The Comedy of Errors
Anyone who knows or is related to a pair of identical twins knows that at times telling them apart can leave even the most secure person a little disoriented. Take a pair of identical twin brothers: with the same name, whose groups of friends don't know each other and throw in another pair of identical, with the same names, twin brothers who are servants to the first pair. Stir it up with a jealous wife, a conniving younger sister, a crazy doctor, some very angry merchants and you have the makings for one of Shakespeare's dizzying and off the wall comedies. Centuries before the famous British sitcoms and drawing room farces, Shakespeare created the blueprint of the modern farce with tons of mistaken identity and frenetic pacing. Set in ancient Ephesus, Aegeon a old merchant searches for his long lost son. He is arrested because he is a citizen of the rival city-state of Syracuse. The Duke of Ephesus takes pity on him as Aegeon recounts his story, but must carry out the law. Meanwhile, Aegeon's son Antipholus and his servant Dromio arrive searching for their long lost twins as well. The two then are mistaken for their brothers by their in-laws and other townfolk. Their brothers are then bewildered by all of their friends and family acting strangely and accusing them of things that they haven't done. All mistaken events lead up to the climatic family reunion.
Below, as the play first appeared in print, in the 1623 First Folio.
The Comedy of Errors is one of Shakespeare's earliest plays and most likely his first play. It was written sometime between 1589 and 1594, but likely falls in the 1589-90 timeframe. All of Shakespeare's earlier works are notoriously difficult to date but, and while it does not have many of extensive character and plot developments of his mature comedies, it has a more cohesive feel to it than works such as Two Gentleman of Verona and Titus Andronicus. Both 'Titus' and 'Two Gentleman' have more of the tone of a writer trying the "everything but the kitchen sink" approach in dabbling with unfamiliar genres. 'Comedy' on the other hand being the shortest play, having a tighter cohesive comic scheme, and sticking with familiar territory, Roman classics, Shakespeare may have used it as his first salvo to become noticed as a writer. Prior to starting his playwriting career, Shakespeare would have been a junior actor with no university education trying to make his mark in a field dominated by university trained writers such as his main rival Christopher Marlowe. All three of these plays fall into what scholars have termed Shakespeare's "Prentice Pieces". Based on a Roman play called the Menaechmi by Plautus, the show's first recorded performance was in 1594 at Gray's Inn Law School in London where it garnered a rather infamous status. A rowdy but well to do audience member thought the piece was frivolous and made his displeasure known but was summarily chased out by the remainder of the group who wanted to see the rest of the piece. First appearing in print in the First Folio of 1623, the show has the distinction of being of Shakespeare's shortest play. The play has remained a perennial favorite and is one of the most often produced comedies.
Click below or on the side links to view the Play Text either as a full page or scene by scene format; a Directory of Characters with extensive descriptions and backgrounds; a Scene by Scene Synopsis of the play; and extensive Commentary on the show.
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