Comedy of Errors Shakespeare’s Sources

By Jessika Flores

        Shakespeare’s play Comedy of Errors may be one of his most unique plays. Though seemingly original, Shakespeare drew heavy influence for this play from a playwritten anywhere from 50 to 86 years prior to Shakespeare’s play, called the The Menaechmi. Amongst the play The Menaechmi, many scholars speculated that Shakespeare gathered influence for this play from the Bible. Though this play might not be his most original piece of work, Shakespeare certainly did make it memorable.


       Comedy of Errors, Shakespeare gathered his influence from the ancient Roman dramatist named Plautus. Plautus wrote a play in the sixteenth century called The Menaechmi. The Menaechmi was originally written in Latin, and basically held the same storyline as Shakespeare’s Comedy of Errors.

In the play The Menaechmi there are set of identical twins, the sons of a wealthy merchant from Syracuse. The play begins with one of the twin boys being lost as a child while the other remains with his father and is given the fathers name in his memory. As an adult, the remaining twin goes off in search of his brother and, after lots of confusions and mistaken identity, the brothers eventually find each other and the play ends happily ever after.

       The Menaechmi is undeniably the base of Shakespeare’s play, but Shakespeare did put quite a spin on his rendition making it so loved and memorable. In the originally play there was only one set of twins, who were the heroes, but Shakespeare chose to add a second pair of twins (the Dromios), in order to add even more confusion and complication to his play. Shakespeare also kept many of the characters from the initial play, but renamed them. Not only were some of the characters renamed, but some were given different sexual identities: for example, Luciana replaced the character Senex who appeared in Plautus’ play. By changing the sex of Senex to a female, Shakespeare was able to work in some romantic or sexually suggestive rhymed versus.

It is also said that Shakespeare drew influence for this play from the Bible. St Paul’s Epistle to the Ephesians was full of advice on relationships and behavior. The focus of St Paul’s Epistle to the Ephesians was fixed primarily on behaviors between man and wife, and master slave relationships.

Shakespeare’s whole play essentially revolved around the relationship between man and wife as well as master slave. Shakespeare was attempting to convey St Paul’s messages on relationships by providing positive relationships on how man should treat his wife and slaves; something that is actually frequently visited by Shakespeare in his plays. Though there was some beating of the slaves, the Antipholus’ never treated the slaves badly and both the Dromios’ and the Antipholus’ remained dutiful throughout the play.

It is no secret that Shakespeare would draw inspiration of other plays. Though this storyline may not be a Shakespeare original, the spins and twists he added to it, undoubtedly make it memorable and unique. Shakespeare’s ability to provide humor while conveying a biblical message is incredible, and is part of what makes this play his.


Works Cited:

Mabillard, Amanda. “Shakespeare’s sources for the comedy of errors.” shakespeare online. 1999. Web. 26 Dec. 2016.