The Comedy of Errors


William Shakespeare

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The Comedy of Errors Study Guide

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Welcome to the LitCharts study guide on William Shakespeare's The Comedy of Errors. Created by the original team behind SparkNotes, LitCharts are the world's best literature guides.

Brief Biography of William Shakespeare

Shakespeare's father was a glove-maker, and Shakespeare received no more than a grammar school education. He married Anne Hathaway in 1582, but left his family behind around 1590 and moved to London, where he became an actor and playwright. He was an immediate success: Shakespeare soon became the most popular playwright of the day as well as a part-owner of the Globe Theater. His theater troupe was adopted by King James as the King's Men in 1603. Shakespeare retired as a rich and prominent man to Stratford-upon-Avon in 1613, and died three years later.
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Historical Context of The Comedy of Errors

The comedy is set in an unspecified time in ancient Greece and the Mediterranean. This historical setting provides the backdrop for the merchant and trading lifestyle prevalent in the play, as well as the feuding between local regions and cities, such as between Syracuse and Ephesus. However, the play is by no means intended to be a faithful reconstruction of any ancient time period. Rather, a vague ancient Greek setting provides the jumping-off point for Shakespeare’s comedy.

Other Books Related to The Comedy of Errors

Shakespeare was heavily influenced by the comedies of the ancient Roman playwright Plautus, especially his play Menaechmi, about twins separated while young. The Comedy of Errors has been influential among later literature, as well, as a prime example of the genre for which it is named, a kind of light comedy often featuring mistaken identities.
Key Facts about The Comedy of Errors
  • Full Title: The Comedy of Errors
  • When Written: Early 1590s
  • Where Written: England
  • When Published: 1595
  • Literary Period: The Renaissance (1500-1660)
  • Genre: Drama, comedy, comedy of errors
  • Setting: Ephesus (an ancient Greek city in Asia Minor, located on the coast of present-day Turkey)
  • Climax: As the Duke prepares to execute Aegeon, both Aemilia and Antipholus of Ephesus demand justice from him. Antipholus, Aemilia, Luciana, Angelo, Dromio, the courtesan, and the merchant all give different versions of what has happened during the day.
  • Antagonist: There is no real antagonist. Most characters create their own problems by making assumptions based on the similar appearances of each Antipholus and Dromio.

Extra Credit for The Comedy of Errors

The Three Unities. The Comedy of Errors is one of few Shakespeare plays that obeys the “three unities” of theater, a rigid neoclassical set of rules for plays derived from Aristotle and popular in the 17th century. The unity of place dictates that the play should happen in a single place (in this case, Ephesus); the unity of time dictates that the play should take place over no more than 24 hours (this play occurs all in one day); and the unity of action dictates that the play should focus on one main plot action (in this case, the confusion of Antipholus of Ephesus and Antipholus of Syracuse).