Read our detailed study guide on the play The Comedy of Errors by William Shakespeare. Our study guide covers The Comedy of Errors summary, themes, characters, and literary analysis.
The Comedy of Errors Summary
Scene I Summary
This play opens at the court of Duke Solinus, in the city of Ephesus. An old merchant, Egeon, has been brought to the court for trespassing. He is a citizen of Syracuse and Syracusans are banned from entering the city. Those who transgress the law are either sentenced to death or have to pay fine. The sum required to pay fine is much more which Egeon has.
The duke feels pity for this old man but doesn’t want to bend the law for him. He asks him why did he come there. He tells the duke that he doesn’t have any relation in Syracuse, rather it was a tragedy that brought him to this city.
He relates the incidents that took place eighteen years ago. His wife was pregnant and gave birth to twin boys in the city of Epidamnum. A poor woman also gave birth to twins as well. He bought the children so that he can raise them as servants to his children. They were sailing back to Syracuse and faced the storm.
He had to tie his son, wife, and the bought kid to one side of the mast while himself, another son, and bought kid to another side. Due to collision with the rock, the mast was split, and they separated. He was saved was by a ship bound for Epidaurus while the other side was saved by Corinthian fishermen.
Eighteen years later, his son, along with the servant left to search for the lost ones. Egeon was left alone at home, and for this reason, he went out for search too. This way, he reached Ephesus. Duke suspends the sentence and allows him to raise funds to earn his freedom. He considers it useless and is pessimistic.
Scene II Summary
Egeon’s son, Antipholus of Syracuse has arrived at Ephesus with his servant, Dromio of Syracuse. He is in search of accommodation and comes to know from a merchant friend that Syracusans are not allowed in Ephesus. He is advised to tell people that he is from Epidamnum, instead of mentioning Syracuse.
He asks his servant to find accommodation and store a large sum of money there. A few whiles later Dromio of Ephesus arrives there and mistakes Antipholus of Syracuse for his master. Antipholus also mistakes him for his servant and enquires about money.
Dromio takes it as a joke and asks him to come home for dinner. He repeats inquiry about money, but Dromio again considers it a joke. This enrages Antipholus of Syracuse, and he starts beating Dromio. He chases him, and he flees offstage.
Antipholus starts thinking about the sorcerers of Ephesus and starts believing the rumors about this town. He takes the decision to visit the inn and find out whether Dromio has deposited money.
Scene I Summary
There is a shift in the scene to the house of Antipholus of Ephesus. His wife, Adriana, is waiting there for him to come for dinner. He has taken too long, and she suspects that he is cheating on her. She believes that he is involved in an extramarital affair and for this reason stays away for the most time.
Her sister, Luciana, tries to console her and tells her to obey her husband even if he is not sincere. At this, Adriana expresses disapproval and calls her naïve. She tells her sister that she is not yet married; that’s why she is saying this.
Luciana responds that she will remain so after getting married even if her husband is cheating on her. Dromio of Ephesus enters there and informs her that he told her husband to come, but he didn’t. He tells her that his master even refuses to have a wife or home. He tells her that he was beaten by his master and was repeatedly asking about gold.
Dromio continues that he told Antipholus that he had no knowledge of gold, but he insisted. At this, Adriana grows angry and tells Dromio to go and find her husband; otherwise, she will beat him again.
Then she grieves that she has lost her husband and he is no more affectionate towards her. She muses whether he is involved with another woman because she is no more beautiful. She believes that she has lost her beauty because he is not kind to her anymore. Her sister tries to calm her, but she is too sorrowful.
Scene II Summary
Antipholus of Syracuse is walking through a marketplace and has confirmed that Dromio has stocked gold in the inn. He is thinking about the ‘prank’ that Dromio had with him about dinner and home. There he sees Dromio of Syracuse coming, and he upbraids him for the nonsense that he uttered previously.
Dromio is confused and tells Antipholus that he has not seen him since he left for the inn to hoard gold. This calms down Antipholus, and he begins to joke with Dromio about the amount of hair on a person’s head and his wit. In a little while, Adriana arrives there with Luciana.
She mistakes Antipholus of Syracuse for her husband and complains about his behavior. She reminds him of the time when he used to cherish her, but that time is no more. She tries to assure him that she can’t live without him. She uses the analogy of gulf and water, which can’t be separated from each other and compares her marital relationship to it.
She requests him to stay faithful to him. He then tells Dromio that she sent him there, of which he is unaware. She and Luciana believe that both men are pretending to be not knowing anything and conspiring against them.
Antipholus is confused that he is dead, has lost his mind, or is under the influence of magic. He and Dromio then go with them to their home for dinner. Antipholus goes upstairs with the ladies for dinner while Dromio guards the door.
Scene I Summary
Antipholus of Ephesus is conferring with two men. One is Balthazar, the merchant, and the other is Angelo, the goldsmith. He asks them to have dinner with him at his home because he intends some favor from them. He tells them about his wife, who is shrewish if he gets home late.
He tells them to help him placate his wife by saying that he was busy buying something for her. He doubts his servant, whom he believes will ruin his story. Dromio of Ephesus claims that he has seen him in the market and has been beaten by his master.
They arrive together at his home, but the door is closed. Dromio of Syracuse is at the door and at the call of Dromio of Ephesus denies letting them gain entry because his master is inside. When Dromio of Ephesus comes to know that the servant inside is calling himself Dromio, he believes that he is counterfeiting his identity.
Luce, the cook, also comes to the door and tells Dromio of Ephesus that everybody who belongs to this household is present inside. Adriana comes there and hears Antipholus of Ephesus that she is his wife. She believes that this is some impostor.
Antipholus of Ephesus is angry due to the women’s behavior and asks Dromio of Ephesus to bring him a crowbar. Balthazar and Angelo keep him from doing so because it will taint his reputation. They then turn to the Porpentine inn and Balthazar tells him to discuss this matter with his wife later.
Scene II Summary
Antipholus of Syracuse is being upbraided by Luciana for not loving his ‘wife.’ She tells him that even if he doesn’t love her, he needs to be artful in this manner. He shouldn’t express his distaste for her openly. Instead, he should tell her that he loves her. She advises him that if he has any extramarital affairs, he can continue it but be careful about his wife.
Antipholus of Syracuse tells her that he doesn’t understand what she is saying. He expresses his admiration for her. He tells her that instead of Adriana, he is in love with her. Luciana tells him that he is talking ridiculous.
He repeats his point that he loves her and she escapes the stage, calling him mad. She leaves and tells him that she will complain about it to his wife. In a little while, his servant, Dromio of Syracuse comes there and complains that a fat servant, Luce, in the household, is pestering him by saying that she is betrothed to him.
The strange thing about her is the information she has about his privy marks. He believes that she is a witch. Antipholus asks him to leave for the harbor and inform him when a ship is sailing out. Antipholus of Syracuse comes to believe that this town is haunted by witches.
Few whiles later, Angelo appears and offers him the gold chain that Antipholus of Ephesus had ordered. He tells Angelo that he doesn’t know him and he hasn’t ordered any gold chain. Ultimately he accepts it, insisting on paying the price, which Angelo refuses. He thinks that this is a strange place where strangers bestow random gifts.
Scene I summary
Angelo meets an unnamed goldsmith in the marketplace. He demands the return of debt that Angelo took. He has summoned an officer to arrest Angelo if he is not able to pay it. Angelo asks time to arrange money as Antipholus of Ephesus is his debtor. Antipholus of Ephesus sends Dromio of Ephesus to fetch a rope so that he can beat his wife and servants in the household.
Angelo comes to Antipholus of Ephesus who is furious because he has not given the gold chain to the courtesan. Antipholus of Ephesus tells him that he has just left the courtesan and nobody has given her the chain. Angelo believes that Antipholus of Ephesus is joking about the chain.
When the argument gets bitter about the chain, Angelo presents a bill for the chain. Still, Antipholus refuses to pay the money because he hasn’t received any chain. The merchant has grown impatient by Angelo’s stay, and he sends the officer there. At Antipholus of Ephesus’ refusal, Angelo asks the officer to arrest him, and thus the officer takes both of them.
They hurl insults at each other while they are being taken. Dromio of Syracuse appears there and tells Antipholus of Ephesus that the ship is ready. It is waiting for him and will take them to Epidamnum. Antipholus of Ephesus doesn’t know about this matter and believes that Dromio has gone mad.
Then Antipholus asks him about the rope for which he had sent Dromio. Dromio of Syracuse has no knowledge about it and thinks that his master is raving. Antipholus of Ephesus then thinks about his arrest and takes the timely decision. He gives Dromio a key and tells him to fetch money from his mistress Adriana.
This confuses Dromio of Syracuse further. He shrugs because he doesn’t know who Adriana is and heads to the home where he had previously dined with the master. He is unaware that this is Antipholus of Ephesus’ house.
Scene II summary
Adriana and Luciana discuss the behavior Antipholus of Ephesus. They try to make sense of it and think if he has gone mad. Luciana has told her sister, Adriana, that her husband expressed his love for her. They have mistaken Antipholus of Syracuse for Antipholus of Ephesus. Adriana is upset about the worsening situation and curses her husband.
Despite curses, she admits that she has feelings for him. In a little while, Dromio of Syracuse arrives there and informs them about the Antipholus of Ephesus’ arrest. The ladies inquire Dromio about the reason for his arrest.
Dromio tells them that he was arrested for non-payment of a debt. At listening to this Adriana fetches money for Dromio. As soon as Dromio gets it, he runs to take it for the bail of Antipholus of Ephesus.
Scene III summary
Antipholus of Syracuse has worn the chain that the goldsmith gave him and is roaming in Ephesus. He is confused because everybody here knows him and calls him by his name. As he is wandering, Dromio of Syracuse arrives there and informs him that he has fetched money. He asks him whether he has fled jail and questions him about the officer. He is further confused by his servant’s questions.
Instead of answering his questions, he asks Dromio of Syracuse that did he arrange their journey and when are they boarding ship. Dromio responds that he already told him about it, but he refused to go.
They then start discussing the options to travel and their expenses. While they are discussing this, the courtesan arrives there. She greets him by name and asks him if this is the chain he had promised her.
Antipholus is dumbfounded, and he thinks that this is a witch who has arrived here in the form of a young girl. He tells her that she is a sorceress and asks her to leave immediately. Instead of leaving, she asks him for the ring that she has given him. He denies that he has taken any ring from her.
The courtesan tells him that she is going to his home and will complain to his wife that he has stolen her ring. The courtesan does so because she doesn’t want to lose this ring.
Scene IV summary
Antipholus of Ephesus is in jail and waits for Dromio to bring the sum to get bail. Dromio of Ephesus arrives there with a rope. He asks him about money which he had asked for his bail. This enrages Antipholus of Ephesus, and he starts beating him using the rope that he has brought. He is tired of the absurdities of Dromio and curses him.
The officer manages to restrain him from beating his servant. The officer asks to calm down, but he continues. His servant continues wailing and speaks of the beatings that he has borne for long.
In a few moments, Adriana, Luciana, and the courtesan arrive there with a person named Pinch who is a schoolmaster and physician. They tell him that Antipholus has gone mad and the physician needs to exorcise him. At this Antipholus protests that he is quite fine and doesn’t need to be doted on by a wizard.
From this, the women infer that he is ill and ask the physician to take his pulse. When the physician takes his hand, Antipholus assaults him. At this, Pinch tries to exorcise Satan from him. By this, he tells the people to present there that he is sane and doesn’t need this trickery.
He then asks his wife why she had locked the door at dinner time, and he wasn’t let in. Dromio of Ephesus also supports this point and tells them that he is a witness to it. Women and the physician believe that Dromio too has gone mad.
The women then tell him about the role in fetching money which they actually gave to Dromio of Syracuse. They have mistaken Dromio of Syracuse for Dromio of Ephesus and for this reason the physician thinks that Dromio too has gone mad. Antipholus threatens to beat his wife; at this, other men appear to take hold of him.
The officer pleads that he is in his charge and can’t be taken by others. Adriana offers the officer to go home with his representative accompanying her and fetch the money. Suddenly Antipholus of Syracuse and Dromio of Syracuse appear there with swords. As a result, the women and officers flee. Dromio of Syracuse asks his master to depart from this place immediately.
Scene I Summary
In the opening of this scene, Angelo and the merchant are seen discussing the confusing matters that took place during the day. Angelo tries to assure the merchant that Antipholus of Ephesus is a respectable man and he will soon return the money. While they are discussing this matter, Antipholus of Syracuse and Dromio of Syracuse arrive there.
Antipholus is wearing the chain that Angelo has given him. When Angelo tells him that he has denied the transaction of chain earlier in their discussion, Antipholus refuses to believe him. He tells him that he was ready to pay for it when Angelo was offering him the chain.
Angelo and Antipholus draw swords at the consistent denial of Angelo’s claims by Antipholus. They are ready for a duel, and suddenly Adriana arrives there. Antipholus and Dromio flee and take refuge in a nearby abbey. Accompanying Adriana, Luciana and the courtesan arrive there.
Adriana asks the abbess to return her husband because she wants to treat his madness. The abbess refuses to return them and tells them that instead, she will take care of them, trying to cure them with her prayers. Adriana tells the abbess that she will complain to the duke.
In a little while, duke arrives there with Egeon, who is soon to be executed. Adriana tells him about the whole incident. The duke calls the abbess, but soon a messenger arrives there. He has brought the news that Antipholus of Ephesus and Dromio of Ephesus has fled.
This confuses the people present there. Antipholus of Ephesus appears from the abbey and denies that he has dined with his husband that day. He then relates all the absurd events that took place during the course of the day.
This confuses the duke, and he thinks that something extraordinary has taken place. Egeon ultimately speaks up and tells the duke that Antipholus maybe his son.
This idea is initially rejected by those present there. But soon the abbess tells the story of the shipwreck and splitting of the family into two. She affirms to Egeon’s story that one group was taken by Corinthians. She tells Egeon that she is his wife and her name is Emilia. Then Adriana comes to know that the man with whom she dined was Antipholus of Syracuse, not her husband.
Antipholus of Ephesus offers to pay for the freedom of Egeon, but the duke refuses to take the money and frees him. The family is reunited, including the servant brothers. The abbess announces that she will hold a party to celebrate the reunion of her family.
Background of the Play
The Comedy of Errors is one of the earliest plays of the renowned playwright William Shakespeare (1564-1616). This play was influenced by the work of great Roman comedy playwright, Plautus.
Shakespeare has taken plot from his famous comedy Menaechmi, and this play is considered the primary source of The Comedy of Errors. Along with Menaechmi, there is borrowing from Amphitryon.
The former is taken in the central plot while the later is to aid an episode in the play. The central plot of the play revolves around the ‘errors’ of the characters. Along with that, there are mistakes of fortune which lead to the complication of the plot.
This play was possibly written between 1589-1594. It was first printed in 1623 in the First Folio. It is considered Shakespeare’s shortest play which is just 1,756 lines long. The rest of Shakespearean plays are at least 2,000 lines. In addition to the borrowings, Shakespeare has added to the characters and scenes.
The most notable is the addition of the twin servants at Egeon household. He has also departed from the original play in the case of female characters, making them vocal in comparison to the original play. He has raised the issues of gender and relationships between male and female gender.
Shakespeare was known for his round characters which are truly human. The same is true in the case of this play where he has changed the role of stereotypical characters in the original play. He has changed the one-dimensional characters to multidimensional ones, giving them a true human role.
An exception to these is the role of courtesan whom Shakespeare has downgraded. For the characters, he has also utilized the Bible, and evidence is the character of Ephesus, who has been taken from Paul’s Epistle to Ephesians. He has done this to develop certain aspects of the plot.
This play is amongst one of the few Shakespearean plays which follow the three unities. This play has followed the unity of time, and the whole play completes in a single day. It follows the unity of place, and the whole play takes place in Ephesus. The third unity that it follows is the unity of action; this can be substantiated by the one main plot action in the play.
It is a farcical comedy that was a source of light entertainment due to its shortness and its being fast-paced. It was first performed on December 28th, 1594 at Gray’s Inn. This play is viewed as inferior to the playwright’s other plays and considered as apprentice work.
The original version of this play remained absent from the stage for about a century, and its different adaptations were staged. In the 18th and 19th century the musical versions of the play dominated. The adaptation nearest to the original play was staged in 1855.
Samuel Taylor Coleridge was the first who considered the critical value of this play. He asserted that due to its farcical value, it shouldn’t be judged by the standards of a comedy. Some of the critics are of the view that it is a combination of comedy, tragedy, and farce.
Despite the disputes about the critical value, it has entertained audiences and continues to do so, remaining popular for centuries.
Adriana is the wife of Antipholus of Ephesus and believes that her husband is infidel towards her. Her sister asks her to be patient with her fate and be submissive to her husband. Adriana believes that marriage has become a restraint in her life and her desires, wishes have become of secondary importance.
She is a loving wife and sends money for her husband’s bail even when Luciana tells her that he was expressing love for her. She is a nagging woman, and people around her think that this is the reason for her husband’s infidelity.
Though not one of the two main characters in the play, she is a profound and intriguing persona. While other characters don’t show any emotional affectation, she constantly reminds the audience of the love that she and her husband shared.
She expresses her sadness over the growing distance between her husband and her. Her only demand is the equality between her and her husband. Her dialogues show that she is a typical feminist asking for the same rights that men have.
She has some minor flaws in her personality, which make the marriage miserable for her. These include her conservativeness, doubt in the genuineness of her beliefs, jealousy, etc.
He is a goldsmith and is hired by Antipholus of Ephesus to make a gold chain for his wife. He has a confrontation with Antipholus of Ephesus because of a mistake. Instead of delivering the gold chain to Antipholus of Ephesus, he gives it to Antipholus of Syracuse. This creates confusion, and as a result, Antipholus of Ephesus is imprisoned.
Antipholus of Ephesus
Antipholus of Ephesus is Emilia and Egeon’s son and the twin brother of Antipholus of Syracuse. He is a well-known person in Ephesus and is a merchant. He is doubted by his wife for not coming home for dinner. He prefers business over small family issues. He is slightly revengeful, phlegmatic person.
It is evident when he is locked out, and his wife doesn’t allow him entry to the home. To avenge the absurd behavior of his wife, he goes to a courtesan and orders the goldsmith to prepare a gold chain for her. There is great confusion created due to the mingling of identities of his twin and him.
He is arrested for not paying money for the gold chain, which is in fact taken by his twin brother. He escapes to the priory, and there he is mistaken by Egeon for Antipholus of Syracuse. The identity of the twins is clarified when Antipholus of Syracuse arrives there. Antipholus of Ephesus can be regarded as a negative force in this play.
The reason for it is his violent behavior, mental instability, and inability to control himself. He can’t attract the sympathy throughout the play, except in the final speech. His violent behavior shows that this may have been the result of suffering which he has faced for long.
He shows no sentiment even in the final scene, and this shows the impact of his profession on his life.
Antipholus of Syracuse
He is the twin brother of Antipholus of Ephesus and has left his native land with his servant in search of his separated brother. He meets a confusing situation when he is out in the market, and Dromio of Ephesus asks him to come home for dinner. He initially takes it as a jest but then comes to believe that Ephesians are experts in magic and witchcraft.
He is taken to Antipholus of Ephesus’ home, and there he falls in love with Luciana, expressing his love for her. Those who see him in Ephesus mistake him for Antipholus of Ephesus, and he is confused because everyone there knows him. This character serves as the vessel of amazement in the play.
He is not involved in any direct action in the play but is still inevitable because of his role as the twin. He remains passive and only responds to the actions when he is involved.
He expresses his situation by saying that he feels if he is sleeping and dreaming. This shows the situation of passivity and not able to control happenings. The thematic core of the play is formed by his quest for his lost brother and the understanding of identity that he faces in Ephesus.
The audience comes to understand the situation when the twins are identified in the play. He lacks the feeling of wholeness. This is evident from the recurring repetition of the fact that he is a drop in the ocean, in search of another drop. He believes that he will complete himself when he finds his lost brother.
He is Angelo and Antipholus of Ephesus’ friend. He is a merchant and dines with Antipholus of Ephesus when they are refused entry at Antipholus’ house.
The courtesan is an acquaintance of Antipholus of Ephesus. Antipholus prepares a chain for her because of his wife’s constant nagging. She gives Antipholus her ring, and this shows the enduring relationship between them. Her and Antipholus’ relationship is also a suggestion of Antipholus’ infidelity to his wife.
She demands her ring back because Antipholus hasn’t given her the gold chain that he has promised. The role of this character is significant in the play because of her role aids in the development of the complication.
She is also present at the abbey scene, accompanying Adriana so that she can retrieve her ring. She stays there until she receives her ring back.
Dromio of Ephesus
He is the personal servant of Antipholus of Ephesus and the lost twin which Egeon had bought. He is the one who first mistakes Antipholus of Syracuse for Antipholus of Ephesus and asks him to come home for dinner. He receives beating at the hands of his master.
He is the one who is sent to fetch the rope when the door is closed, not allowing Antipholus of Ephesus to his home. He brings the rope but not bail money, for which Dromio of Syracuse was sent, and is again beaten.
He laments his miseries because he is always beaten by his master. His role is important in the play because he serves as the means to move the play’s action. He serves the role of foil, by being humble and servile, to Antipholus of Ephesus who is arrogant and violent.
Dromio of Syracuse
He is Dromio of Ephesus’ twin brother and Antipholus of Syracuse’s servant. He is sent by his master to keep money in the inn. He gets beaten by the master because he has allegedly shown no knowledge of the money.
He joins Antipholus of Syracuse for dinner at Antipholus of Ephesus’ house. There he guards the door and doesn’t let the inhabitants enter their property. He complains to his master that the household’s cook told him that he is betrothed to her.
He makes arrangements for his master to travel by sea to their native land, but they miss the ship. He is sent by Antipholus of Ephesus to fetch money for his bail, and he arranges it. He is confused about how his master can know so much about this city and the people there. He, like Antipholus of Syracuse, believes that Ephesus is occupied by witches and sorcerers. He provides many comic moments in the play.
He is a merchant from Syracuse and has lost his son and wife in a shipwreck. His arrest in Ephesus serves as the main frame for the play. He appears in the first and final scenes. He also mistakes Antipholus of Ephesus for his son when they arrive at the abbey.
He is reunited in the end with his family when all the family members arrive at the abbey. His plight serves as the foundation for the play.
Emilia is the wife of Egeon and during the course of the play serves as the abbess in Ephesus. She has faced many difficulties and is reunited with her family in the end. Through her appearance, the confusion about identities is resolved.
She plays the role of the strong moral force in the play by refusing to hand over Antipholus of Syracuse and Dromio to the officer and chastising Adriana.
She is the unmarried sister of Adriana. She reprimands her sister for constantly doting her husband. Apparently, she seems to be an antifeminist person who promotes submissiveness to men. Her motive is the wellbeing of her sister and her healthy marital relationship.
Her role can also be called realist because she understands the situation. She asks her sister to take steps in accordance with the tide. She can be seen as the agent and advocate of reconciliation.
Solinus, the Duke of Ephesus
He is the head of the town of Ephesus and Egeon is brought to his court for trespassing. When he listens to Egeon’s story, he shows sympathy towards it and gives him time to fetch money to pay the fine.
His role is of the mediator in the play, and the reunion of the family is possible due to him. He releases Egeon without taking any fine from him, despite Antipholus of Ephesus offering to pay it.
Themes in The Comedy of Errors
Identity is one of the most prominent themes in this play. There are various characters who are seen from different perspectives, and this way, the identity issue is discussed. The main character who is in search of identity is Antipholus of Syracuse.
It is evident from his speech in the first act, where he says that he is like a drop of water in the ocean to find another drop of water. His search of identity is often regarded by scholars as to the desire to cease to exist.
He seeks complete extinction by the merger of identity by finding his lost twin brother. This can be seen as a test to see the boundaries of his identity. From the reunion, it is clear that they don’t share any instinctive similarity, and the quest seems futile.
Another example is Adriana who wants to identify herself to a reference, i.e. her husband. Like Antipholus of Syracuse, she compares herself to a drop of water in a gulf. Here her husband is considered an entire gulf. There are two different quests seen, Antipholus wants to merge with a single drop, his brother, and identify himself with it.
In contrast, Adriana wants to merge herself in the entire gulf. This defines the two different frames of identity. It can be inferred from the conclusion of the play that identity is a relative term and can be defined in reference to various things.
Love and Marriage
This theme is closely linked to the theme of identity. There are characters in the play whose concerns are two know about the nature of marriage and love. Luciana and Adriana discuss this topic in length and share conflicting views about it. They differ in their views and definitions of being in love and marriage.
Adriana wants to keep the liberty of her husband restrained. She remembers the days when her husband used to love her in the days of courtship but is no more pays heed to her. From this, it can be inferred that by the love she means the right to possess, to be the owner of, and be the master.
This concept creates problems in her life, and her jealousy is a direct result of this concept.
Another concept that Adriana holds is that beauty is the main reason for love. Due to this faulty assumption, she has come to believe that she is no more beautiful, and thus her husband doesn’t love her anymore. She may have formed this belief on the basis of her husband’s inclination to other women.
In contrast to her sister, Luciana believes that the role of a woman in love is submissive. She believes that to maintain the marriage, it isn’t necessary for the couple to share love, instead of taking care of each other, or even pretense is enough.
From the behavior of Antipholus of Ephesus, it is evident that he doesn’t regard the love of prime importance. His business and relationships with businessmen matter more to him. Antipholus of Syracuse is afraid to lose his identity in a relationship with a woman.
Though he fears it, he shows affection towards Luciana. Dromio of Syracuse is obsessed with the appearance in marriage and shows disgust for Luce’s fat body. The biggest question that Shakespeare poses to his audience is that can love to survive the marriage?
Desire to reunite family is the basic force that starts off the play. Egeon is eager to find his lost wife and son; for this purpose, he sets out. He even endangers his life by entering the forbidden city. He shows sadness for not being able to find them.
Antipholus of Ephesus is essentially unaware of his family and is in a sense orphaned when Corinthian fishermen rescue him after the shipwreck. In contrast to him, his brother Antipholus of Ephesus longs for his brother and spends time in finding his lost brother.
He feels a deficit in his life because his family is incomplete due to the absence of his lost twin. He shows a longing for his brother and demonstrates how far he can go to find his brother.
Though not the family members long for the reunion, some characters are eager for it. Along with the aforementioned characters, Egeon and Antipholus of Syracuse, Emilia also longs for her lost sons. She wants to end this misery which is ultimately possible in the ending scene.
Though in this scene, there is no emotional outburst when the separated brothers meet. It gives the message that weakened ties will strengthen with the passage of time. The fraternal bond is best shown through the Dromio brothers and their jollity.
Possibly there is a popular belief regarding Ephesus as a city of sorcerers. It is evident from the dialogues of Antipholus of Syracuse and Dromio of Syracuse. They believe that Luciana and Adriana are witches who have come to know their names through their witchcraft.
This aura of supernatural is reinforced by the confusing happenings to the characters, which are actually farcical. Antipholus and Dromio of Syracuse want to leave the city as soon as possible for this reason.
Adriana believes that her husband is mad and wants the physician to rid him of the evil force that is occupying him.
Through the theme of the supernatural, using the twins, the playwright attempts to unveil the reality of these happenings. This is done to demystify these happenings and change the perception regarding them. Through these, the playwright wants to show the logic of daily life happenings.
This play shows both physical and emotional suffering of the characters. These characters go through physical trauma, the shipwreck, which leads to emotional trauma. This suffering continues for long when, ultimately, the problems are solved. Antipholus of Ephesus suffers in his marital relationship where his wife doubts him for infidelity.
Along with Antipholus of Ephesus, there are his parents who suffer because they have lost their children. Emilia and Egeon are alone, parted after the shipwreck, and residing in two different states.
Antipholus of Syracuse suffers because he is alone, and has lost his mother and brother. He suffers during his quest to find his lost brother. Dromio brothers suffer at the hands of their masters who beat them for their small faults. Adriana suffers from the psychological problem of jealousy, and this creates problems in her marital life.
The sufferings are overcome when the family reunites, and they look forward to seeing happiness. The representation of sufferings in this play is farcical because of the actions which are too silly.
Appearance is used to create comic situations in this play. From these appearances, it is evident that they can often be false. An instance of it is the role of twins who are often mistaken for each other. Sometimes the masters mistake the servants, other times the servants mistake their masters.
This also happens in the dinner scene when Antipholus of Syracuse is inside to have dinner instead of Antipholus of Ephesus. Appearance is considered important by human beings, and this is shown through the character of Adriana. She grieves that she is losing her beauty, and due to this, her husband is not paying her heed.
Egeon is another example who believes that his son won’t be able to recognize him because of his changed appearance. The incidents that take place in Ephesus seem to be supernatural. Later it is clarified that these weren’t supernatural, rather the appearances were mistaken.
Appearance is used by characters to judge people and make opinions regarding them. The resolution of the play comes when the characters recognize the fact that appearances aren’t necessarily a reflection of reality.
Women and Femininity
The women in this play are very vocal. They have various opinions to share and are active throughout the play. The main reason which seems to be the reason for the existence of women is to comment about men and judge their behavior. The most vocal of these female characters is Adriana, the wife of Antipholus of Syracuse.
Her life seems to be ruined by her husband’s infidelity and her doting behavior. Due to this reason, she begins to doubt herself and thinks that there is some fault with her. The other women in this play don’t have men as companions, and she acts as their leader.
Other characters like the courtesan and the maid, are undervalued by men. Luciana wants to go to any limits to please her to-be-husband. The Abbess has suffered because she had lost her husband. She had to stay single at the abbey.
The women in this play are confused. They don’t know either what to do without them or what to do with them. In this play, women are incomplete without men, even the ones who seem independent. This play challenges the concept that whether women are objects which can be used by men or they are living beings.
This play presents a variety of women, i.e. lady, Abbess, courtesan, maid, etc. Through this variety, he gives the notion that like men, women are also human beings and worth consideration.
Though The Comedy of Errors is the shortest of Shakespeare’s works, it masterfully represents the misconceptions in the society which create problems in the society. Through mistaken identities, the writer has explored the concept of identity and the factors which make it.
There are puns, buffoonery, and improbable situations. Through the driving force of mistaken identity, the plot is kept dynamic. It is a light, frothy entertainment. Slapstick comedy and coincidence are used to aid farce.
This play has the role of the foundation in the development of characters in his other plays. The plot is mainly concerned with outward appearances.
There are threats and intimations in the opening of the play which are kept postponed until the ending scene, which is the main reason behind suspense. Various human situations are shown, which include grief, anger, love, hardships, troubles, desires, etc. The play doesn’t discuss these issues in detail; rather, these are skimmed.
The uneasy moments are eliminated, and as the story develops the lighter aspects of the play are made prominent because it is comedy. In the final scene, the ties are unknotted, and the audience comes to know that all the action was the result of mistaken identities.
It is evident from the title of the play that it is comedy. This play contains all the characteristic features of Shakespearean comedy. Like typical of Shakespearean comedies, there are families and lovers who get united at the end of the play.
The play is designed to evoke laughter and amuse the reader using the conflict. Harold Bloom is of the view that The Comedy of Errors is a comedy, not a farce. He believes that if it is regarded as farce, then A Midsummer Night’s Dream should also be included in this category.
It is a mix of tragic and comic events, and for this reason, it can also be categorized as a tragicomedy.
The tone of the play is ‘sly’ and ‘in control.’ The writer keeps the loop as long as it can be continued. The characters’ language is masterfully manipulated to suit the situation. The dialogues of the characters reveal that they are familiar to each other but not to the extent that can unveil everything.
The role of the playwright is like a puppeteer; he is unapologetic and keeps a strong hold on the play.
Point of View
Typical of Shakespearean drama, this play doesn’t have a narrator from whose perspective the story is told. The incidents are told directly through the dialogues of the characters.
The spatial setting of the play is the Greek city of Ephesus, while the temporal setting is classical times. The role of this city is like crossroads through which people come and go for different purposes. It is a busy city where the characters coincidentally meet and don’t recognize each other.
There are three central locations where the play mainly takes place. These include the priory, the marketplace, and the surrounding area of Antipholus of Ephesus’ house. There are some inside and outside spaces which are used to hide some characters from others’ view.
This play conforms to the three classical unities. The whole play takes place in the span of one day. Through explanations, the lifetime of the characters is described. As a result, the audience is able to understand the background. There are no actual flashbacks or scene changes to the past. This play represents a lifetime in a single day.
The timing of the play is tricky. An example of it is the age of his son, Antipholus of Syracuse, who was eighteen when he left in search of his brother. He says that five summers have passed since he has left, but then these change to seven years.
A later mention says that he is thirty-three. This is one of the main inaccuracies of this play. This discrepancy is discussed by Dromio of Syracuse who says that hours are moving backward.
Significance of the Title
Though Shakespeare wrote many other comedies, this is the only comedy to whose title he has added the term ‘comedy.’ There are so many conceits in the play that it seems farce, but it is a comedy.
In common comedies, there is no such big improbability as is in this play. Typical of farces, this play contains the situations that are created to incite laughter from the audience. The assertion of the author that it is a comedy requires the deep scrutiny of this play.
The title is an admission and invitation to study it is a comedy, not a farce.
Significance of the Ending
The ending of this comedy is like the rest of comedies where the miseries end. In other comedies, the lovers meet. Contrastingly, in this play, the separated family meets. This affirms the fact that it is a comedy, not a farce.
The writing style of this play is playful, obtuse and indirect. The characters in this play directly to each other because of the complicated conceit of the play. Through the indirectness in these dialogues, the characters aren’t able to grasp the heart of the confusion, and the play continues smoothly.
The characters face their own problems, and for this reason, they don’t pay heed to what others say. Instead, they are immersed in their own thoughts. Even their straight talk is lost in the confusion of the situation. The style in which the characters speak to each other prevents the play from being utterly confusing.
The conversation of the characters is sharp and witty but is not always relevant to what is said. This speech can make sense in a variety of situations. The master and servant duo requires a special mention because they are often confused and add to it with their clever talk. Though the conversations are not always coherent, the conversation makes sense to each conversation partner.
There are many symbols used in this play which include the chain, ring, and rope, etc. There is a mention of a gold chain that Adriana was promised by her husband. This chain links the events that take place during the course of the play.
It is a symbol of the defaulter of the promises that Antipholus made during the marriage. It also works as the shackles that bind Antipholus in the city jail.
The ring was the symbol of marital fidelity in Elizabethan England. In the case of the courtesan, it represents the financial commitment. It is a symbol of a strong and practical bond. The rope is used as the symbol of the darker side of Antipholus’ personality. It shows his violent behavior and treatment of his servants and household.
Imagery and Allegory
Water is used as a symbol of separation throughout the play. It is first used in the opening scene when Egeon describes the shipwreck. Antipholus of Syracuse refers to himself as a drop of water who wants to unite with another drop of water, i.e. his twin brother. In another scene, Adriana refers to herself as a drop of water who wants to merge in a gulf.
There are descriptions of money in various instances. It is generally used to refer to liberation and freedom from bondage. An example is Egeon’s fine, which can be used for bail. Another instance is Antipholus of Ephesus, who is required to pay money to get himself free.
There is the imagery of geography. Egeon tells the duke that he has traveled to Greece, Asia, and other parts of the world, but in Ephesus, he is being treated like a common criminal. He tells the duke that Ephesus is a place like other pieces of the world.
There are several references to the Bible in this play. These include ‘the pleasant punishment that the women bear’ in Act I, Scene I. Ot her include Adam, the Prodigal Son in Act IV, Scene III. Non-Biblical references include Ovid’s Metamorphosis in Act II, Scene II, and Homer’s The Odyssey in Act III, Scene II.