Study Guide

The Comedy of Errors The Supernatural

By William Shakespeare

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The Supernatural

The supernatural figures in The Comedy of Errors are purely an excuse to ignore the complexity of reality. There is no single occurrence that cannot be explained by some perfectly natural (if bizarre) reasoning, but characters are quick to point to the fates, dreaming, madness, and general supernatural stuff (devils, sorcery, witchcraft) in order to explain the strangeness of their situations. The supernatural stands in as a convenient explanation for what seems inexplicable, given the implausible truth that under-girds the entire play.

Questions About The Supernatural

  1. Do S. Antipholus and S. Dromio seem to excuse all the strange stuff they find in Ephesus as the natural result of a supernatural setting? Do they ever fear the supernatural, or do they conquer the strangeness around them by understanding it to be supernatural?
  2. Adriana’s entrance with the "exorcist," Dr. Pinch, seems rather abrupt. Does Adriana really think her husband is possessed or insane? What evidence does she have of this? What evidence do we have (if any) that Adriana might have other motivations?
  3. How does the supernatural function alongside dreams and madness in The Comedy of Errors? Do they all share the same role? Are they all convenient excuses for the strangeness of Ephesus? How do characters relate to themselves and others differently because of what they perceive to be supernatural forces, dreams, or madness?
  4. Is there actually any element of the supernatural in the play? Is Shakespeare mocking how often life’s little absurdities get chalked up to greater-than-natural causes, whether divine or hellish? Does Shakespeare treat the supernatural as reasonable or foolish in the play?

Chew on This

The supernatural functions only as a plot device in the play. No character that attributes anything to the supernatural ever gives a viable reason for doing so. This is only a way to explain the Ephesian strangeness – and move the plot along.

Each character that invokes the supernatural does it as cover up for some personal weakness. Egeon blames the supernatural fates for his miserable condition; S. Antipholus’s inability to deal with and understand his reality leave him quick to jump to some explanation outside of himself; and Adriana would rather believe her husband is possessed than deal with the possibility that he just might not love her anymore.

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