The Comedy of Errors

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.

  • The play was one of the first that Shakespeare wrote, and it was believed to have been written around 1560 – 1564.

  • The plot for The Comedy of Errors was another example of Shakespeare taking an existing work and reinventing it. The original source material is believed to have been The Menaechmi by Plautus, which involved a plot of identical twins from Syracuse.

  • The Comedy of Errors observes Aristotle's Unities of Time, Place and Action – the story takes place within one day, in one location, and every incident in the play contributes to the main plot. (This is also the case with The Tempest which is entirely played out over a 24-hour period).

  • The theatrical conventions of twins and mistaken identities was already well-known to Shakespeare’s audience, though in the play he pushes the convention to the extreme and provokes as much comedic opportunity as possible by providing two sets of identical twins.

  • The term ‘a comedy of errors’ has entered the modern lexicon and is used to refer to a confluence of mistakes and unfortunate events, resulting in a kind of ridiculous chaos.

  • The 1988 film Big Business is a loose adaptation of the play, with Bette Midler and Lily Tomlin playing two sets of identical twins who were unknowingly separated at birth.

  • Perhaps the most well-known adaptation of The Comedy of Errors was the 1938 musical The Boys From Syracuse by Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart, which was adapted for film in 1940. It has enjoyed a long history on Broadway, most recently a 2002 revival.

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