No, I’m not talking about amnesia, although I love that trope too (see Forget I Told You). I’m talking about mistaken identity. We all know that if a man puts on a costume and a mask, he becomes completely unrecognizable. “Superman? I don’t know him,” says the woman who looks at Clark Kent’s face every day.
The mistaken identity trope is a classic, dating at least back to the Greeks and used in probably half of Shakespeare’s comedies. My theater once did a production of Twelfth Night, in which a pair of twins (brother and sister) are shipwrecked. They wash up separated but in the same general area, and the female twin decides to impersonate a man. I forget the exact logic but probably because she wouldn’t be safe as a woman. Anyway, they somehow look enough alike that they keep getting mistaken for each other. Hilarity ensues.
In my theater’s production, the male twin was played by a tall, lanky guy with a crop of brown curls, while the female twin was played by a short, solid woman with black hair that fell almost to her waist. But they wore the same clothes, including a red bandana wrapped around their necks (our production was set in the Wild West – don’t ask). So who could possibly tell them apart?
This is where we, as consumers, suspend our disbelief and just enjoy the fun. One of the beta readers for Hooked by the Bell, my entry in the Fighting Chances anthology, said she didn’t buy the two neighbors not recognizing each other before they accidentally fell on each other’s dicks. But how could they have? There was a wig! And an accent! With a clever disguise like that, you can’t expect a man to recognize the person he’s been living next to his whole life.
When a character at a fancy ball dons a scrap of black fabric and is thus able to seduce his sworn enemy, we don’t believe it, but we enjoy it. I promise you that Matt and Harper would never have slept with each other if it hadn’t been for the fact that there was only one bed.
Oops. Wrong trope. I mean they would never have slept together if it hadn’t been for a bad case of mistaken identity.