William Shakespeare: The Comedy of Errors
Summary by Michael McGoodwin, prepared 1999

William Shakespeare

Acknowledgement: This work has been summarized using The Complete Works of Shakespeare Updated Fourth Ed., Longman Addison-Wesley, ed. David Bevington, 1997.  Quotations are for the most part taken from that work, as are paraphrases of his commentary.   

Overall Impression: This is early Shakespeare and derivative, fairly funny but not profound.

Per Bevington: Written c. 1589--1593, it draws heavily on Plautus' Menaechmi (The Brothers Menaechmus) and Amphitruo (Amphitryon), though humanized. 


Action set in Ephesus (Asia Minor), where Sicilians have been banned on punishment of death. The elderly merchant Egeon, who is from Syracuse (in Sicily), has been arrested and sentenced to be executed by Solinus, Duke of Ephesus, unless 1000 marks are paid. Though the Duke cannot pardon him, he has pity on Egeon and asks him to tell his story. Egeon and his wife Emilia had identical twin sons and had also raised a poor woman's identical twin sons to be their servants. They had sailed from Epidamnum (modern Albania) years earlier to return home to Sicily, but a storm wrecked the ship and he and one son (Antipholus of Syracuse, AS) along with Dromio of Syracuse were separated from his wife and other son (Antipholus of Ephesus, AE) and Dromio of Ephesus. He has continued to search for his lost wife and son for many years and has given the son and servant who survived with him the names of the presumably lost son and servant. His search has now brought him to Ephesus, and he has also granted his son's wish to go separately with his Dromio in search of his lost brother. The plot revolves around the convergence in Ephesus of these family member and the two Dromios and the many comic consequences regarding mistaken identities and confusion with: Angelo the goldsmith (who has made a gold chain intended for AE's wife but which he mistakenly gives to AS) and Balthasar the merchant; Adriana (the wife of AE who mistakes AS for him); her sister Luciana (whom AS courts); her maid Luce (or Nell, wooed by Dromio of Syracuse); an arresting officer; Antipholus' courtesan; Doctor Pinch (a conjuring schoolmaster who tries to help AE with his "possession"); and the abbess with whom AS seeks sanctuary. In the end, Egeon recognizes his son AE, is bailed out by him, and they are all reunited with their mother, whom the abbess proves to be.