Time and Bondage in Shakespeare’s “The Comedy of Errors”

ComedyOfErrorsI read Shakespeare’s The Comedy of Errors while in college and have seen it performed twice within the last several years by a local theater group, so I was familiar with the play before reading it this time. The play is an adaptation of The Menechmus Twins by the Roman playwright Plautus. Basically, it is the story of two pairs of estranged twins who end up in the same city, which leads to a series of mishaps based upon mistaken identity. The play is very funny and accessible. You do not have to be a Shakespearean scholar to thoroughly enjoy this play.

Even though this play is not as complex as other works by Shakespeare, there are still some interesting themes woven into the text that are worth examining. The two that stood out for me on this reading are the themes of time and bondage, and personally, I see a connection between these two themes.

Time is a key component in this play. All the confusion that occurs is the result of poor timing. But the issue of time also figures prominently in the text itself, for example, in Act II, Scene ii, Antipholus and Dromio of Syracuse engage in a discussion about time and assert that “There’s a time for all things,” which hints at Ecclesiastes 3: 1-8. Later in the play, Adriana and Dromio of Syracuse also discuss time, and Dromio states:

Time is a very bankrupt, and owes more than he’s
worth, to season.
Nay, he’s a thief too: have you not heard men say
That Time comes stealing on by night and day?
If Time be in debt and theft, and a sergeant in the way,
Hath he not reason to turn back an hour in a day?
Act IV, Scene ii

The other theme that recurs throughout the text is that of binding or bondage. It’s nearly impossible to read a scene that doesn’t have a reference to binding in some form, whether it is the bond between a husband and wife, the bondage of the servant to his master, bonds as a guarantee of credit, or actual physical binding by rope or chain. There is also the bond between the twins, where their fates are bound together.

Finally, it is worth considering the relationship between time and bondage. Since we are mortal, we are all bound by time. Time is the chain from which we can never be free.

This play is short, funny, and engaging. If you have never read it, I strongly encourage you to do so. If you have not read it in a while, read it again, and when you do, think about how time and bondage figure in to the plot.

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