Shakespeare and the Culture of Christianity in Early Modern England

By Dennis Taylor; David Beauregard | Go to book overview

1
The Comedy of Errors and
The Calumny of Apelles:
An Exercise in Source Study

by Richard Dutton

Lancaster University, Lancaster, England

THE MAIN SOURCES of The Comedy of Errors are familiar friends, possibly too familiar to receive the attention they warrant: Shakespeare drew the main plot of twins separated at birth from the Menaechmi of Plautus (possibly consulted in part in William Warner's translation); further material, including the addition of a second set of twins, from the same playwright's Amphitruo; and lesser details from such works as George Gascoigne's Supposes, John Lyly's Mother Bombie, and John Gower's Confessio Amantis. The usual narrative of all this is of Shakespeare fleshing out, humanizing, and Christianizing these disparate materials. That is what we find, for example, in T. W. Baldwin's repeated attentions to the play, including his exhaustive On the Compositional Genetics of "The Comedy of Errors" (1965), or more succinctly in R. A. Foakes's Arden edition (1962).1

Christianizing is an important element in the process, associated with Shakespeare's translation of the action from Epidamnus, in Plautus, to Ephesus. The hint for this may have come from the tale of Apollonius of Tyre in Gower, but if so, the dramatist built extensively on this to incorporate most of the biblical resonances of Ephesus (mainly associated with St. Paul in the Acts of the Apostles and his Epistle to the Ephesians) into his story.2 So much so that, as Joseph Candido puts it in one of the shrewder and more imaginative studies of Shakespeare's use of his sources, "one could easily argue that Shakespeare's play is at least as much Pauline as it is

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