Comedy of Errors

The Comedy of Errors and Plautus

One of Shakespeare's earliest plays (its first recorded performance in December 1594), The Comedy of Errors has frequently been dismissed as pure farce, unrepresentative of the playwright's later efforts. While Errors may very well contain farcical elements, it is a complex, layered work that draws upon and reinterprets Plautine comedy. Shakespeare combines aspects of these Latin plays with biblical source material, chiefly the Acts of the Apostles and the Pauline Epistle to the Ephesians. While Menaechmi is the most frequently cited classical source for Errors, Plautus' Amphitruo is just as relevant an influence; Shakespeare's treatment of identity and its fragility is derived from this latter work. Of course, there are many other structural and thematic resonances between the three texts: each of the plays, to varying degrees, deal with the issues of identity, violence and slavery, while displaying a keen awareness of aspects of performativity, specifically the figure of the playwright, and the role of the audience.

The structural similarities between Comedy of Errors and Plautus' Menaechmi and Amphitruo are quite clear. In addition to adopting the traditional five-act structure, Shakespeare creates act...

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