SPOILER ALERT!

A comedy of errors

Menaechmi; Or, The Twin-Brothers - Plautus

If it wasn't for the fact that this play was written over 1500 years before [book:A Comedy of Errors] I probably would have jumped up and cried that this guy had ripped off [author:Shakespeare], however as it turns out it is probably the other way around, especially since it is well known that Shakespeare was hardly original with his writings. Still, it was good that I finally got around to reading one of the sources that Shakespeare used for his play (though he also added a number of elements to it, including having twin slaves as well as twin brothers).

Anybody who is familiar with A Comedy of Errors will already know the basic plot to this play: two identical twin brothers are separated when they are really young, and then one of them later on in life decides to go on a quest to locate his missing brother. He then arrives in town and everybody mistakes him for his twin (even though he has no idea, until the end, that his twin lives in this town) and then when his twin appears his twin is accused to doing the things that the other twin did, and as such a farcical comedy ensures as everything runs around confused.

Like the Shakespearian play there is also the love triangle present where the wife of one of the twins tries to seduce the other twin (without knowing his identity) and the other twin loving all the attention that he is receiving. However, because the first twin is unaware of the existence of the other twin, and everybody else thinks that he is the other twin, they all begin to think that he is mad. They are even on the verge of dragging one of the twins off to the ancient Roman version of a mental asylum because they all think that he is mad – no wonder Shakespeare called his version 'A Comedy of Errors'.

The thing that is present in this play, that is not present in Shakespeare, is the mistress. So, the twin that lives in the city is not only married, but also has a mistress. This is something that was not necessarily frowned upon in those days because, well, the women couldn't chastise the husband for sleeping around (and apparently there was a lot of that happening). I guess that is what happens in the era before women's rights (because the women couldn't sleep around, but then again it has always been skewed in that way because a woman can be caught out in a number of ways whereas it has always been believed that men could get away with it, though when you throw in late nights and clothes smelling of perfume, circumstantial evidence can end up being the man's downfall).

There is also only one slave, who is owned by the visiting twin, though pre-Shakesprian plays tended to be a lot less complex plot wise (even though Plautus does have side plots in his plays, he generally only uses one, whereas Shakespeare's can be incredibly complex at times, with many different threads being weaved together). It is also interesting that in Shakespeare the slaves are referred to as servants, however there was probably an understanding that the servants were free in name only – but that is probably because the servant is economically bound to the master as opposed to being legally bound, as in the case of a slave.

Still, this is quite an amusing play, and having a lot less complexity does add to the enjoyment of the play. However, it is also evident that while it is not necessarily one of those plays that defined a genre, having had a Shakespearian play based upon it does give it that aura that sets it apart from many of Plautus' other plays.

Source: http://www.goodreads.com/review/show/1070406869