A Comedy of Errors

A case of mistaken identity

The first anonymously recorded performance of A Comedy of Errors was at Gray’s Inn on the 28th December 1594 so the play must have been written earlier but never registered at the Stationer’s Office. From the irregularities naming the dramatis personae it must have been copied from William Shakespeare’s manuscript who must have worked from the Latin original and not William Warner’s English translation (1595) as often quoted by several biographers. It was probably written around the same time as the poem Venus & Adonis (1590) and composited by Ralph Crane. The Oxfordian academic, Charlton Ogburn (The Mysterious William Shakespeare) suggests that there was an earlier play entitled “The Historie of Error” which was written by the Earl of Oxford and performed at court in 1577. On closer examination its’ literary or dramatic sources, its context in the 1623 canon and the stage performance are shrouded in mystery and chronological confusion. Although the Roman comic dramatist Maccius Plautus cites Epidamnum as the location Shakespeare decided to set the play in Ephesus, an early Christian colony and inspired by his version called “Menæchmi” (250-184 BC – The Twins) with additional material from Amphitruo. An English translation from the Latin of this play by William Warner was available in 1595 which is perhaps too late as a source for Shakespeare’s own play. In any case it is generally presumed that Shakespeare had a moderate grasp of Latin and Greek. A Latin edition of Plautus was made available by Dionysus Lambinus in 1576 so this might have been the original source for Shakespeare but not for George Gascoigne’s “Supposes” (published 1566; enacted 1567) from which evolved an idea for Taming of the Shrew. As I have previously pointed out George Gascoigne and John Lyly worked hand in glove with Edward de Vere so that it is not mere coincidence that Lyly’s “Mother Bombie” (1594) contains certain “Terentian” similarities, eg; the name of a servant named Dromio. A Comedy of Errors echoes some of George Gascoigne’s ideas in “Supposes” which has already been discussed in Part I of my book Shakespeare’s Qaballah. According to the academic J.M. Robertson this play is an evolution of a previous play entitled “The Historie of Error” enacted 1577 with traces of the authors Kyd, Marlowe or Greene. However, Shakespeare’s version is distinguished by the skilful and ingenious use of blank verse, quatrains, couplets, doggerel, and prose. Therefore an emerging Shakespeare was attempting to outshine and dazzle his contemporaries and make his mark as a dramatist and poet among an educated or enlightened audience.
Shakespeare also emulated the unusual plot or narrative adding another set of twins, master and servant from Amphitruo which made the text and performance even more complex and confusing for the actors and audience. For example, the names of the characters change from Merchant to Egeon, then Merchant of Syracuse or Father and the titles of Antipholus of Syracuse (Erotes) that of Antipholus of Ephesus as Antipholus (Surreptus) while the Dromio twins are differentiated elsewhere as E. Dromio and A. Dromio. This was the fifth play of the 1623 Folio, the first four prepared from the author’s original manuscripts with stage directions by Ralph Crane who was known to be a very methodical scribe. However, the text of Comedy of Errors contains several confusing abbreviations and errors that may be down to the work of two different compositors working from an original author’s manuscript. The name Erotes was employed by Shakespeare from the original Erraticus (meaning mad or eccentric), while the term Surreptus remained meaning “snatched or secreted away”. The general meaning of these names however is citizen and traveller (civis et advena).

The links to my publications on the Shakespeare Authorship Controversy; “Shakespeare’s Qaballah”, a Companion to Shakespeare Studies and my own anthology of poetry, “Parthenogenesis” are as follows:


Website: www.qudosacademy.org

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