Comedy of Errors Study Guide

Comedy of Errors Study Guide

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One of the earliest comedies of William Shakespeare, “The Comedy of Errors” lacks the depth of the plotline that defines his later works, but it is still incredibly funny. The author makes use of the slapstick humour and mistaken identities, but also adds his trademark wordplay and the comedy of puns, generously provided by the servants and other people of low origin that serve as comic relief even in a comedy.

The plot features two twins divided at birth and their two identical slaves (the action takes place in ancient Greece, so the servants theme exploited by Shakespeare often later is adjusted accordingly), who go search for each other, but unknowingly end up in each other’s shoes, creating lots of mistakes. They - or at least one of them, the resident of the city the story happens in - are declared insane and the things can become ugly when the authorities get involved. But, as it happens in the comedies, the sudden deus ex machina event reunites the family and lets the twins, their slaves and their parents live happily ever after.

This play is one of the two that Shakespeare wrote accordingly to the standards given to the playwrights by Aristotle himself centuries ago. This was incredibly important at that time, because the play was often valued by the critics only if it could fit these standards. So, despite being one of the first and not the brightest works of the Bard, this play can be read to understand what a “classical comedy” of that time should be. The mastery of word that defines Shakespeare shines here in full extent, and we can see the first usage of his trademark plot turns that will develop and flourish in his later comedies such as “The Twelfth Night” or “The Two Gentlemen of Verona”.

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