Summary of "The Comedy of Errors" by William Shakespeare

by Bonnie Wood

"The Comedy of Errors" is a light and funny play centered around twin brothers.

Comstock/Comstock/Getty Images

"The Comedy of Errors," one of Shakespeare's earliest plays, was written sometime in the 1590s, although the exact date is unknown. It is one of Shakespeare's more humorous and light plays, greatly relying on mistaken identity and slapstick humor. It includes many allusions to other ancient plots and literary works, such as Menaechmi, which is a Latin play, and the Apostle Paul's letter to the Ephesian church, which is found in the New Testament.

Egeon's Story

The play opens with Egeon, an elderly trader from Syracuse. He is located in Ephesus, and due to a law forbidding Syracusan merchants within the city, Egeon is arrested and tried, his only salvation a price of 1,000 marks, which he cannot pay. Egeon tells his story to the Duke: He is looking for his wife and one of his identical twin sons (who each have one of two twin slaves). His family was separated by a shipwreck 25 years ago, when he was rescued in one boat, his wife and one son in another. Egeon's son who was rescued with him, the Antipholus of Syracuse, recently went in search of his missing family members. The Duke gives Egeon one day to find his son.

The Confusion of the Sons

The very same day, Egeon's son whom he raised, Antipholus of Syracuse, is also in Ephesus looking for his twin brother. When his slave Dromio of Syracuse leaves to do his bidding, Dromio's identical twin, Dromio of Ephesus (the slave of Antipholus of Ephesus) approaches Antipholus of Syracuse and tells him his wife, Adriana, wants him home for dinner. Confused because he doesn't have a wife, he refuses and eventually meets up with his own slave, Dromio of Syracuse. Frustrated, Adriana finds Antipholus of Syracuse and, mistaking him for her husband, persuades him to come with her. They eat dinner while Dromio of Syracuse keeps watch.

Mistaken Indentities Continue

Antipholus of Ephesus returns home and is enraged that Dromio (who he believes is his slave) won't let him inside. At dinner, Antipholus of Syracuse finds himself attracted to Adriana's sister, Luciana. He and Dromio banter about Dromio's wife and eventually leave the house of Antipholus of Ephesus. The encounter a goldsmith who, thinking he's speaking with Antipholus of Ephesus, gives Antipholus of Syracuse a gold chain. The goldsmith, meeting up later with the true Ephesian Antipholus, demands payment, but Antipholus, never having seen the gold chain, refuses and is arrested. Thinking he has gone crazy, Adriana locks her husband in the cellar. The Syracusans believe the city of Ephesus is bewitched, so they flee. They hide out in an abbey.

Resolution

Adriana, believing that her husband is the one in the abbey, begs the Abbess to release him. Antipholus of Ephesus, meanwhile, breaks free from the cellar and runs to the Duke to tell him about what his wife did. Egeon is with the Duke, and, thinking he's seeing his Syracusan son, is extremely confused. Emilia, the Abbess, reveals that she is Egeon's wife. All characters are unmasked and they reconcile: Antihpholus of Ephesus and Adriana, the Dromio twins, Egeon and Emilia. Antipholus of Syracuse continues his pursuit of Luciana.

Photo Credits

  • Comstock/Comstock/Getty Images