as does Adriana — all refusing to open up for what appears to them to be an insane person. Contention between the Dromio’s includes the Ephesian one anticipating Much Ado About Nothing: “A man may break a word with you, sir, and words are but wind” (III.i.75).
The merchant Balthazar, although implying that Antipholus’ wife may be up to something unseemly, advises patience: “Herein you war against your reputation, / And draw within the compass of suspect / Th’ unviolated honor of your wife” (III.i.86-88) — which sounds like another Oxfordian perspective added in somewhat extraneously (Clark 17). Oxford’s obsession, first directly connected to him in the E.O. poem “Loss of Good Name,” with reputation reputation reputation, continues in Balthazar’s diatribe:
If by strong hand you offer to break in
Now in the stirring passage of the day,
A vulgar comment will be made of it;
And that supposed by the common rout
Against your yet ungalled estimation,
That may with foul intrusion enter in,
And dwell upon your grave when you are dead;
For slander lives upon succession,
For ever hous’d where it gets possession.
Nevertheless, Antipholus tells Angelo to bring the chain to the Porpentine Inn where he knows a “wench” and will bestow on her what was to have been a gift to his wife. Thus “Antipholus of Ephesus becomes so put upon that he patronizes a courtesan when he’s locked out of his own house — a dramatic confession of the Venetian courtesan that de Vere had hired while overseas” (Anderson 475).
Inside the house, Luciana urges Antipholus of Syracuse to be kind to Adriana, even if he has to fake it: “Look sweet, speak fair, become disloyalty” (III.ii.11). So, “strangely enough both Luciana and the Abbess seem disposed to condone a degree of unfaithfulness in young husbands provided it is kept secret” (Smidt 33). But this Antipholus is taken with Luciana herself: “Less in your knowledge and in your grace you show not / Than our earth’s wonder, more than earth divine” (III.ii.31-32). “Earth’s wonder” may be an allusion to Queen Elizabeth, as the Riverside notes acknowledge (124), but what are the implications?
He may be “Smoth’red in errors” (III.ii.35), but Antipholus is certain about his worship of Luciana: “Are you a god? Would you create me new? / Transform me then, and to your pow’r I’ll yield” (III.ii.39-40). He knows Adriana is not his wife, “if that I am I” (III.ii.41), an echo of “I am that I am” and variants in Twelfth Night, Othello, and a letter by Oxford to Burghley. Luciana is shocked and keeps trying to shift his focus to her sister, but finally scurries off.
Syracusian Dromio enters, asking, “Am I myself?” (III.ii.74), and reports, “I am an ass, I am a woman’s man, and besides myself” (III.ii.77-78). The kitchen maid, Nell, is smitten with him. Dromio describes her: “Marry, sir, she’s the kitchen wench and all grease, and I know not what use to put her to but to make a lamp of her and run from her by her own light” (III.ii.95-98). What follows is a rather artificial vaudeville Q-and-A exchange, or “comic catechism” (Wells 57), or scatological “antiblazon” (Garber 168), a literary trope “describ[ing] the emphatically unideal and materially real characteristics of a woman, focusing on her body below the neck rather than above it” (Garber 168). Dromio describes the kitchen wench in geographical terms; “Nell is jokingly anatomized as a map of England and its dominions” (Anderson 125). She’s a globe, so Antipholus asks where various countries are on her person: “Where’s Scotland?” “Where’s France?” etc. Supposedly, “this ‘world tour’ is a sexual map as well as a sly disquisition on contemporary politics” (Garber 168). But more illuminating, and more pertinent than the fact that Cosmography appears on the young Oxford’s study schedule (Miller, in Clark 28), is another early Oxford connection. One of the young earl’s tutors, Laurence Nowell, impressed William Cecil by creating a map, the first drawn of England from scratch since the fourteenth century (Miller, in Clark 28; Anderson 22). Ruth Loyd Miller notes in “Cecil Mixes Geography and Politics for his Wards” that Cecil was inspired to administer a sort of geographical quiz to his young charges, asking, for example, “Where is the thighbone of England?” etc. (Miller, in Clark 28-29). And Oxford is lampooning Cecil here.
Some, though, claim Oxford is going farther. “De Vere held his satirical license aloft when he portrayed Queen Elizabeth as the fat kitchen wench Nell” (Anderson 125). Anderson credits Stritmatter with the daring suggestion that Nell prefigures “Shake-speare’s later portrait of Elizabeth as the aggressive manhuntress” (Anderson 476). The roundabout listing of the lady’s dubious charms includes the only reference to “America” in the canon (III.i.133) as Garber notes (169). Dromio’s explanation of France — “In her forehead, arm’d and reverted, making war against her heir” (III.ii.123-124) — refers either to Henry IV of France, a Protestant king to a largely Catholic country when he took the throne after death of Henry III in 1589 (Asimov 176), or to Henry III returning from Poland in 1574 at the death of Charles IX and encountering Protestants and anti-Guisans ready to take action until Catherine de Medici rounded up the leaders (Allen 235, Clark 18, Ogburn and Ogburn 113, Farina 42).
Whether or not witchcraft is to blame for these weird events, Antipholus decides it’s time to get the heck out of town. Dromio agrees: “As from a bear a man would run for life, / So fly I from her that would be my wife” (III.ii.154-155). Exit. (An anticipation of the famous stage direction from The Winter’s Tale?) They will set sail on the next ship out of town. But just before his exit, Antipholus is approached by Angelo the goldsmith who delivers the gold chain to this wrong Antipholus. The fake husband would pay now but Angelo insists on later.