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Home :: Archive :: 1999 :: June ::
Re: Time in "Comedy of Errors"
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 10.1025  Thursday, 17 June 1999.

[1]     From:   Lawrence Manley <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 16 Jun 1999 10:26:55 -0400 (EDT)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 10.1019 Time in "Comedy of Errors"

[2]     From:   Larry Weiss <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 16 Jun 1999 13:02:12 -0400
        Subj:   Re: SHK 10.1019 Time in "Comedy of Errors"

[3]     From:   Sean Lawrence <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 16 Jun 1999 09:47:48 +0000
        Subj:   Re: SHK 10.1019 Time in "Comedy of Errors"


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Lawrence Manley <
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Date:           Wednesday, 16 Jun 1999 10:26:55 -0400 (EDT)
Subject: 10.1019 Time in "Comedy of Errors"
Comment:        Re: SHK 10.1019 Time in "Comedy of Errors"

On Wednesday, 16 Jun 1999, Michael Swanson wrote:

>I'm
>curious about how list members interpret the incident in IV. ii., in  l.
>55 - 65, when Dromio of Syracuse hears a clock strike on o'clock and
>comments, "It was two ere I left him {Antipholus}, and now the clock
>strikes one."

>I can see two possible interpretations:
>
>A) Dromio is so befuddled by the confusing events in Ephesus (that
>relate to his having a twin that he doesn't know about, and to the
>strangeness of the city) that he hears something other than a clock and
>mistakes it for the clock, or else mishears the actual clock strike.

It's a joke about ringing in the ears from all the blows the Dromios are
receiving.  In 1.2, when E. Dromio brings news to S. Ant. that he's late
for dinner, he explains "The clock hath strucken twelve upon the bell:/
My mistress made it one upon my cheek" (45-46).  At the end of 4.1, when
the arrested E. Ant. sends S. Dromio for the bail money, he sends him
off with another blow ("I will ... teach your ears to list me with more
heed" (101 -- there may also be a pun on heed/head, here).  It's just 63
lines later, in4.2, that the same Dromio asks Adriana "Do you not hear
it ring?" (51).  His ear is still ringing from the blow.  "Now the clock
strikes one" is a pun conflating one/on-the clock strikes "on" because
his ear is still ringing from the blow received at 4.1.101.

>B) Time actually does reverse itself (perhaps in similar fashion to what
>happens with time in "Othello"?) in order to allow the confusions to be
>solved by the five o'clock meeting time of a number of the principals (a
>time which has been established earlier in the play, and which ends up
>being the meeting at which the play's mistaken identities are
>clarified).

Time reverses itself metaphorically rather than "actually" when the lost
past is recovered at the end of the play.  Adriana's remark that "the
hours come back" is commonly recognized as telegraphing this reversal.

Larry Manley
Yale University

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Larry Weiss <
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Date:           Wednesday, 16 Jun 1999 13:02:12 -0400
Subject: 10.1019 Time in "Comedy of Errors"
Comment:        Re: SHK 10.1019 Time in "Comedy of Errors"

Michael Swanson offers two divergent interpretations of Dromio of
Syracuse's having heard the clock strike two before it struck one:

>A) Dromio is so befuddled by the confusing events in Ephesus (that
>relate to his having a twin that he doesn't know about, and to the
>strangeness of the city) that he hears something other than a clock and
>mistakes it for the clock, or else mishears the actual clock strike.
>
>B) Time actually does reverse itself (perhaps in similar fashion to what
>happens with time in "Othello"?) in order to allow the confusions to be
>solved by the five o'clock meeting time of a number of the principals (a
>time which has been established earlier in the play, and which ends up
>being the meeting at which the play's mistaken identities are
>clarified).

And Michael invites us to suggest other possibilities.

It seems to me that Dromio is just lying.  He sets Adriana up to express
wonderment at the clock going backwards to allow him to make the rather
lame jokes that ensue.

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Sean Lawrence <
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Date:           Wednesday, 16 Jun 1999 09:47:48 +0000
Subject: 10.1019 Time in "Comedy of Errors"
Comment:        Re: SHK 10.1019 Time in "Comedy of Errors"

Here's a third possibility: were there any clocks within earshot of
Shakespeare's Globe?  Productions were staged in the afternoon, and an
offstage clock could have struck two reliably, in every performance
before act 4, scene 2.  This would allow Dromio's conflation of possible
worlds to extend beyond the performance space.

A performance historian would know more about the possibility of an
actual clock being audible, though given the exact phrasing of Dromio's
declaration-"It was two ere I left him {Antipholus}, and now the clock
strikes one", an offstage clock isn't really necessary to refer to
offstage time.

In an open-air performance, you may be able to substitute some other
reference to the audience's time, so that it clashes with the stage's
fictive time.

Cheers,
Se

 

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