Shakespeare's The Comedy of Errors: Summary & Analysis

Instructor: Meredith Spies

Meredith has studied literature and literary analysis, holding a master's degree in liberal arts with a focus on depictions of femininity vs masculinity in literature and art.

This lesson is a summary of one of Shakespeare's earliest plays, ''The Comedy of Errors.'' It also includes a brief analysis of the major themes of the work and the style of the play itself.

About The Comedy of Errors

The Comedy of Errors is one of Shakespeare's shortest and fastest-paced plays, relying heavily on slapstick, puns, and wordplay for the humor. Mistaken identity is the driving plot point of the play and is the foundation for most of the play's humor and wordplay. The Comedy of Errors is considered a farce, which is a play that relies on impossible situations, outlandish humor and buffoonery to drive the plot.

Plot Summary

Syracuse and Ephesus are two ancient Greek cities that have a strong, deep rivalry. Citizens of either city are forbidden to travel between the two for any reason. A citizen of one city found in the other is automatically sentenced to death. Egeon, a merchant from Syracuse, is found in Ephesus and is brought before Solinus, the Duke, where he pleads for his life.

Many years ago, Egeon and his wife, Amelia, were shipwrecked while with their identical twin sons, both named Antipholus, and a pair of identical twin slaves, both named Dromio. After the wreck, Egeon found himself with one son and one slave, his wife and the other son and other slave missing. When Antipholus of Syracuse (the son who remained with Egeon) had come of age, he allowed him to go look for his missing family.

After five years with no word, Egeon had set out to find Antipholus of Syracuse, following him as far as Ephesus before getting arrested. Solinus is moved by the story and gives him till sundown to produce a ransom of 1000 marks, otherwise his execution stands.

Antipholus of Syracuse and Dromio of Syracuse arrive in Ephesus while Egeon is with the duke. They are almost immediately confused for Antipholus of Ephesus (Antipholus S.'s twin and a very prominent citizen of Ephesus) and his slave, Dromio of Ephesus. Even Antipholus E.'s wife, Adriana, thinks they are Antipholus and Dromio E. and drags them home for dinner. Adriana and her sister Luciana are so confused by Antipholus S's behavior, thinking he is 'their' Antipholus,that they think he is mad. Antipholus S. and Dromio S. leave before Adriana is able to stop them, taking with them a gold necklace, which was dropped off by a goldsmith during dinner, that was meant for Antipholus E.

Antipholus of Ephesus and Dromio of Ephesus are confronted by the goldsmith in the marketplace later that day, accused of owing him money. When Antipholus E. denies it, the goldsmith has him arrested. Everyone thinks Antipholus E. has gone mad, especially Adriana and Luciana. Antipholus E. and Dromio E. end up restrained, back in Antipholus E.'s house.

While out in the city, Adriana sees Antipholus S. and Dromio S., and thinks her husband and his slave have escaped. They run from her and hide in a nearby priory, seeking sanctuary from the law within the walls of a holy place. The abbess in charge refuses to release them, no matter how much Adriana begs.

Antipholus E. and his slave do escape while Adriana is in the city, and they go looking for her, accusing her of witchcraft and meaning to do her harm, sure she is behind the confusion somehow. They find her as she is begging the abbess to let the men come out. Before they can do her harm, however, Solinus rides up, taking Egeon, who has been unable to raise his ransom, to his death. Adriana begs Solinus to help her, and soon everyone is telling him their stories.

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