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`IRST printed in the folio of 1623. One of the twelve plays mentioned by Francis Meres in his Palladis Tamia, 1598. All are agreed in regarding it as among the Poet's earliest contributions to the stage; though it is somewhat uncertain whether, of the Comedies, The Two Gentlemen of Verona and the original form of Love's Labours Lost may not have preceded it. In the Gesta Grayorum, 1594, we have the following: "After such sports, a Comedy of Errors, like to Plautus's Menechmus, was played by the players: so that night was begun, and continued to the end, in nothing but confusion and errors; whereupon it was ever afterwards called The Night of Errors." This doubtless refers to the play in hand, and infers it to have been performed at Gray's-Inn in December, 1594. The date of the writing is further approximated from a curious piece of internal evidence. In iii. 2, Dromio of Syracuse, talking of the kitchen wench" who made love to him, and who was "spherical like globe," so that he could find out countries in her," in answer to the question, "Where France ?" replies, "In her forehead; arm'd and reverted, making war against her hair." Here of course an equivoque was intended between hair and heir, else there were no apparent point in the jest; and the reference clearly is to the War of the League against Henry of Navarre, who became heir to the crown of France in 1589. As this war was on account of Henry's being a Protestant, the English people took great interest in it; in fact, Queen Elizabeth sent several bodies of troops to aid him; so that the allusion would naturally be understood and relished. The war, however, continued several years, until at length Henry embraced the Roman Catholic religion at St. Denis, in July, 1593.

The general idea or plan of the piece is borrowed from the Menæchmi of Plautus, but the plot is entirely recast, and made much more diverting by the variety and quick succession of the incidents. To the twin brothers of Plautus are added twin servants; which, to be sure, greatly heightens the improbability; but, as Schlegel observes, "when once we have lent ourselves to the first, which certainly borders on the incredible, we should not probably be disposed to cavil about the second; and if the spectator is to be entertained with mere perplexities, they cannot be too much varied."

There has been considerable diversity of opinion as to the immediate source of the plot. Collier discovered that an old drama entitled The History of Error was acted at Hampton Court, January 1, 1577, and probably again at Windsor on Twelfth Night, 1583; and he conjectures the Poet to have taken this as the basis of his comedy, and to have interwoven parts of it with his own matter, especially the doggerel verses. The older play not having been recovered, nor any part of it, we have no means of either refuting or verifying this conjecture. — Another opinion supposes the Poet to have drawn from a free version of the Menæchmi published in 1595, as “A pleasant and fineconceited Comedy, taken out of the most excellent witty poet Plautus." This version, to be sure, did not come out till after The Comedy of Errors was written: but then Shakespeare may have seen it in manuscript; for in his preface the translator speaks of having "divers of this poet's comedies Englished, for the use and delight of private friends, who in Plautus's own words are not able to understand them." Nevertheless I am far from thinking this to have been the case; there being no such verbal or other resemblances between the two, as, in that case, could scarce have been avoided. The accurate Ritson ascertained that of this version not a single peculiar name or phrase or thought is to be traced in Shakespeare's comedy. On the whole, I cannot discover the slightest objection to supposing, along with Knight and Verplanck, that the Poet may have drawn directly from Plautus himself; the matter common to them both not being such but that it may well enough have been taken by one who had small Latin."

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First Merchant, Friend to Antipholus LUCE, Servant to Adriana.

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Enter the DUKE, GEON, Jailer, Officers, and other


Ege. Proceed, Solinus, to procure my fall,

And by the doom of death end woes and all.

Duke. Merchant of Syracusa, plead no more;

I am not partial to infringe1 our laws :

1 We should say, "I am not the party to infringe," or, "I'll take no part in infringing." So, in Measure for Measure, v. 1, we have "In this I'll be impartial"; meaning "I'll take no part in this."


The enmity and discord which of late

Sprung from the rancorous outrage of your Duke
To merchants, our well-dealing countrymen, -
Who, wanting guilders to redeem their lives,
Have seal'd his rigorous statutes with their bloods, —
Excludes all pity from our threatening looks.
For, since the mortal3 and intestine jars
'Twixt thy seditious countrymen and us,
It hath in solemn synods been decreed,
Both by the Syracusians and ourselves,
T' admit no traffic to our adverse towns:
Nay, more, if any born at Ephesus
Be seen at Syracusian marts and fairs;
Again, if any Syracusian born

Come to the bay of Ephesus, he dies,
His goods confiscate to the Duke's dispose ;4
Unless a thousand marks be levied,

To quit the penalty and ransom him.
Thy substance, valued at the highest rate,
Cannot amount unto a hundred marks;

Therefore by law thou art condemn'd to die.

Ege. Yet 'tis my comfort, when your words are done, My woes end likewise with the evening Sun.

Duke. Well, Syracusian, say, in brief, the cause

Why thou departed'st from thy native home,

2 Guelder is the name of a Flemish and of a German coin; the former equal to about thirty-eight cents of our reckoning, the latter to about eighty


3 Mortal is deadly or fatal. Commonly so in Shakespeare.

4 Dispose for disposal or disposition. The Poet has many such shortened forms. So, in iii. 1, of this play we have "within the compass of suspect"; that is, suspicion. — Confiscate, also, for confiscated. The Poet has many like shortened preterites, such as consecrate, dedicate, suffocate, situate, and contaminate.

5 To quit, here, is to set free from, or to release; much the same as to acquit. The Poet has it repeatedly so.

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