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Shakespeare, Comedy of Errors, redress



Writing near the end of a century-long ‘explosion’ of Tudor theatre, Shakespeare benefitted from a variety of influences, both sacral and secular. Among his literary influences were the works of classical dramatists (Sophocles, Seneca, Plautus, and the like), who had used their plays to editorialize on contemporary societal issues. To this same end, in his early historical play Richard III Shakespeare chose to address a multiplicity of problematic themes, the most obvious being that, although Richard’s ambition and his lethality had been sufficient to win him a crown, they were insufficient to preserve it: power gained is not power maintained. Shakespeare then reasserted this message to queen and country in his very next play, A Comedy of Errors, modeled closely on Plautus’ The Menaechmi. More briefly and pleasurably than in Richard III, here Shakespeare crafted his ‘redress’ to warn of specific threats to the stability and security of Tudor power and the commonwealth itself: the expansion of English trade networks, with concomitant surges of plague, piracy, and a power-hungry mercantile class; fanaticism and religious dissension (both Catholic-Protestant and within Protestantism); and his queen’s own gender-based vulnerabilities, while also offering potential means of mitigation.