The Future Arrives, and it’s Foggy

A couple of weeks back, I said that we were going to discuss a close reading The Comedy of Errors‘ Act Two, Scene Two, from Adriana and Luciana’s entrance around lne 108.

So let’s begin. . .

As Adriana verbally accosts Antipholus of Syracuse (thinking he’s A of Ephesus), there’s a neat bit of in-dialogue stage directon at line 123: “Ah, do not tear away thyself from me!” (II.ii.123).  Obviously in the course of the first fifteen lines of her speech, she is supposed to somehow grab on to him–maybe in a hug, maybe just by the hand–and he struggles to be free.

She’s angry and very pointed here, but she’s also hurting. How do we know? the scansion tell us so.  She enunciates and stretches out to four syllables both “licentious” (lie-SEN-she-US [II.ii.130]) and “contagion” (con-TAY-gee-on [II.ii.143]) to emphasize her point.  However, she swallows and slurs to only three syllables the root of her accusation: “adulterate” (uh-DUL-trat [II.ii.139]).  So while she is angered and has no problem accusing him of lewd behavior and being contaminated by lust, she cannot bring herself to say clearly that he is committing adultery.  Interesting, character-based stuff.

Back when I announced that we’d be covering this scene, reader Donna asked if Antipholus and Dromio’s exchange between lines 159 and 166 is only to each other in hushed tones or if Adriana and Luciana can hear them.  My take is that while I can see the dialogue being hushed and secretive (and thus her “grossly” [II.ii.168] statement is referring to their unveiled, though inaudible, attempt to get their stories straight), I think I’d probably direct it as being aloud for the sisters to hear… this would allow for some good opportunities for the two female leads to have some great non-verbal reactions.

Another bit of scanned expansion of lines comes when Antipholus is trying to figure out what is going on:

How can she thus then call us by our names,
Unless it be by inspiration.

— II.ii.165-6

For the iambic pentameter to scan, that last word must be drawn out (IN-spi-RAY-she-ON)… that over-enunciation puts a rather foolish light on Antipholus, and well it should: if he would only THINK, he’d realize that people know “him” because they know his brother.  But Antipholus (and his servant… AND their twins) have no such “inspiration” themselves.  Of course, if they did, this–the shortest of Shakespeare’s plays–would be even shorter.

Another bit of in-dialogue stage direction comes when Adriana tells Antipholus, “Come, I will fasten on this sleeve of thine” (II.ii.172).  Again, she latches on to him physically.

Antipholus and Dromio’s exchange between lines 180 and 191 can (again) be played as either asides or as audible to the sisters (and this could help determine the tone of the production: to each other would make it more “realistic” [though two sets of identical twins kinda kills realism]; asides could make it VERY broad, breaking the fourth wall, almost imploring the audience to laugh)… but I think in this case the direction is clear: the speeches should be presented as asides, but Luciana calls them (and the actors) out on it: “Why prat’st thou to thyself and answer’st not?” (II.ii.192). . . Why are you talking to yourselves? she asks.  Why, indeed.

What’s also interesting in this exchange is Dromio’s Catholicism: “O, for my beads! I cross me for a sinner” (II.i.187).  In the post-Henry VIII, Anglican Church world of Shakespeare’s time, it’s interesting that the comment is made.  At first, I thought it might be a back-handed dig at the “lower” classes, but before the end of the scene, Adriana says to Antipholus, “Husband, I’ll dine above with you today // And shrive you of a thousand idle pranks” (II.ii.206-207), telling him that she will take his confession.

Why all the Catholic imagery (and none of it really negative)?  An appeal to the Groundlings?  I’m not sure… I’m not a literary-history expert… any ideas out there?

There are also a couple of references made in this scene that make a certain production concept/interpretation possible.  Back “in the day” when I was doing “A Night with the Bard” at Oxnard High, I had one student joke that he would set the play in Jamaica, with the characters higher than kites (which would explain for a certain mental slowness).  The student didn’t have any supporting evidence for the concept, so we laughed it off as just talk.  But, lookee, lookee, what we find in this scene: when Dromio and Antipholus of Syracuse are discussing Adriana’s contention that Antipholus is her husband and that Dromio is her servant, Dromio says

'Tis true; she rides me, and I long for grass

— II.ii.199

Textually it means simply that he feels like an ass or donkey, and he longs for grass to eat.  In a Jamaican setting, however, grass takes on a whole new meaning, and I can see how this might be stretched out for the full production…especally since by the end of the scene, it’s not just Dromio who’s a little lost in a fog of confusion, as Antipholus says,

I'll say as they say and persever so,
And in this mist at all adventures go.

— II.ii.214-215

Could this be the same mist as you’d find at a Dead concert?

Comment?