The Comedy of Errors Themes
By: Christina Caravelli
William Shakespeare’s play The Comedy of Errors, explores the main theme of identity through two sets of twin brothers, Antipholus of Ephesus, Antipholus of Syracuse, and their servants, the Dromio twins. As one can imagine, much chaos ensues as a result of the misidentifications that occur throughout this play. While the theme of identity is a main force behind the plot, the wackiness that follows is also a driving force in this play. The theme of losing and finding oneself goes hand in hand with the comedic mistakes as well as coincidences that occur throughout the play.
Much of The Comedy of Errors is about mistaken identity and the search for true identity. This theme of identity goes hand in hand with the concept of the differences in appearance and reality. When the two sets of twins show up in Ephesus, what appears to be true is usually false and the mistaken identities produce a comedy of errors –hence the title. Nearly all of the comedic mistakes that drive the plot of The Comedy of Errors result from the confusion and mistaken identities of Antipholus and Dromio of Ephesus, and Antipholus and Dromio of Syracuse. Additionally, the fact that these two sets of twins have the same names creates even more confusion between who is really who. Each one is constantly mixed up with his twin because they have the same physical appearance. However, they act very differently, which makes it seem like they have gone completely mad. This causes both of their identities to be shaken up and they both begin to lose their sense of self. This loss of identity is particularly conveyed through Antipholus of Ephesus because he begins to lose all the elements that make up his life such as his wife, home, gold, and reputation.
On the other hand, Antipholus of Syracuse feels that he lost a part of him when he was separated from his twin and is hoping to complete himself and identity by finding him. Antipholus of Syracuse has the most significant search for identity because he is trying to fill a hole in his life by finding his family and home. However, in his quest to find himself he beings to be defined by things outside of him. This occurs because the characters that surround him are so sure about his identity even though it is incorrect. This issue of being mistaken for someone else leads Antipholus to questions the notions of his own identity and self. Because of this, it seems that character identities seemed to be formed more by how they are treated and perceived by others rather than by whom they really are. This is shown through Antipholus of Syracuse becoming Antipholus of Ephesus for a brief time because that is how other characters treat him and how others identify him. It is only when characters identities are truly recognized by others that they become the true versions of themselves. Thus, identity in this play is determined by where one is from, what one does and how other people portray an individual.
This theme of identity causes much confusion and is an essential reason to why the play is titled The Comedy of Errors. However, this is largely related to the theme of mistakes and coincidences in the play. In other words, the play is a comedy for the sake of comedy. It is filled with wackiness and humorous mistakes as well as errors. From mistaken identities to mixed-up objects and misinterpreted puns, this play is a comedy through and through. Additionally, the witty banter created by the Dromios’ adds comedic elements as well. Although at times these mix-ups and mistakes can be seen as frustrating and confusing, it is precisely these errors that drive the plot of the play.
Despite these somewhat negative errors, the play ultimately ends with a happy ending. However, before we can come to a happy ending, all the mistakes and errors must occur. These issues make the comedy interesting and engaging. In the end, all the problems that have been caused can be solved. These mistakes also play on coincidences, which are also a driving factor in the plot. It is coincidental that all these characters end up in the same city and are running in the same social circle. All of the coincidences that occur are somewhat baffling and have no adequate explanation. These inexplicable outcomes and behaviors seem to be fate and characters often turn to the supernatural for explanations. Often times, the characters blame witchcraft and spells for the behavior that is occurring. However, in reality, the explanation for these strange occurrences is really due to one big error of mistaken identity. While characters initially try to blame all of the mishaps on supernatural occurrences that cannot be explained, in reality, the misidentifications are simply due to coincidences as human errors.
Overall, the plot of Shakespeare’s play The Comedy of Errors, is driven by two main themes: identity and the element of comedy within mistakes. In a way, Shakespeare takes elements of real life that would otherwise cause much distain and creates a comedy for the sake of comedy. Although the separation of family and search of self seems tragic, Shakespeare adds comedic aspects that ultimately lead to a happy ending.
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Norton, 1997, pp. 745-798.