I start on The Comedy of Errors, which is another play I do not know at all. To my absolute astonishment, on the very day that Donald Trump is inaugurated, I find that he is not the only one who has ever wanted to build a literal or metaphorical wall. In his first speech, Duke Solinus illustrates the fear of The Other, and the baleful consequences that can result.
The other fascinating thing is that this is a perfect example of Freud’s idea of the narcissism of small differences. Since I am starting to think that Mr Trump is a Freudian case study, I find this very appropriate. Everything changes, and nothing changes.
Merchant of Syracuse, plead no more;
I am not partial to infringe our laws:
The enmity and discord which of late
Sprung from the rancorous outrage of your duke
To merchants, our well-dealing countrymen,
Who wanting guilders to redeem their lives
Have seal'd his rigorous statutes with their bloods,
Excludes all pity from our threatening looks.
For, since the mortal and intestine jars
'Twixt thy seditious countrymen and us,
It hath in solemn synods been decreed
Both by the Syracusians and ourselves,
To admit no traffic to our adverse towns Nay, more,
If any born at Ephesus be seen
At any Syracusian marts and fairs;
Again: if any Syracusian born
Come to the bay of Ephesus, he dies,
His goods confiscate to the duke's dispose,
Unless a thousand marks be levied,
To quit the penalty and to ransom him.
Thy substance, valued at the highest rate,
Cannot amount unto a hundred marks;
Therefore by law thou art condemned to die.
If I’m going to carry the Trumpian parallel to its nth degree, I’d say that the most telling line is ‘excludes all pity from our threatening looks’. Those of us who know the story of what Trump did in Aberdeenshire understand well that he does not do pity.
Right. Now I am a few scenes in and it is very, very silly, and very confusing. I think Shakespeare was having a real laugh with this one. I am having to frown and squint to keep up. But there is, as always, the raging beauty of the words. Here is Antipholus of
Sweet mistress--what your name is else, I know not,
Nor by what wonder you do hit of mine,
Less in your knowledge and your grace you show not
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?
My favourite line is – ‘the folded meaning of your words’ deceit’. It is the use of folding that makes it so perfect.
Stopping now, before my brain short-circuits. I see that I’m going to have to concentrate with this one. And it reminds me of what my friend the playwright and I shouted at each other with gaudy glee on the telephone the other day: the thing about Shakespeare, we bawled, is that he really, really does not give a fuck.