The Comedy of Errors

Two sets of separated identical twins find each other in a riotous comedy about mistaken identity and the bonds of family.

Am I in earth, in heaven, or in hell?

Antipholus of Syracuse, Act 2, Scene 2

Egeon, a merchant of Syracuse, and his wife, Emelia, have twin boys both called Antipholus.

They adopt another set of twin boys, both called Dromio, to serve their sons. When a shipwreck separates one Antipholus and Dromio from the other, and the parents from each other, the family starts new lives in different cities, not knowing the fate of their loved ones.

Years later, as adults, Antipholus and Dromio of Syracuse set out to find their brothers who they have heard live in Ephesus. Anxious for their safety, Egeon follows them but is arrested due to a conflict between Ephesus and Syracuse. He is given one day to raise a sum of money as a fine, or he will be executed under Ephesian law. Over the course of one day in Ephesus, confusion reigns and a farcical chaos ensues, before the entire family is once again reunited.

The Comedy of Errors is one of Shakespeare’s first and shortest plays, and shows his early experimentation with mistaken identity and wordplay. Despite its comically slapstick style, the play explores issues of displacement, familial separation, grief and class structure.

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The cast of The Comedy of Errors

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Nathan O'Keefe as Antipholus of Syracuse and Jude Henshall as Luciana

SYNOPSIS

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So I, to find a mother and a brother,
In quest of them, unhappy, lose myself.

Antipholus of Syracuse, Act 1, Scene 1

Egeon, an old merchant from Syracuse, has arrived in the city of Ephesus. The two cities are at war, and because of a law that forbids Syracusan merchants from entering Ephesus, Egeon is told he will be put to death. Duke Solinus tells Egeon that he may only escape execution if he pays a fine of 1000 marks, which Egeon does not have. The Duke asks Egeon why he came to Ephesus, and he shares the story of his life. Years ago, Egeon and his wife had twin sons, both named Antipholus. They adopted another set of twin boys born of a very poor mother, both called Dromio, to serve their sons. Yet in a shipwreck, Egeon was separated from his wife, one of his sons, and one of the servants. He brought up the son and his servant, yet never heard of the fate of the other twins and his wife.

At eighteen years of age, his son became increasingly interested in finding his lost brother, as did the servant Dromio for his brother. Antipholus and Dromio of Syracuse set out to find their brothers, but when they did not return, Egeon went in search of them.

Duke Solinius is greatly moved by Egeon’s story, but cannot amend the laws of Ephesus. In a show of pity, he grants Egeon 24 hours to raise the sum of 1000 marks, and promises to grant him his life if he can raise the money in time.

This same day, Antipholus and Dromio of Syracuse arrive in Ephesus. Antipholus sends Dromio to take money to an inn, and as he starts to explore the town is met by Dromio of Ephesus. Mistaking him for his own servant, Antipholus enquires about the money and his errand, to which Dromio of Ephesus denies all knowledge and pleads that Antipholus return home to his wife. Antipholus beats Dromio who quickly takes his leave, and decides to head to the inn to check on his money.

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Nathan O'Keefe as Antipholus of Syracuse and Renato Musolino as Dromio of Syracuse

Famous lines

I to the world am like a drop of water
That in the ocean seeks another drop...

Antipholus of Syracuse, Act 1, Scene 2

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Elena Carapetis as Adriana, Eugene Gilfedder as Dr Pinch, Jude Henshall as Luciana and Suzannah McDonald as Courtesan

Historical background

The Roman playwright Plautus and his play Menaechmi are the main sources of Shakespeare’s The Comedy of Errors.

Dimitrios Sirilas as Angelo and Anthony Taufa as Balthasar

Fast facts

The Comedy of Errors is believed to be Shakespeare’s shortest play at just 1,777 lines. Hamlet speaks almost this many lines by himself.

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