Friday, March 25, 2011

The Comedy of Errors - Money

Antipholus of Syracuse. Upon my life, by some device or other
The villain is o'er-raught of all my money.
They say this town is full of cozenage,
As, nimble jugglers that deceive the eye,
Dark-working sorcerers that change the mind,
Soul-killing witches that deform the body,
Disguised cheaters, prating mountebanks,
And many such-like liberties of sin:
If it prove so, I will be gone the sooner.
I'll to the Centaur, to go seek this slave:
I greatly fear my money is not safe.

One interesting theme in this play is the constant thread that runs through it of concern about MONEY. The play opens with Aegeon being able to purchase his life only if he is able to raise the money; the Dromios run here and there delivering vast sums of money to the wrong master; Angelo the goldsmith needs to be paid; Antipholus of Ephesus needs money to bail himself out of jail. And as is seen in the opening quotation, Antipholus of Syracuse's priorities seem kind of bonkers: he's just expressed that he's concerned about sorcery that can maim the body and soul - but then runs off to safeguard his money. Hmmm.

Of course, all this talk about money makes for some quotable quotes -

 Tis dinner-time,' quoth I; 'My gold!' quoth he;
'Your meat doth burn,' quoth I; 'My gold!' quoth he:
'Will you come home?' quoth I; 'My gold!' quoth he.

but in a larger sense, the concern about money trivializes things - the tension is lessened, as we know that the Antipholi twins have the money, it's just not always at the right place at the right time.

 I was thinking over the plays we've read this year, and I can't think of any of the other plays so far that put such an emphasis on money. Taming of the Shrew, of course, deals with rich dowries, but the history plays, for example, seem to deal more with life and death than dollars and cents. Of course, at a certain point in The Comedy of Errors, we're getting close to the two questions being one and the same, with Aegeon depending on money for his life and Antipholus of Ephesus being taken as mad for missing his money. However, though in this play it's money, not just moral choices, that allows mercy to be shown (Adriana: ...I sent you money to redeem you...[4.4.1334]), the whole tone of the story is so light that we never remain in suspense as to whether the money or the mercy will come through. This is very different than Shakespeare's other, later "money" play, The Merchant of Venice, where once again money - and mercy - are inseparably intertwined.

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