The Last Scene (much wackiness then reunion)

Ah, yes, Comedy‘s last scene.  429 lines to set everything aright.

It is the model of economy.  It begins with a reiteration by Angelo about the high esteem Ephesus has for its Antipholus (as he apologizes yet again to the second merchant).  AS and DS arrive, deny Angelo his payment, and are seen by the two (plus “wife,” sister, and ho) fleeing arrest by entering the Priory/Abbey.

Then the Abbess appears.  Her first words are those of an impatient mother: “Be quiet, people” (V.i.38).  Adriana explains that she has come to get her “poor distracted husband” (V.i.39), so that his madness can be cured.

The Abbess, concerned, asks about the cause of his madness:

Hath he not lost much wealth by wreck of sea?
Buried some dear friend? Hath not else his eye
Stray'd his affection in unlawful love?

— V.i.49-51

Ironic, her use of words here: she asks if her husband has lost anything in an accident at sea?  Why, yes, he has (though as we shall see, he — and his brother — and the Abbess herself — doesn’t know it).  She asks if he’s lost through death someone dear to him?  Why, yes, he has (though as we shall see, he — and his brother — and the Abbess herself — doesn’t know it).  She asks if his eye has been caught by the look of another woman (not his wife).  Why, yes, he has (the Courtesan); and so has his brother (who wants his “wife”‘s sister).  The Abbess has hit upon three things that have happened to both Antipholuses (or is it Antipholi?).

When Adriana responds that only the last “unlawful love” option applies, the Abbess responds with a matter-of-fact “You should for that have reprehended him” (V.i.57), which begins an interesting sequence:

ADRIANA
Why, so I did.
ABBESS
Ay, but not rough enough.
ADRIANA
As roughly as my modesty would let me.
ABBESS
Haply, in private.
ADRIANA
And in assemblies too.
ABBESS
Ay, but not enough.
ADRIANA
It was the copy of our conference:
In bed he slept not for my urging it;
At board he fed not for my urging it;
Alone, it was the subject of my theme;
In company I often glanced it;
Still did I tell him it was vile and bad.
ABBESS
And thereof came it that the man was mad.

— V.i.58-68

The sequence is interesting because it pulls in quite a few things we’ve been talking about over the course of the last few weeks: scansion, meter, shared lines, answering rhymes.  Look at the first two lines:

ADRIANA
~    / ~  /
Why, so I did.
ABBESS
/   ~   ~    /   ~  /
Ay, but not rough enough.

It’s a single combined poetic line: ten syllables, five feet… though the Abbess kick-starts her portion of the lne with a trochee rather than an iamb. Regardless, it’s ten syllables, a single line and should be performed without a pause: the Abbess’ response is quick. And if you think that response is quick, look at the next shared line:

ABBESS
/  ~  ~   /  ~
Haply, in private.
ADRIANA
~  /  ~  /   ~    /
And in assemblies too.
ABBESS
/  _ ~   /  ~  /
Ay, but not enough.
ADRIANA
~   /   ~   / ~ ~   ~   /  ~ /
It was the copy of our conference...

The Abbess’ and Adriana’s lines overlap; she intererrupts the Abbess.  Ewwww, BIG mistake.  Take a look at the Abbess’ next line: five syllables, but three feet. The first is another one of those “kick-starter” trochees, but it’s a weird one… instead of a second syllable unstressed syllable, it’s a caesura–a pause–instead.  It’s as if the Abbess fires out the “Ay” as a way to get Adriana’s attention, the pauses, then goes on wtih the rest of the line.  But it’s a short line.  There’s a built-in pause there.  But what goes in it?  Does Adriana, now realizing her earlier interruption was disrespectful, wait for some kind of non-verbal clue from the Abbess?  Quite possibly so.

When she does continue with a six line speech, outlinng the ways she had “urged” her husband to stop his ways, the Abbess answers back not only wth a verbal response, but a rhyming “topper” as well (bad/mad).

It’s a pretty nice piece of stagecraft hidden in the dialogue.

Later in the scene, however, is a piece of dialogue that messes with the stagecraft.  After the Duke arrives with Egeon for the old Syracusian’s execution, Adriana makes her plea and mentions “Antipholus, (her) husband” (V.i.136).  Can Egeon hear this?  If not, why not?  If so, what is his response?  Is Antipholus like “John Smith,” such a common name that Egeon doesn’t even blink?  Regardless, this sort of internal logic (even if it’s never obvious to the audience) must be addressed by the director and the actor playing Egeon.

Still later, Dromio is stretched to three syllables for comic relief, one by Egeon (V.i.288), and once by DE (in response to DS’ statement that he is Dromio): “I, sir, am Dromio; pray let me stay” (V.i.338).  One can almost picture DE drawing out each syllable and punctuating the sounds either by a gesture to himself (clapping himself on the chest) or DS (maybe poking him in the chest with his finger). Regardless, the slow e-nun-ci-a-tion can be played for laughs.

For laughs, too, can the pauses in the following dialogue be played with non-verbal responses:

ADRIANA
Which of you two did dine with me today?
ANTIPHOLUS OF SYRACUSE
I, gentle mistress.
ADRIANA
And are not you my husband?
ANTIPHOLUS OF EPHESUS
No; I say nay to that.

— V.i.371-374

All poetic lines, composed in iambs.  Except for the first line, which has five metered feet, each of the others is short, allowing actors to take action to fill the pauses.

Of course, by this point in the scene, we’ve learned that the Abbess thought her sons and their servants dead, and became the Abbess of Ephesus.  Since AE and DE never knew of their history, they couldn’t pass it along to their patron (the Duke) or Adriana (thus, she was unable to figure out the situation when she meets the other Antipholus).

And so the characters are catching up to the audience… except maybe for the slower than usual Dromio of Ephesus.  Adriana recounts her providing money for AE’s bail,

ADRIANA
I sent you money, sir, to be your bail,
By Dromio; but I think he brought it not.
DROMIO OF EPHESUS
No, none by me.

— V.i.384-386

Again, a short iambic response line, with a huge pause.  Is this the pause in which DE finally gets it?  I can almost hear the bell pinging and the light bulb going on over his head.

So now everyone gets it, families are reunited, a marriage awaits, and The Comedy of Errors is done.

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