Antipholus of Syracuse makes a bold attempt to woo Luciana. Luciana is the sister of Adriana who is married to Antipholus Ephesus, Antipholus of Syracuse’s twin brother.
Egeon and Emelia of Syracuse had identical twin sons. For their sons, they purchased identical twin servants. While travelling by ship, they were struck by a violent storm and the family were separated, half ending up in Ephesus and the other half back in Syracuse.
Believing the other half of his family has perished at sea, Egeon renamed his living son and his son’s servant. Antipholus for the son and Dromio for his servant, named after the ‘deceased’ Antipholus and Dromio. Hence we end up with two sets of identical twins: Antipholus of Syracuse and Antipholus of Ephesus, Dromio of Syracuse and Dromio of Ephesus. Best to draw a family tree.
Once they grew up, Antipholus of Syracuse and his servant Dromio head off in search of their twin brothers and mother. By chance, they arrive in Ephesus where Antipholus and Dromio of Ephesus live. Antipholus of Ephesus lives with his wife, Adriana and her sister Luciana. When Adriana and Luciana stumble upon Antipholus and Dromio of Syracuse in the town, Adriana believes this to be her husband and his servant…and the comedy of errors ensues.
This first thing I notice is the imagery and scale of the language. This guy is really-over-the-top in love! The imagery of the mythological siren or mermaid coupled with the repetition of words like ‘wonder’ suggest to me someone who is mystified by this woman, absolutely head over heels and one hundred percent ready to put his heart on the line.
Something I’d also like to point out are the line endings; there is a lot of rhyme. This is common for Shakespeare’s comedies. It makes the language easier to follow and simpler to understand. The audience can almost predict what the line ending might be.
Note also the ‘feminine’ line endings with an extra syllable. This was possibly used to indicate that the actor should lean on an idea more. In this case, it is about Antipholus not knowing Luciana’s name and her miraculous knowledge of his own.
Let’s break down the language to see what other clues we can discover in the text. By breaking the thoughts into thought and beat changes we can gain some insight into the stakes of the scene and where the character is at mentally.
Beat Change: Space
Thought Change: /
Feminine Ending: (F)
Antipholus of Syracuse:
Sweet mistress,’what your name is else, I know not, / (F)
Nor by what wonder you do hit of mine,’ /
Less in your knowledge and your grace you show not (F)
Than our earth’s wonder; more than earth divine. /
Teach me, dear creature, how to think and speak: /
Lay open to my earthy-gross conceit, /
Smother’d in errors, feeble, shallow, weak, /
The folded meaning of your words’ deceit. /
Against my soul’s pure truth why labour you
To make it wander in an unknown field? /
Are you a god? / would you create me new? /
Transform me then, and to your power I’ll yield. /
But if that I am I, then well I know
Your weeping sister is no wife of mine, /
Nor to her bed no homage do I owe. /
Far more, far more, to you do I decline. /
O! train me not, sweet mermaid, with thy note, /
To drown me in thy sister’s flood of tears: /
Sing, siren, for thyself, and I will dote. /
Spread o’er the silver waves thy golden hairs, /
And as a bed I’ll take them and there lie; /
And, in that glorious supposition think
He gains by death that hath such means to die: /
Let Love, being light, be drowned if she sink! /
Antipholus of Syracuse:
Sweet lady, I don’t know what else to call you,
Nor by what miracle you know my name,
You seem just as wise and incredible,
As our wondrous and beautiful earth, even more so than the earth.
Tell me, beautiful creature, how to think and speak,
Help me, a meer mortal, to understand,
(Just a flawed human, feeble, shallow, weak,)
The hidden meaning of your complex words.
Why are you, against the will of my soul, trying to
Send me to a woman who I don’t know?
Are you a god? Would you create me anew?
Transform me then, and I will believe your power.
But if I am still the same as I am now, Then I know,
Your crying sister is not my wife.
Nor have I made to her any husband’s vows.
I am much, much more to you inclined.
Oh, do not tell me, beautiful mermaid, through your song,
To drown myself in the flood of your sisters tears:
Sing, Siren, for you alone, and I will devote myself to you.
Spread your beautiful golden hair over the silver ocean,
And like a bed, I will lie on it,
And in that glorious state of belief I’ll think,
Myself lucky to die like this, in such a way.
If love, usually light and fickle, can’t float, let it drown.
Unfamiliar Words & Phrases
Wonder: Marvel, miracle.
Earth: Human or mortal.
Earthly-gross conceit: Flawed human knowledge or understanding.
Folded: Complicated or hidden.
To her bed: Marriage bed in other words, the bed of a husband and wife.
Homage: Duty of a husband to a wife.
Decline: Incline or inclined.
Train: Teach or tell. Double meaning possibly; ‘seduce’ or ‘entice,’ as mermaids or sirens did to unsuspecting sailors.
Siren: Dangerous Greek mythological creatures that would lure sailors with enchanting singing to shipwreck on their islands and kill them.
Dote: Idolise, be devoted to. In other words, to dote on someone is to be infatuated with them.
Supposition: A belief held without proof, in other words; suppose.
That: Who (from the line ‘that hath such means to die’.)
Light: Frivolous or fickle.
Comedy of Errors is one of Shakespeare’s earliest plays, perhaps the first. It’s simple language when compared to that of King Lear or Hamlet is perfect for someone wanting to try their hand with a Shakespeare monologue but isn’t ready yet for “To be or not to be”.
This is a wonderfully comedic monologue. The one thing I’d urge an actor to remember for this one: trust your gut and go for it – it’s over the top. Much like some of the monologues from A Midsummer Night’s Dream, we have a character head over heels for another upon first meeting them and the audience are the only one’s aware of the dramatic irony at play.
The key in playing this kind of over-the-top romantic comedy is to use your instincts, make strong choices and back yourself while remembering to serve the text. There is a lot of fun to be had in playing this piece but there is still a great want and human drive behind it. Antipholus Syracuse is desperately pursuing love.
The language has an abundance of rhyme and imagery to lean on and I think it’s easier to use it than not. That’s not to say, just hit the rhyme hard and make it sound like a child’s poem or nursery rhyme but simply remember that it’s there to help guide you and your choices.
Comedy can come from when somebody is too ‘anything’. Too happy, too sad, too angry, too depressed – in this case, too in love with someone he’s just met. Have a go at playing this monologue as too ‘something’. It might bring out some fun choices. Enjoy!