Shakespeare’s The Comedy of Errors is the slapstick farce of his youth. In it, the lost twin sons of the old merchant Egeon—both named Antipholus—find themselves in Ephesus, without either one even knowing of the other’s existence. Meanwhile, Egeon has arrived in search of the son he thinks is still alive—and has been sentenced to death for the “crime” of being from Syracuse.
To add to the confusion, the two Antipholuses have twin servants, both named Dromio. As the four men unwittingly encounter each other, the play is crammed with wildly escalating misunderstandings before the truth emerges and Egeon is pardoned.
Shakespeare bases his story on Plautus’s Menaechmi, a play about identical twins who accidentally meet after a lifetime apart. He borrows from another Plautus play by having Adriana, the wife of one Antipholus, entertain the other. The spirited Adriana often gives speeches evoking strong emotions—as do other characters at times. Even here, Shakespeare suggests complexities beyond the farce.
The authoritative edition of The Comedy of Errors from The Folger Shakespeare Library, the trusted and widely used Shakespeare series for students and general readers, includes:
-Freshly edited text based on the best early printed version of the play
-Full explanatory notes conveniently placed on pages facing the text of the play
-Scene-by-scene plot summaries
-A key to the play’s famous lines and phrases
-An introduction to reading Shakespeare’s language
-An essay by a leading Shakespeare scholar providing a modern perspective on the play
-Fresh images from the Folger Shakespeare Library’s vast holdings of rare books
-An annotated guide to further reading
Essay by Arthur F. Kinney
The Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, DC, is home to the world’s largest collection of Shakespeare’s printed works, and a magnet for Shakespeare scholars from around the globe. In addition to exhibitions open to the public throughout the year, the Folger offers a full calendar of performances and programs. For more information, visit Folger.edu.
About the Author
William Shakespeare was born in April 1564 in the town of Stratford-upon-Avon, on England’s Avon River. When he was eighteen, he married Anne Hathaway. The couple had three children—an older daughter Susanna and twins, Judith and Hamnet. Hamnet, Shakespeare’s only son, died in childhood. The bulk of Shakespeare’s working life was spent in the theater world of London, where he established himself professionally by the early 1590s. He enjoyed success not only as a playwright and poet, but also as an actor and shareholder in an acting company. Although some think that sometime between 1610 and 1613 Shakespeare retired from the theater and returned home to Stratford, where he died in 1616, others believe that he may have continued to work in London until close to his death.
Barbara A. Mowat is Director of Research emerita at the Folger Shakespeare Library, Consulting Editor of Shakespeare Quarterly, and author of The Dramaturgy of Shakespeare’s Romances and of essays on Shakespeare’s plays and their editing.
Paul Werstine is Professor of English at the Graduate School and at King’s University College at Western University. He is a general editor of the New Variorum Shakespeare and author of Early Modern Playhouse Manuscripts and the Editing of Shakespeare and of many papers and articles on the printing and editing of Shakespeare’s plays.