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This drama was scarcely known on the stage for the last century, till Mr. Hull, in 1779, then deputy manager of Covent Garden theatre, curtailed, and made other judicious alterations and arrangements, by which it was rendered attractive for some nights, and afterwards placed upon the list of plays that are generally performed during every season.
In representing the pair of twin brothers on the stage, their dress is the chief part of their likeness one to the other. Thus, representation gives an additional improbability; yet it is necessary that the audience should not see with the supposed eyes of the persons of the drama, for, unless the audience could distinguish one brother, from another, which their companions on the stage pretend not to do, the audience themselves would be dupes to the similarity of appearance, instead of laughing at the dupes engaged in the scene.
In most of the old comedies, there is seemingly a great deal of humour designed in the beating of servants :-this is a resource for mirth, of which modern authors are deprived, because the custom is abolished, except in the West Indies; and, even there, not considered of humorous tendency. As far as the usage was ever known to produce comic effect, this play may boast of being comical.
It is suggested by a critic, that the following lines, being a translation from Plautus, in 1595, might have given to Shakspeare the general plan upon which be founded this drama.
"Two twinne borne sonnes a Sicell merchant had, "Menechmus one, and Sosicles the other; "The first his father lost, a little lad;
"The grandsire namde the latter like his brother: "This (growne a man) long travell took to seeke "His brother, and to Epidamnum came, "Where th' other dwelt inricht, and him so like, "That citizens there take him for the same: "Father, wife, neighbours, each mistaking either, "Much pleasant error, ere they meet togither."
COMEDY OF ERRORS.
ACT THE FIRST.
DUKE, ÆGEON, Two OFFICERS, GAOLER, FOUR
Duke. Merchant of Syracuse, plead no more.