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Empirical Errors: The Comedy of Errors and "Knowing" Metamorphosing Forms.

GESTA GRAYORUM, THE WRITTEN ACCOUNT of the Gray's Inn Christmastime revels (1594-95), includes a detailed description of several masques and plays. This account famously includes Shakespeare's The Comedy of Errors, though it likewise mentions a masque by Francis Bacon--The Device. Bacon's Device, sometimes called the Essex entertainment, features several counselors who advocate for a variety of princely pursuits; the author's favorite, most scholars would agree, is the second counselor who endorses the Study of Philosophy, encapsulating Bacon's "dream of a philosopher-prince who would literally embody the processes of natural philosophy's illumination of nature's secrets and nature's causes." (1) The coincidence of Shakespeare's Errors alongside an early instance of Bacon's hope for a new philosophical program calls for a joint consideration not only of these two thinkers, (2) but of this play in particular, since Shakespeare's comedy stages the difficulties of knowing others' natures. As Michael Witmore briefly references in his own reading of this comedy,
Given the stated desire of Francis Bacon (who also wrote something for
the Gray's Inn revels of 1594) to rid natural philosophy of its sources
of error or "Idols," the intellectual stakes in a farce like The Comedy
of Errors are potentially quite high. In providing a concrete set of
situations in which error can be assayed, the play is more than a
dramatic diversion or an exercise in a young playwrights command of
plotting. It is an engine for inquiry. (3)

In this article, I examine Francis Bacon's articulations of his new method--especially in the Novum Organum (1620) and Of The "Wisdom of Ancients (1609)--alongside Shakespeare's The Comedy of Errors (1594) in order to consider their overlapping, though ultimately divergent, epistemological concerns. Both authors grapple with the problem of form, specifically, whether visible appearance can serve as an accurate indication of essence, a thing's hidden nature. Aristotie's form is, roughly, that which unifies or defines the being of a particular collection of matter (e.g., that which makes a collection of wood, brick, and tiles a house). (4) Bacon and Shakespeare both recognize the difficulty of "reading" the hidden nature of things from an ever-changing world of appearances by employing a vocabulary of metamorphosis. (5) However, the authors' responses to this problem found in Aristotelian epistemology (as practiced by early modern natural philosophers, which, as Bacon notes, typically relied on superficial observation) differ. Namely, Bacon's natural philosophy undertakes to overcome this obstacle, while Shakespeare's literary fiction embraces the ethical possibilities that might accompany illegibility and confusion.

Yet by noting the generic difference between Bacon and Shakespeare, my intention is not to undo the significant recent scholarship that troubles the disciplinary distinctions between early modern science and literature. (6) This recent wave of criticism has importantly illuminated science's imbrications in poetics and the imagination as well as fiction's preoccupations with knowledge-making practices, highlighting that poetry is a way of "thinking through" philosophical problems. (7) In fact, I align my project with the recent contributions of Kristen Poole, Angus Fletcher, and Jean Feerick that show how Bacon remains dependent upon art and poetic formulations in his knowledge-making enterprise. (8) The Proteus metaphor, for instance, is seemingly inextricable from his conception of scientific method. Moreover--as scholars including Katherine Park, Jacqueline Cowan, Lorraine Daston, and Michael Witmore have shown--Bacon not only tolerates, but even embraces art, imagination, and wonder/marvel in method. (9) As Feerick reminds us, this conception of method is evident in Bacon's famous bee metaphor. Namely, the scientist's formulation of an experiment that imitates Nature's marvels is like the bee (or the artisan) transforming natural elements to create something new (i.e., honey). (10) However, similarities between literature and science in method or presentation don't necessarily pertain to content. As Marchitello and Tribble observe in their analysis of Galileo's Il Saggiatore, while Galileo's aphorism "nature takes no delight in poetry" does not necessarily imply that the two disciplines are entirely divorced from one another, it does insist that "Galilean science (and science in general) cannot abide poetry as its content (no fables allowed)." (11) This principle seems equally true of Bacon.

Bacon's desire for a stable system of knowledge production yields a different reaction to the instability of Aristotelian epistemology than does Shakespeare's aim for The Comedy of Errors, even though both think through the problem of form using figures of metamorphosis. Bacon's Protean metaphor, as I hope to show, proves troublesome in the details when the aim is to discover a thing's "true form." And though Bacon will advocate for art in method to encourage Nature to "err," this attitude doesn't fully extend to the content of scientific results. It would be odd to envision Bacon delighting in confusion or rendering error as comedy. A "comedy of errors" after all, in its very name, intimates a measure of delight in this wandering away from truth; and I contend that Shakespeare's play suggests abandoning the project of definitively knowing the twins when more ethical relations might result from accepting that their identical appearances will continue to confuse.

Bacon's ambition for natural philosophy, therefore, informs the attitude in his works towards the threat of illegibility and confusion. Although Bacon remains attentive to the limits of the senses as a vehicle for information (which is characteristic of Aristotelian epistemology), he nevertheless seeks to rescue this project to discern the depths of reality. His new philosophical program and a new conception or definition of "form" aims to prevail over these difficulties. To answer the threat of illegibility, Bacon redefines form as a law according to which nature exists and operates. This redefinition of form as a law of operation allows Bacon to maintain the central assumption that recognizing form reveals essence or truth. It is within this new framework, then, that the threat of metamorphosis--Nature figured as the wily sea god Proteus--persists alongside a reliance upon vision and visual metaphor. Bacon uses the figure of Proteus to emphasize the future success of this enterprise provided that one applies sufficient rigor in the search for form; one need only vex nature by isolating a variable, controlling the context, thus metaphorically wrestling with the god who will eventually reveal his true form to the wrestler/observer. It would seem, however, that Bacon's natural philosophy merely replicates the Aristotelian problem (and anxiety) of form's legibility: it persists at the level of law just as it did at the level of external appearance since both depend on the visual observation of matter.

Shakespeare's The Comedy of Errors likewise casts a skeptical eye on the Aristotelian epistemological project that judges hidden "nature" according to formal appearance, and this issue is best reflected in the comedy's playful representation of mistaken identities and its pervasive imagery of metamorphosis. Yet the play further suggests that this epistemological project might intimate a flawed ethics: one that privileges legible forms in the name of making distinctions and highlighting differences, especially when applied to persons. This epistemological emphasis on differences might render an ethics of sympathy more difficult, being unable to fully sympathize with another if one deems that other person too different. Thus, one might embrace the space of confusion or lack of distinctions--and thus renounce the project of perfect legibility--for the sake of highlighting similarities and promoting solidarity and sympathy.

Again, when man contemplates nature working freely, he meets with
different species of things, of animals, of plants, of minerals; whence
he readily passes to the opinion that there are in nature certain
primary forms which nature intends to educe, and that the remaining
variety proceeds from hinderances and aberrations of nature in the
fulfillment of her work, or from the collision of different species and
the transplanting of one into the other.
            --Francis Bacon (Novum Organum book 1, aphorism 66,95) (12)

In the first book of Bacon's Novum Organum (1620), many of the aphorisms like the one above outline existing flaws in the early modern search for knowledge based in an Aristotelian epistemology. This aphorism, for instance, follows shortly after the well-known warning about the "dullness" and "deceptions" of the senses, which are the "greatest hindrance and aberration of the human understanding" (book 1, aphorism 50, 82). This warning applies to sight in particular, for "speculation commonly ceases where sight ceases" (book 1, aphorism 50, 82). Subsequently in the aphorism cited above, Bacon glosses that the reflection on Nature--which hitherto has principally involved a kind of superficial Aristotelian observation of "nature working freely" and little else--has prompted natural philosophers to believe in the existence of "primary forms." (13) The belief in "primary forms" leads man to imagine that these forms have been comprehended, having been classified within this framework. Bacon here presents an important problem with this approach, namely the immense variation of these visible forms. As he mentions, previous natural philosophers have dismissed this issue as Natures "errors," which are worded in the above aphorism as "hinderances" and "aberrations," a mere byproduct of "collision," "transplanting," or put alternatively, metamorphosis. However, these variations and metamorphoses in form destabilize the philosopher's ability to contemplate Nature using existing methods; these forms are unstable and thus not as legible as one would hope.

Bacon understands that any classification based on the contemplation of visible forms is flawed, thereby prompting him to redefine "form." He maintains, "Matter rather than forms should be the object of our attention, its configurations and changes of configuration, and simple action, and law of action or motion; for forms are figments of the human mind, unless you will call those laws of action forms" (book 1, aphorism 51, 83). Bacon's forms, like Plato's, are metaphysical in scope; (14) they "govern natural processes in unalterable, lawlike fashion." (15) Moreover, Bacon's method diverges from Aristotle's, abandoning "compound forms"--such as "the lion, eagle, rose, gold, and the like" (book 2, aphorism 17,205)--which have principally been identified by sight, in favor of "the simple natures that compose those more obvious unities [or] disaggregated formae'.' (16) In short, Bacon redefines form as "law" or something akin to "essential nature." He explains at the beginning of Novum Organum's second book: "For although in nature nothing really exists besides individual bodies, performing pure individual acts according to a fixed law [...] this very law [...] that I mean when I speak of Forms; a name which I rather adopt because it has grown into use and become familiar" (book 2, aphorism 2, 168). This redefinition of form allows Bacon to rescue the central assumption beneath Aristotle's empirical project, namely that to obtain knowledge of the form is to know its nature. As Bacon puts quite simply, "the form of a thing is the very thing itself" (book 2, aphorism 13,193). Bacon further identifies the search for this true form as the primary goal of his method: "to discover the form, or true specific difference, or nature-engendering nature, [...] is the work and aim of Human Knowledge" (book 2, aphorism 1, 167). Form is "true specific difference," that which makes something itself, unique from other things, although it here refers to things like "light" and "heat" rather than the lion or the eagle; (17) and certainly "nature-engendering nature" sounds purposefully tautological, as the essence, quality, or character that constitutes that thing's nature. Of course, Bacon can't help but be tautological here, and to fill in the content of "form" is the "work and aim" of knowledge production.

Yet observation, especially visual observation, has not been eliminated from Bacon's empirical method. His redefinition of form has not fixed the fundamental anxiety around trusting one's senses (vision especially). Bacon acknowledges the difficulty of discovering "true form," admitting,
For since the genuine Forms (which are always convertible with the
proposed natures) lie deep and are hard to find, it is required by the
circumstances of the case and the infirmity of the human understanding
that particular Forms, which collect together certain groups of
instances (though not all) into some common notion, be not neglected,
but rather be diligently observed, (book 2, aphorism 26, 227)

While observation of "forms" is based on collecting and building "common notions," this process first depends on the sensory observations of "groups of instances." And this empirical method still relies heavily on sight. Mary Baine Campbell goes so far as to assert that for Bacon, "objects of knowledge are most properly visible things," especially since Bacon organizes knowledge in collections of "species," which should properly be understood as either "outward appearance or aspect" or "a thing seen." (18) Though sight will require new technology like the microscope and telescope to improve its accuracy, vision is nevertheless key since it has "the chief office in giving information" (book 2, aphorism 39, 271). (19) In building on these observations, I want to suggest that depending upon the observation of matter to discover forms brings with it an old problem, namely the threat with which Bacon began--that of unstable, metamorphosing, and thus potentially illegible, forms.

It is in this respect, then, that we should reexamine Bacons use of literary figure, that of Proteus, as a metaphor for the new scientific method. In this metaphor he claims that by appropriate intervention and restrictions, "vexing Nature," one can discover the "true" form of the wily sea god and thereby discover the truth. In chapter 13 of Of the Wisdom of the Ancients (1609), he figures Nature, or to be more specific Matter, as the squirming Proteus. According to myth, Proteus knows the truth and will reveal it, but only if one captures him. This is a difficult enterprise, however, because the god continually metamorphoses in efforts to escape one's grasp. Bacon maintains that "the only way [to obtain the truth from Proteus] was first to secure his hands with handcuffs, and then to bind him with chains" (6:725). (20) This metaphor, in terms of scientific application, means that one must isolate the variable to be studied/tested, keeping the others constant such that observed changes can be attributed to a change in the variable of interest. But this, metaphor likewise permits Bacon to reassert the premise that form reveals truth or essence, for if one can confine and control nature--bind Proteus--then the natural philosopher will see the genuine form. Proteus's primal or "true" form, once isolated and seen, will result in knowledge. Bacon describes the method in this way:
If any skillful Servant of Nature shall bring force to bear on the
matter, and shall vex and drive it to extremities as if with the
purpose of reducing it to nothing, then will matter [...] finding
itself in these straits, turn and transform itself into strange shapes
[...] when if the force be continued, it returns at last to itself.

This metaphor suggests that the true form is the thing in "itself," its essence, to which Nature will ultimately return once the metamorphoses have been stopped, having driven matter "to extremities." Nevertheless, the specter of metamorphosis haunts this scientific enterprise, even if the search is for a law rather than a visible or formal appearance. The Proteus metaphor highlights both the exceeding difficulty of the scientific method and its attendant anxiety; if "form" is the source of knowledge, then shape-shifting is always a threat. Bacon's redefinition of "form" never fully solved the problem of Aristotelian epistemology: the dependence on visual observation to find the true form. And just as the tale of Proteus is a fiction, so too might be form's legibility.


Shakespeare's The Comedy of Errors, like Bacon's works in natural philosophy, grapples with the problem of form, though he remains skeptical about the ability to answer Aristotle's epistemological problem. The mistaken identity play dramatizes that the observation of visual form or appearance is a tenuous base for obtaining knowledge about a thing's nature or essence. The two sets of identical twins, the Antipholi and the Dromios, are not differentiated or identifiable by their bodies, nor by their names, nor even by their respective, former places of habitation since they now occupy the same place. The misidentifications of the twins of Syracuse for those of Ephesus result in numerous misunderstandings involving the fetching and delivering of money and objects (ropes, chains, rings), beating innocent servants ignorant of their orders, being locked out of one's home, a disgruntled and jealous wife, and the unsuccessful treatment of "mad" men. But in addition to humor, the confusion throughout the play's action might produce a real anxiety, placing pressure on the supposed one-to-one relationship between visual form (i.e., appearance) and its character/nature/essence. And this correspondence between form and nature is necessary for the project of gathering correct information with an eye (pun intended) towards the compilation of knowledge more generally. In this case, given the epistemological difficulty of knowing things, much less people, the play asks whether the promise of perfect legibility with the aim of differentiation should be the basis for human relationships. Is it possible that relinquishing this aim and embracing confusion instead might offer an increased potential for sympathetic relations?

Existing scholarship on The Comedy of Errors grapples with the anxiety accompanying the possibility of two entirely identical beings, (21) and most critics cast this confusion and the potential loss of unique personal identity as a threat. As Brian Gibbons maintains, there is "no mistaking the fearful implications of the loss of self-possession, the idea of confounding, the suggestion of drowning." (22) In explicating these anxieties, scholars such as Janet Adelman, Thomas MacCary, Coppelia Kahn, and Barbara Friedman have focused on the play's psychoanalytic implications. (23) Other scholars base their readings on historical anxieties about unstable social identities (such as coneys, the early modern con artists), or identities based in changing socioeconomic structures. (24) Regarding identical bodies or forms, Douglas Lanier reads this play as an interrogation of the epistemological status of external characterological marks, arguing that character--"conceived most often as a kind of inscription, that identifies its bearer's nature, wittingly or not"--may not truly function to identify in this play. (25)

I would like to extend Lanier's argument further, for the problem of legibility may not exclusively apply to personal identity but might extend to the ability to name and know things by their forms writ large. Kent Cartwright holds that a certain Baconian empiricism appears to successfully resolve the play's confusion, but this isn't necessarily the case. (26) After all, the play humorously ends on the note that the confusion will persist; even after the Duke has purportedly worked out all of the day's events, Dromio S. still mistakes Antipholus E. for his master, resulting in one last confusion about the location of Antipholus S.'s possessions on the ship, the Centaur (5.1.408-11). This final mistake, which occurs despite the conclusion's revelations, evidences that the project of knowing via observation can never fully accommodate the existence of identical forms that are not, in fact, the same person/thing. Thus, rather than resolving the issue at the heart of the play, Errors's interest in epistemology and empirical observation undermines this enterprise, calling the audience towards the productivity of confusion.

Shakespeare's The Comedy of Errors undercuts the central assumption behind Aristotie's method (as well as Bacon's)--that form reveals essence. It troubles this assumption by featuring two limit cases: first, perfectly identical twins such that two characters map onto a single form, and second, like Bacon, the phenomenon of metamorphosis, when some character/thing takes on multiple forms, only one of which betrays its "true" nature. Given the epistemological difficulties of "knowing" others that the play dramatizes, and since character/identity may not ultimately be legible, Shakespeare's comedy asks that we rather embrace form's indeterminacy, figured by the imagery of metamorphosis and of forms with malleable boundaries (e.g., water droplets). The play puts forth the possibility that more ethical relations would result from abandoning the search for unique forms with the aim of classification or distinction. Namely, it asks the audience to abandon their investment in separate, distinct, or unique forms and instead to "confound." Errors imagines this confounding as water droplets dissolving in a body of water--images that suggest sympathy and solidarity with others. For although abandoning unique form makes "knowing" both others and things more difficult, embracing indeterminacy might promote an ethics of sympathy as opposed to distinction, separation, and hierarchy.


The correspondence between form and a thing's nature is an entrenched assumption in the language of the play, though it becomes progressively unsettled. From the outset, the characters assume that the observation of form or appearance remains the best means for securing knowledge of a thing's nature or essence. (27) Even when characters entertain the possibility that they have gone mad, i.e., when the world has become illegible or difficult to decipher, they hold onto this basic assumption that form accurately betokens nature. For instance, when discussing the dangerous reputation of Ephesus as a town "full of cozenage" (1.2.97), Antipholus S. explicitly connects form, or what can be deciphered by vision, to changes in either the mind or the soul: "As nimble jugglers that deceive the eye, / Dark-working sorcerers that change the mind, / Soul-killing witches that deform the body" (1.2.98-100). (28) The parallel structure of these changes in the verse--all lines ending with respective changes to the eye, the mind, and the body--reflect an assumed correlation between these transformations. Emilia reiterates this principle when assuring Adriana that she will cure the "mad" Antipholus, "To make him a formal man again" (5.1.105). Unbeknownst to Emilia, form is precisely the problem, since duplicate forms provoke the belief that Antipholus E. has gone mad in the first place. Yet what she means is that she will put him back in "good form," the equivalent of normal or sane, or back to his "true" self. The assumed correspondence between form and essence thus becomes all the more problematic in the case of identical twins, a single form that has two different natures within it.

The first limit case for the project of knowing via observation, of course, arises from the play's premise: the existence of exact likenesses. The unique identities of the characters will never be fully legible since there are not a sufficient number of diverse forms to accommodate the number of personalities in play. As Egeon relates to the Duke, the fact that the twins are exactly identical is "strange, the one so like the other" (1.1.51). The spectacle of perfectly identical forms is likewise the case with the servant twins as Dromio S. recounts that his supposed wife Nell "told me what privy marks I had about me, as the mark of my shoulder, the mole of my neck, the great wart on my left arm" (3.2.58). The lack of any individual specificity to bodily forms utterly disrupts any attempt to know essence by visual observation.

Moreover, while the process of recognition, and subsequently classification, involves the act of affixing a name to a singular form, thus permiting the accumulation of knowledge around it, Errors exposes this method as epistemologically flawed because it only further confuses. Even though Egeon has opened the play by noting that the twins could not be distinguished "but by names," the comedy replicates a kind of scientific desire for legibility since each set of twins (i.e., each distinct form/body), has only one name affixed to it. On the one hand, the twins' shared name accords with the notion that one form should correspond with one thing's nature, and this relation is guaranteed by the singular name that signifies it; the twins, in a sense, could be of the type or species "Antipholus," designating a specific form rather than a personal identity. But, of course, the play exhibits the misguided character of this project because this practice (that one name be affixed to one form) is entirely inappropriate for designating distinct persons. This identical naming is completely unfitting if we are looking for a precise method of knowing who is who, and, especially in the context of this play, knowing which agent is responsible for which action. Much of the confusion surrounding the twins stems from the fact that their identical forms have led them to be named "correctly." When hailed by Adriana prior to their meeting, Antipholus S. queries, "How can she [Adriana] thus then call us by our names?" (2.2.166), and he later describes the experience of being "recognized" and seemingly "known" after wandering about Ephesus since "everyone doth call me by my name" (4.3.3). Naming according to bodily form is here explicitly equated with knowing, or at least the presumption of knowledge. Antipholus S. describes this presumption in his aside "Known unto these and to myself disguis'd" (2.2.214).

Even when the confusion about the days events has been more or less dispelled, the exact likenesses of the twins cannot be squared with the assumption that form reveals nature/essence. In the moment of revelation, the Duke expresses his bewilderment: "One of these men is genius to the other; / And so of these, which is the natural man, / And which the spirit? Who deciphers them?" (5.1.334-36). Yet the Duke here is mistaken because a vocabulary of originals and copies does not make sense in the context of identical twins; they are not two iterations of the same person, but two distinct, unique people without unique forms. Moreover, "deciphering" them will prove to be a difficult project indeed. As the story is revealed, the astonished Duke remarks, "Why here begins his morning story right: / These two Antipholuses, these two so like, / And these two Dromios, one in semblance" (5.1.358-60). The Duke has successfully gathered supporting evidence for Egeon's story from that morning, but unfortunately the play's progress calls into question the stability of the proof obtained. Although the conclusion dispels the characters' confusion at a superficial level, the epistemological confusion, knowing how to appropriately decipher and distinguish individual agents, remains. As the two twins appear together for the first time, the Duke orders them "Stay, stand apart; I know not which is which" (5.1.366). The twins must be distinguished in space, lacking formal means to differentiate them for they are "one in semblance." Seemingly once the twins stand apart, the characters can piece together and decipher the details of the day. (29) But while this "experiment" may appear to reestablish the victory of truth over confusion--the triumph of classification over the dissolution of perceptible forms--the existence of the two sets of twins in the same space must necessarily continue to confuse after the curtain has fallen. Too many natures/personalities/social agents will continue to confound the community of Ephesus when there are too few forms.


Just as proliferating identical doubles (too many instances of the same body) provide a limit case for the premise that bodily forms do not accurately reveal natures/essences, so too does metamorphosis destabilize the relationship between form and essence, since a body might change to disguise its owner as something/someone it is not. Metamorphosis is thus the more intuitive way to figure the difficulties of legibility in a world of unstable, uncertain visible forms. Hence just as Bacon considers this threat of metamorphosis with the figure of Proteus, in Shakespeare's comedy, Antipholus and Dromio of Syracuse appeal to the language of transformation to describe their dilemma--that their bodies signify identities other than their own. (30) In fact, in Errors, the word "form" appears far more often as either "deform" or "transform" (a total of six times) than on its own (only twice). The characters nevertheless insist that a change in form or appearance must be accompanied by a change in nature (and vice versa), which follows from their belief in the supposed correspondence between form and character/essence. The mistreatment of the Dromios, for example, is always explained as a change in form, whereby their transformed bodies now prescribe rough physical abuse. Dromio E. asks Adriana if her treatment towards him has become violent on account of a formal change: "Am I so round with you, as you with me, / That like a football you do spurn me thus?" (2.1.82-83). Similarly, both the Dromios and their masters appeal to metamorphoses into asses either to explain or to justify the recurrent physical beatings of these servants (3.1.15-16, 4.4.27). (31)

Adriana claims a similar kind of physical transformation, but, in her case, her metamorphosis renders her emotional character legible; she insists that "my defeatures; my decayed fair" reflects her own sorrowful disposition (2.1.98). And formal transformations apparently accompany her husband's foul character as well:
He is deformed, crooked, old and sere,
IU-facd, worse bodied, shapeless everywhere;
Vicious, ungentle, foolish, blunt, unkind,
Stigmatical in making, worse in mind. (4.2.19-22)

The physical traits of the first two lines are meant to cleanly map onto the character traits of the third, such that the internal and external correlate. Her lines reveal that to be "worse in mind" is necessarily accompanied by the physical change of being "stigmatical" or marked "in making." Likewise, immediately before the final reveal, Egeon becomes confused when faced by the Ephesian Antipholus and Dromio. He believes that if they cannot identify him then his body must have changed, lamenting, "Oh, grief hath changed me since you saw me last, / And careful hours, with Time's deformed hand, / Have written strange defeatures in my face" (5.1.298-300). Like the previous scenes, Egeon reasons that his exterior appearance must be transformed or changed by grief, otherwise his body would appropriately signify the way that it should and has before. A new Egeon form designates a new, altered Egeon, a logic which does not disturb the basic assumption that form reveals essence.

However, imagined, figural transformations likewise abound as a way to speak to the characters' failures in communication due to form's illegibility. Luciana curses Dromio S., "Dromio, thou drone, thou snail, thou slug, thou sot!"; Dromio replies, "I am tranformed master, am I not?"(2.2.193-4). When Antipholus S. answers, "I think thou art, in mind, and so am I," Dromio responds, "Nay master, both in mind and in my shape." Although Antipholus counters, "Thou hast thine own form," Dromio insists, "No I am an ape." Luciana finally concludes the debate, saying "If thou art changed to aught, 'tis to an ass" (2.2.195-8). This exchange more or less summarizes the problems of presuming "stable" natures based on form or appearance. Antipholus S. maintains that they are simply transformed in mind, or both a little mad, unable to comprehend this fantasyland in which they have found themselves. But Dromio protests that their experience, in accordance with the equation of form and essence, must also indicate a transformation in shape or bodily form. Confused, Antipholus remarks that Dromio has kept his exterior form, but Dromio retorts that he is, in fact, an ape. While the playful tone insinuates that Dromio considers himself an ape in form, he is an ape according to its other definition, namely an "inferior imitator or mimic." Dromio S. mimics Dromio E., though he does so unawares; Dromio S. mimics Dromio E. perfectly in form, if imperfectly in character or personality. Moreover, the metaphorical, rapid transformation of Dromio's form in this scene, from snail to slug to ape to ass, figuratively recalls the difficulty of legibility given the instability and proliferations of forms. Dromio, himself unclear about the source of confusion, cannot appeal to the presence of doubles, though his vocabulary of physical transformation underlines the same concern. He highlights that the Ephesian household does not "know" the visitors from Syracuse, for bodies cannot be depended upon to signify in a static, stable fashion, utterly undoing the prospect of successful classification. Yet aping another--to imitate, to attempt to become identical with another, to metamorphose and assume another's form--might have the benefits of fostering sympathy.

Thus unlike Bacon, who only embraces error or errancy because it might reveal some true "form" or law beneath it, Shakespeare's play exposes epistemological difficulties to then embrace the resulting confusion. Unstable forms, learning to "ape" others, and recognizing similarities over differences appear to be the keys to promoting sympathy between persons, if not accurate recognition or classification. From the first moment of error, Antipholus S., when under the impression that Dromio S. is fooling with him, insists that the servant know him (and in particular his mood) by his form: "If you will jest with me, know my aspect, / And fashion your demeanor to my looks, / Or I will beat this method in your sconce" (2.2.32-34). This order sounds like a rather quotidian command to know a person's mood by their expression; but this commonplace asks that Dromio S. transform, refashion himself, in order to have greater sympathy for his master, whose mood is reflected by his "looks" or "aspect." Setting aside the issue that this method will be beaten into the "sconce" of poor Dromio, (32) the method described is not intrinsically a bad one. Antipholus S. would likewise profit from fashioning himself to Dromio's expression to sympathize with his servant's confusion. This call for self-transformation reappears in Luciana's request that Antipholus S. act the husband's part to Adriana. She pleads, "Bear a fair presence" (3.2.13), and "let her read it in thy looks" (3.2.18). Luciana's motivation behind the request to transform his appearance is one of sympathy, entreating him to act more kindly towards her sister--"Look sweet, speak fair" (3.2.11). Antipholus S. responds to this request, asking, "Would you then create me new? / Transform me then, and to your power I'll yield" (3.2.39-40). Luciana's attempts to force Antipholus to operate according to his "proper" role indeed involves deception, putting on a false appearance that does not accord with his thoughts or feelings. However, the motivation behind this imitation, this "aping" of love, nevertheless promises a togetherness and sympathy for the "married" couple.


The Comedy of Errors, then, builds on the ethical potential of transformation by invoking water imagery that idealizes confounding, or the dissolution of forms. This vivid water imagery anticipates and figures the ethical promise of making oneself a part of or identical in form to another, rather than successful recognition and differentiation in the name of knowledge production. This imagery asks that the characters embrace form's mutability, embrace what Bacon calls Proteus's wily nature, and thus abandon the search for stable forms that would foster distinction. Even before the mayhem of mistaken identity ensues, Antipholus S. describes his future tourist exploits in a manner tinged with dramatic irony: "I will go lose myself" (1.2.30). (33) Antipholus's famous "drop of water" soliloquy similarly invokes water droplets to mark an instability of form; the speech further names the process of changing or melding form as Antipholus's intention in the search for his family:
I to the world am like a drop of water
That in the ocean seeks another drop,
Who falling there to find his fellow forth,
Unseen, inquisitive, confounds himself.
So I, to find a mother and a brother,
In quest of them, unhappy, lose myself. (1.2.35-40)

This metaphor is itself confounding, since it seems counterintuitive that Antipholus would enter the ocean to find himself. For if his character is like a water droplet, then his body lacks fixed boundaries, and his character/essence would seep into the surrounding environment beyond his control. His character or unique person would thus appear to be lost or sacrificed in searching for himself. The metaphor functions here because by finding one's double (a person whose exterior matches one's own), formal markers cease to signify in a stable way, and thus the twin's individuated personal identity must be lost as a result. Antipholus S. characterizes his current position of being lost and searching as "Unseen, inquisitive," which, the soliloquy implies, will cease once he is recognized. Antipholus will lose his unique existence once he finds his brother, since there will be no remaining methods of distinction: distinct bodies, names, or spaces. (34) Losing himself in the indistinguishable ocean may have negative connotations, but Antipholus S. identifies his future confounding with his brother as his ultimate goal, giving a positive valence to the principle of confusion by marking his previous state as "unhappy." Rather than expressing fear about the future illegibility of his person and his "confounding," Antipholus's soliloquy instead proffers that affiliation, togetherness, and unity may be preferable to maintaining one's singular, individuated form.

Embracing transformation and confounding does entail confusion, and Antipholus S. seems to embrace "confound[ing] himself" as part of the search for his family. The play then dramatizes this confounding (as confusion or madness) as the necessary consequence of the family reunion. For instance, the Duke, when trying to work out the problems of the day and dealing with the competing claims for justice, proclaims "I think you are all mated, or stark mad" (5.1.282). Here "mated" means bewildered or stupefied, but this might be the natural result of becoming mated or like others in the sense of "becoming paired." And while there is confusion or madness, there could likewise be solidarity in this "matedness." The play's final image likewise undermines the project of classification or separation in favor of "mating." For instance, one may be able to distinguish between the brothers along the axis of time/age, according to the "natural" quality of birth order. This method of distinction might provide the citizens of Ephesus with a better means to avoid error in the future; and, according to Egeon's opening narrative, it seems the Antipholi were distinguished along these lines before their separation. (35) Yet, the two Dromios refuse to participate in this mode of distinction. Instead, they decide to walk into the world together, as Dromio E. exclaims, "And now let's go hand in hand, not one before another" (5.1.427). The image of these two identical bodies side by side rebuffs the project of differentiation and knowledge via deciphering legible forms, putting forward instead a picture of union and harmony. Finally, the Abbess Emilia, now having been revealed as the long-lost mother of the Antipholi, further notes the coincidence of error and sympathy when she asks that the community join them to celebrate:
And all that are assembled in this place,
That by this sympathised one day's error
Have suffer'd wrong, go, keep us company,
And we shall make full satisfaction. (5.1.396-99)

What appears to be a simple invitation to merriment, in fact, reflects the same kind of coming together, in this case a sympathetic joining with the family whose members had lost one another for years. Effectively, it is the "day's error" that not only brought them together in the same physical space, but also brought about this "sympathy" among them. (36) Error may have precipitated confusion, but this error might be for the better if sympathy amongst the community's members is its consequence.


Both Bacon and Shakespeare highlight the difficulty of knowing the hidden nature of things from an ever-changing, metamorphosing world, where forms may not be perfectly legible. Bacon's epistemological project aims to recover the world's legibility by redefining "form" and by placing more constraints on the visual observation of protean Nature to reveal her true essence. By contrast, Shakespeare's The Comedy of Errors not only remains skeptical about the promise of attaining knowledge via observing forms, but also suggests that this epistemological project might entail a flawed ethics: one that privileges legible forms in the name of making distinctions and highlighting differences. The Comedy of Errors thus proffers an ethical alternative, namely that one might sacrifice the promise of form's stability for the sake of classification and knowledge, in favor of embracing error and confusion to promote an ethics of sympathy. In other words, one might prefer to be "sympathised [by] one day's error."

Auburn University


I would like to thank several people for their help with this project: Debapriya Sarkar, Jenny Mann, the reviewers at Philological Quarterly, the fellow members of the "Imagining Scientific Form" seminar (SAA 2016), my mentor Heather James, and the early modern community at the University of Southern California (Megan Herrold, Amanda Ruud, Betsy Sullivan, and Michael Benitez).

(1) Howard Marchitello, The Machine in the Text: Science and Literature in the Age of Shakespeare and Galileo (Oxford U. Press, 2011), 39.

(2) For instance, some previous studies have productively compared Bacon's Instauratio magna (1630) to Shakespeare's The Tempest. Specifically, Jacqueline Cowan's article suggests that the two works "share a cultural understanding such that Bacon can codify or make explicit the underlying assumption that allows Prospero to regain his dukedom"; "The Imagination's Arts: Poetry and Natural Philosophy in Bacon and Shakespeare," Studies in Philology (2016): 134. Denise Albanese's New Science, New World (Duke U. Press, 1996) also compares these texts, though she arrives at a very different conclusion, namely that Bacon is seeking to move past or beyond literature to new "scientific" knowledge structures.

(3) Michael Witmore, Culture of Accidents: Unexpected Knowledges in Early Modern England (Stanford U. Press, 2001), 65.

(4) For a section that gestures towards this definition of form and its relation to sensible shape, see Aristotles Physics, book 2, chap. 1 (193a31-193b7). For more detail on this concept, see Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, s.v. "Aristotle," sec. 8, "Hylomorphism."

(5) Coincidentally, also among the entertainments outlined in the Gesta Grayorum was the Masque of Proteus by Francis Davison. In this masque, the Prince of Purpoole finds Proteus with his adamantine rock (the lodestone or magnet) and tries to obtain it by wrestling with him (Marchitello, The Machine, 33-34). Given the centrality of Proteus for Bacons later writing as well as the suggestion of Protean metamorphoses in Shakespeare's play, I would propose that Proteus becomes a central figure for both Shakespeare and Bacon, used to contemplate the issues of form.

(6) I'm thinking specifically of the Palgrave Macmillan Handbook of Early Modern Literature and Science, ed. H. Marchitello and E. Tribble (London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2017); and the special issue "Shakespeare and Science, c. 1600," ed. Carla Mazzio, South Central Review 26. 1-2 (2009).

(7) Wendy Beth Hyman lays out for her project the more general point that "well into the seventeenth century, early modern natural philosophers relied, on metaphor [...] as forensic device which yielded understanding of the natural world; and [...] that poets recognized this 'scientific' quality of figurative language and used metaphor not merely as embellishment but also as an epistemological strategy: one that allowed literature to 'think'"; ""Deductions from Metaphors': Figurative Truth, Poetical Language, and Early Modern Science," in Palgrave Macmillan Handbook of Early Modern Literature and Science, 27.

(8) See Marchitello and Tribble, Palgrave Macmillan Handbook of Early Modern Literature and Science, esp. Kristen Poole's "God's Game of Hide-and-Seek: Bacon and Allegory" on the use of allegory; Angus Fletcher's "Francis Bacon's Literary-Scientific Utopia" treating Bacon's aim to create a new global community through science; and Jean Feerick's "Poetic Science: Wonder and the Seas of Cognition in Bacon and Pericles," marking the similar tropes used in Bacon's natural philosophy and Shakespeare's play.

(9) Katherine Park illustrates the importance of the imagination to Bacon's thinking and scientific inquiry in "Bacon's 'Enchanted Glass,'" Isis 75.2 (1984): 290-302. Jacqueline Cowan underlines that the Baconian experiment requires art (i.e., man-made circumstances) to displace Nature's normal order (i.e., to vex it) in order to view its true forms, the laws ("The Imagination's Arts," 140). Michael Witmore similarly glosses Bacons use of experiment as a means to approximate what Nature produces by accidents"--or what Lorraine Daston and Katherine Park label "marvels"--in order to find forms in unusual circumstances when they are most conspicuous; Witmore, Culture of Accidents, 113-16, and Lorraine Daston and Katherine Park, Wonders and the Order of Nature, 1150-1750 (New York: Zone Books, 1998). Additionally, for a reading of Nature as encoded language see Michael Clody, "Deciphering the Language of Nature: Cryptography, Secrecy, and Alterity in Francis Bacon, Configurations 19.1 (2011): 117-42.

(10) Feerick, "Poetic Science," 431.

(11) Marchitello and Tribble, "Introduction," Palgrave Macmillan Handbook of Early Modern Literature and Science, xxx. Valerie Traub's examination of Shakespeare's Lear alongside the discourses of anatomy and cartography likewise emphasizes this distinction between content and method, showing that focusing on the latter enables more substantive comparisons between science and literature; "The Nature of Norms in Early Modern England: Anatomy, Cartography, King Lear," South Central Review 26.1-2 (2009): 44.

(12) All quotations from the Novum Organum; Or, True Suggestions for the Interpretation of Nature come from The Works of Francis Bacon, Popular Edition based on the complete edition of Spedding, Ellis, and Heath, vol. 1 (Boston: Houghton, Mifflin and Company, 1877). The page numbers provided parenthetically correspond to this edition.

(13) These seem to bear resemblance to what Bacon later labels as "compound forms" (book 2, aphorism 17, 205).

(14) John C. Briggs, '"The Very Idea!' Francis Bacon and E. O. Wilson on the Rehabilitation of Eidos," in Francis Bacon and the Refiguring of Early Modern Thought: Essays to Commemorate 'The Advancement of Learning" (1605-2005), ed. Julie Robin Solomon and Catherine Gimelli Martin (Burlington: Ashgate, 2005), 90.

(15) Witmore, Culture of Accidents, 116.

(16) Ibid., 119.

(17) Bacon provides another definition with these examples later in the second book, namely, "I mean nothing more than those laws and determinations of absolute actuality, which govern and constitute any simple nature, as heat, light, weight, in every kind of matter and subject that is susceptible of them. The Form of Heat or the Form of Light is the same thing as the Law of Heat or the Law of Light" (book 2, aphorism 17, 206).

(18) Mary Baine Campbell, Wonder and Science: Imagining Worlds in Early Modern Europe (Cornell U. Press, 1999), 83-84. Campbell's analysis of Bacon's catalogues further emphasizes his dependence on vision; she calls Bacon both "proselytizer of light and prophet of illumination" and cites from his Great Instauration wherein he explains that "all depends on keeping the eye steadily fixed upon the facts of nature and so receiving their images simply as they are" (82). Moreover as Julie Solomon describes, Bacon's project "involves the assumption that to know truly we need only take material particulars at face value. This means that although physical presences must be minutely analyzed, those presences themselves are self-justifying and self-explanatory"; Objectivity in the Making: Francis Bacon and the Politics of Inquiry (Johns Hopkins U. Press, 1998), 227.

(19) Campbell underscores "the invention of scientific instruments to reduce other aspects of phenomena to visibility (the thermometer and the barometer, for instance) will increase the diversity of these features. But still the emphasis objectifies, constructing a 'theatrum' of knowledge" (Wonder and Science, 84).

(20) See The Works of Francis Bacon, ed. James Spedding (London: Longmans, 1857-74; repr. New York: Garrett, 1968).

(21) See, for instance, G. R. Elliott, "Weirdness in The Comedy of Errors" University of Toronto Quarterly 9 (1939): 95-106; and Harry Levin, "Two Comedies of Errors," in "The Comedy of Errors": Critical Essays, ed. Robert S. Miola (New York: Routledge, 1997), 113-33. Alberto Caciedo, however, emphasizes that Shakespeare's contemporary audience would have been attentive to the twins' differences based upon early modern humoral theories, having "different physiological temperaments: they are distinct characters"; '"A Formal Man Again': Physiological Humours in The Comedy of Errors," The Upstart Crow 11 (1991): 25. More specifically, Caciedo outlines that the Syracusan Antipholus is melancholic, and the Ephesian Antipholus is "stolid" or violent (dominated by choler). One might question, however, whether these characteristics should be understood as predispositions, or arise from the frustrations of the mistaken identity plot. For another application of humoral theory to this play as it applies to the character of Adriana, in conjunction with the intertwining cultural discourses of Stoicism and Pauline marriage, see Erin Weinberg, '"Urging helpless patience': Domesticity, Stoicism, and Setting in the Comedy of Errors,' Rome and Home: The Cultural Uses of Rome in Early Modern English Literature, ed. Daniel Cadman, Andrew Duxfield, and Lisa Hopkins, Early Modern Literary Studies Special Issue 25 (2016): 1-21.

(22) Brian Gibbons, "Doubles and Likenesses-with-Difference: The Comedy of Errors and The Winter's Tale," Connotations 6.1 (1996): 23. Vincent Petronella, on the other hand, marks the play's positive associations with union as opposed to separation; "Structure and Theme through Separation and Union in Shakespeare's The Comedy of Errors," Modern Language Review 69.3 (1974): 481. Yet, according to Petronella's reading, union does not signify dissolution or incomprehensibility, but rather the discovery of self in clearly delineated bonds and relationships, ones that necessarily require distinction as a means of definition. Eric Langley's application of Lucretian philosophy to the play likewise suggests that the play affirms individual identity as produced by the clinamen or "swerve" of original deviation; "The Path to Which Wild Error Leads: A Lucretian Comedy of Errors," Textual Practice 28.2 (2014): 161-87. For more on error and confusion with respect to this play, see William West, "'But this will be a mere confusion': Real and Represented Confusions on the Elizabethan Stage," Theatre Journal 60 (2008): 217-33.

(23) The gist of this reading is that the twins must find themselves in one another as reflections, akin to the Lacanian mirror stage, then must move past the ideal "other" in order to find happiness and completion in a woman. See Janet Adelman, "Male Bonding in Shakespeare's Comedies," Shakespeare's "Rough Magic": Renaissance Essays in Honor of C. L. Barber, ed. Peter Erickson and Coppelia Kahn (1985), 73-103; Thomas MacCary, "The Comedy of Errors: A Different Kind of Comedy," New Literary History 9.3 (1978): 525-36; Coppelia Kahn, "The Providential Tempest and the Shakespearean Family" in Representing Shakespeare: New Psychoanalytic Essays, ed. Murray M. Schwartz and Coppelia Kahn (Johns Hopkins U. Press, 1980), 217-43; and Barbara Friedman, "Egeon's Debt: Self-Division and Self Redemption in The Comedy of Errors," English Literary Renaissance 10 (1980): 360-83. See also Karen Newman, Shakespeare's Rhetoric of Comic Character: Dramatic Convention in Classical and Renaissance Comedy (New York: Methuen, 1985). For a more recent psychoanalytic reading of the play, see Erin Weinberg, '"Not mad, but mated': Trauma, Uncanny Misrecognition, and the Occult Environment in The Comedy of Errors," Pacific Coast Philology 50.2 (2015): 209-25.

(24) Martine van Elk traces the play's possible echo of historical incidents of coney catching, highlighting the fear of stolen and performed identities in the urban center; "Urban Misidentification in The Comedy of Errors and the Cony-Catching Pamphlets," Studies in English Literature, 1500-1900 43.2 (2003): 323-46. Richard Finkelstein argues that in the periods new turn to a market economy, individuals feel that "buying, selling, or trading physical things can deliver them from loss and make them feel whole"; "The Comedy of Errors and the Theology of Things," SEL 52.2 (2012): 325.

(25) Douglas Lanier, '"Stigmatical in Making': The Material Character of The Comedy of Errors," English Literary Renaissance 23.1 (1993): 83. Likewise, Martine van Elk points out that romance usually depends on physical evidence like birthmarks, moles, etc. to establish identity in the revelation scenes, but in this play that kind of evidence is undermined, as demonstrated by Nell's identification of Dromio (3.2); '"This sympathized one day's error': Genre, Representation, and Subjectivity in The Comedy of Errors," Shakespeare Quarterly 60.1 (2009): 61. By contrast, Cristopner Crosbie maintains that this play does not negotiate epistemology, but rather engages Aristotelian ontology and the metaphysics of haecceity or 'thisness." He holds that while the play entertains a fundamentally nominalist picture, the community of Ephesus ultimately agrees to put faith in a stable realist metaphysics, although "the play does this by showing how an otherwise compromised nominalist epistemology, when distributed across a network of likeminded people, can facilitate the fideistic leap to this realistic metaphysic, even while masking the fideism intrinsic to such an approach"; "The Comedy of Errors, Haecceity, and the Metaphysics of Individuation," in Renaissance Papers, ed. Jim and Joanna Kucinski (Boydell and Brewer, 2014), 104.

(26) Kent Cartwright, "Language Magic, the Dromios, and The Comedy of Errors," Studies in English Literature 47.2 (2007): 348. Cartwright grants the play's overt support of the empirical project at its conclusion, while nevertheless insisting upon language's magical agency throughout: "the play delves beyond its own overt empiricism toward a substructure of fantasy and enchantment that conveys, paradoxically, a sense of the 'real"' (331). Michael Witmore, by contrast, sees the play as an exploration of how to stage "accident"--actions/events with no meaning/purpose/end, or things that happen purely by chance.

(27) As Eamon Grennan elucidates, "all the characters accept the truth of the assumption that identical appearances betoken identical realities"; "Arm and Sleeve: Nature and Custom in The Comedy of Errors," Philological Quarterly 59.2 (1980): 152. The characters privilege vision over the other senses as the means of this observation. Antipholus S., for instance, characterizes gathering information about Ephesus as a quite literal sight-seeing: "I'll view the manners of the town, / Peruse the traders, gaze upon the buildings" (1.2.12-13). Also interestingly, Egeon recounts that the twins were fixed to opposite masts because their parents wished not to hold the child that they most cared for, but to look upon them. Apparently undeterred by the fact that the twins are identical, the parents insisted upon "Fixing our eyes on whom our care was fix'd" (1.1.84).

(28) Erin Weinberg "Trauma," argues that the Syracusans' attempts to rationalize the misrecognitions (their experiences of the uncanny) as the workings of the occult is a reflection of their original trauma, the separation from their twins. She further maintains that this impulse should cue us into the early modern conception of identity as susceptible to outside environmental forces (influenced by the work of Floyd-Wilson et al.).

(29) Coincidentally, akin to the scientific method later prescribed by the Royal Society of London, both sides call for witnesses to testify to the validity of their competing stories in this scene (reminiscent of legal trials): Adriana has her sister Luciana, and Antipholus E. calls upon Angela Christopher Crosbie agrees that, in this moment, "the Duke exemplifies once more the limits of a single person to account for such singular doubleness, resorted to a forced spatial distinction, pragmatic but inconclusive for resolving the conundrum" ("Metaphysics of Individuation," 111).

(30) Douglas Lanier shares this sentiment saying that "Out of that iterability [of character] springs the play's much remarked imagery of shape-changing" ("Stigmatical in Making," 91).

(31) In further linguistic reminders of metamorphosis, asses proliferate: Antipholus E. not believing that he beat Dromio E. says, "I think thou art an ass" (3.1.15); Dromio E. recalls it again as they try to obtain passage into their home and is confused by Dromio S. "If thou hadst been Dromio to-day in my place / Thou wouldst have chang'd thy office for an aim, or thy name for an ass' (3.1.46-47); Dromio S. upon realizing his marriage to Nell declares, "I am an ass, I am a woman's man, and besides myself" (3.2.76); and, finally, Antipholus E. yells at Dromio E., "Thou art sensible in nothing but blows and so is an ass," to which he responds, "I am an ass indeed; you may prove it by my long ears" (4.4.25-28).

(32) Many scholars have marked the violent character of simulating "error" in Nature for Bacon--vexing nature and binding her with chains as figured by the Proteus myth. This violent aspect of searching for the truth provides another point of comparison with Shakespeare's Comedy of Errors, given the frequent, unthinking instinct to beat the Dromios for answers. Yet this is another comparison that must remain provisional and speculative. For scholarship on the violent character of Bacons scientific method that advocates control and domination over a feminized Nature, see Carolyn Merchant, "Secrets of Nature: The Bacon Debates Revisited," Journal of the History of Ideas 69.1 (2008): 147-62, and Carolyn Merchant, ""The Violence of Impediments': Francis Bacon and the Origins of Experimentation," Isis 99 (2008): 731-60. For a more benign reading of the Proteus metaphor, see Peter Pesic, "Francis Bacon and the 'Torture' of Nature," Isis 90.1 (1999): 81-94; Michael Clody "Deciphering the Language of Nature"; and Brian Vickers, "Francis Bacon, Feminist Historiography, and the Dominion of Nature," Journal of the History of Ideas 69 (2008): 117-41.

(33) Notably, Adriana later uses water imagery to describe becoming "one flesh" in marriage, and, in so doing, she connects a loss of individualized personhood or essence to a loss of distinct form (2.2.125-29). While for Adriana this process is specific to marriage, it could easily characterize any process of fully joining with another, wherein one is never entirely oneself again.

(34) Christopher Crosbie, by contrast, views this moment not as Antipholus losing himself, but as the necessary search to find himself only in relation to his double: "Adopting a relational disposition to an absent, non-reciprocating, and perhaps even at this point non-existent correlative, Antipholus lays claim to--activates as it were--a mode of self-definition that depends upon the reciprocation of his identical twin" ("Metaphysics of Individuation," 108). One key difference between our analyses seems to be our respective glosses of the word "confounding": I favor dissolution and a willingness to embrace confusion in finding his like, whereas Crosbie's reading depends on defining confounding as "mixing," or viewing twins as two reciprocating halves.

(35) Egeon recalls, "My wife, more careful for the latter born" (1.1.78). For more about this possibility, see Patricia Parker, "Elder and Younger: The Opening Scene of The Comedy of Errors, Shakespeare Quarterly 34.4 (1983): 325-27.

(36) Some scholars have viewed the invitation to the gossip's feast as an opportunity to reestablish order and individual identity rather than confusion. Erin Weinberg, for instance, argues that the communal baptism and breaking bread in the church will reestablish the family unit under God, but also "the naming process of baptism will confirm each member's identity as a member of the unit but also as a unique individual" ("Trauma," 223). Christopher Crosbie, though we both agree to the creation of sympathy or harmony, likewise holds that the gossip's feast marks a communal agreement not only regarding the "truth" of the day, but the "truth" of the nature of "thisness," a realist individuating principle that makes the twins different and unique. As he puts it, "This invitation to communal knowledge-making, a process of reaffirming and meticulously detailing the bonds that tie each other together, closes, or at least attempts to close, the frightening prospect that the play has opened up: that the verities of metaphysical substance cannot be confirmed or absolutely known. Through the sharing of overlapping narratives of each person's failed epistemological efforts, however, of each person's compromised perceptions and nominalist approaches, community, even felicity, may emerge" ("Metaphysics of Individuation," 112). The play seems to work against these suggestions for certainty in knowledge making, however, with the final act of the Dromios leaving hand in hand.
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Author:Weindling, Lauren
Publication:Philological Quarterly
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Date:Jan 1, 2019
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