A brief history and analysis of the play by William Shakespeare
The following article was originally published in A Dictionary of the Drama. W. Davenport Adams. Philadelphia: J.B. Lippincott Company, 1904.

A comedy in five acts, by William Shakespeare, The Comedy of Errors was mentioned by Meres in his Palladis Tamia (1598), and therefore necessarily written, if not acted, before that date. It was apparently based, in the main, upon William Warner's translation of Plautus' Menaechmi into English verse, which was published in 1595, but had probably been circulated, in manuscript, before that year. Shakespeare may also have been indebted somewhat to the play called The Historie of Error, which was performed by the children of Paul's at Hampton Court on New Year's Day, 1566-7. Shakespeare follows, in essentials, the story as told by Plautus, but "makes considerable alterations. He adds the serious part of the plot; he makes two twin servants as well as two twin masters. The character of the Goldsmith is new; the Courtezan is thrown into the background; and the Parasite is omitted" (Genest). The first probable recorded performance of the play is that of December 28, 1594, in Gray's Inn Hall, as stated in the Gesta Grayorum (1668): "After such sport, a Comedy of Errors (like to Plautus his Menechmus) was played by the players." It is almost (though not absolutely) certain that the reference here is to Shakespeare's work. In October, 1734, there was brought out at Covent Garden a play in two acts, called See if you Like It; or, It's All a Mistake, which was described as "taken from Plautus and Shakespeare," and was probably an adaptation of The Comedy of Errors. Genest records performances of the Comedy at Drury Lane in November and December, 1741, but is unable to give the cast. Kirkman, however, says that the role of Dromio of Syracuse was taken by Macklin. The Comedy of Errors was first printed in the folio of 1623. S.T. Coleridge wrote of it that Shakespeare "has in this piece presented us with the philosophical principles and character of farce, as distinguished from comedy and from entertainments.... A comedy would scarcely allow even the two Antipholuses; because, although there have been instances of almost indistinguishable likeness in two persons, yet these are mere individual accidents, casus ludentis naturae, and the verum will not excuse the inverisimile. But farce dares add the two Dromios, and is justified in so doing by the laws of its end and constitution" (Notes of Lectures). "In The Comedy of Errors," says Hallam, "there are only a few passages of a poetical vein, yet such perhaps as no other living dramatist could have written; but the story is well invented and managed--the confusion of persons does not cease to amuse--the dialogue is easy and gay beyond what had been hitherto heard on the stage--there is little buffoonery in the wit, and no absurdity in the circumstances" (Literature of Europe).


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