The Comedy of Errors

by William Shakespeare
96 pages, General Fiction
Reviewed by Jeanne

Brief and slapstick, but with some underlying darkness and plain crude humor.


The merchant Aegeon seems to have been born under an unlucky star - or at least married under one. His early years went smoothly enough, until the day when both his wife and an impoverished stranger gave birth to sets of identical twins. Aegeon christened both his sons Antipholus and, in his generosity, bought the other woman's children (both named Dromio) to serve as his sons' slaves. But not long afterward, the family is split apart by a shipwreck and the fate of the first Antipholus-and-Dromio is unknown.

Now, years later, Antipholus of Syracuse and his slave Dromio have arrived in Ephesus on a journey to find their brothers. Antipholus of Ephesus is indeed living there, married now to a shrewish woman named Adriana, and it looks as though the family will be reunited. But having two sets of look-alikes in the same city quickly leads to misunderstandings - and from misunderstandings to more dire consequences. Adriana mistakes the wrong man for her husband; her supposed "husband" falls in love with Adriana's sister; the two Dromios are utterly confounded; one Antipholus is arrested; and all Ephesus is in an uproar. Will the tangle of mistaken identities ever be sorted out?


Very little to speak of: this is a boisterous and farcical comedy, and morals are not given much of a role. Antipholus of Ephesus is a profoundly unpleasant man, railing at his wife (whose shrewishness really only arises from a recognition that she has lost his affection already) and beating his slave (which seems to be meant for comedy, but is not terribly amusing). Despite all these things, however, one is given the impression that he is well thought of in the city. After Adriana mistakes Antipholus of Syracuse for her husband and he is unable to correct her, he falls in love with her sister, who also believes him to be her sister's husband. She rejects him in horror, though flattered by his attentions.

Spiritual Content

Antipholus of Ephesus is thought to be possessed by a demon, and a man is brought in to exorcise him. God and gods are mentioned interchangeably.


Aegeon relates the tale of the fateful shipwreck. Both Antipholus of Syracuse and Antipholus of Ephesus frequently lose their tempers and beat their slaves. Antipholus of Ephesus, accused of having a demon, is made nearly mad with rage; he is bound and Dr. Pinch, a conjuror, is called in to exorcise him, but Antipholus breaks free and proceeds to set fire to Pinch's beard. All the violence is meant to be comic, but is actually rather dark.

Drug and Alcohol Content

A man is accused of being drunk.

Sexual Content

Adriana fears that she has lost the affection of her husband, who freely admits to a friend that he is often in the society of another woman (who may or may not be a prostitute). When Antipholus of Syracuse professes his love for Luciana, Adriana's sister, she accuses him of unfaithfulness. Adriana herself is accused by her husband of infidelity. Also, see Crude Language.

Crude or Profane Language or Content

One of the Dromios likens parts of a woman's body to specific countries. The usual Shakespearean wordplays are present, usually voiced by one of the two servants.


"The Comedy of Errors" is thought to be an early work of Shakespeare, which perhaps accounts for many of its weaknesses. It is wholly farcical and, as a tale of twins and mistaken identities, is even more far-fetched than "Twelfth Night" (which, interestingly, also features a character accused of demon-possession). Much of the humor is slapstick, but, as mentioned before, verges on the dark. Shakespeare's puns and wordplays are present, but they tend to be more stilted and less witty than in some of his other works, while the crude elements are significantly more bold-faced.

This is one of Shakespeare's shortest plays, so it is necessarily fast-paced. Coincidences and mistakes succeed each other in rapid succession; except for the first part, in which Aegeon relates his life story, the reader (or viewer) is moved rapidly along from scene to scene. It is also a centralized play, which, though not very nuanced, does make it easy to follow. Because of its brevity and the typically straight-forward humor, then, it may be a good place to start in reading Shakespeare, but it is my opinion that he went farther and wrote a better play in the similar "Twelfth Night."

Fun Score: 2.5
Values Score: 1
Written for Age: adult

Review Rating:

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