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“ The Comedie of Errors ” was first printed in the folio of 1623, where it occupies sixteen pages, viz. from p. 85 to p. 100 inclusive, in the division of “ Comedies.” It was reprinted in the three subsequent impressions of the same volume.

INTRODUCTION.

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We have distinct evidence of the existence of an old play called “ The Historie of Error," acted at Hampton Court on year's night, 1576-7. The same play, in all probability, was repeated at Windsor on twelfth-night, 1582-3, though, in the accounts of the Master of the Revels, it is called “ The Historie of

Ferrar.” Boswell (Mal. Shakesp. iii. 406) not very happily conjectured, that this “ Historie of Ferrar” was some piece by George Ferrers, as if it had been named after its author, who had been dead several years: the fact, no doubt, is, that the clerk, who prepared the account, merely wrote the title by his ear, and put down “ of Ferrar" instead of “of Error.” Thus we see that, shortly before Shakespeare is supposed to have come to London, a play was in course of performance upon which his own * Comedy of Errors ” might have been founded. “The Historie of Error” was, probably, an early adaptation of the Menachmi of Plautus, of which a free translation was published in 1595, under the following title:

“A pleasant and fine Conceited Comædie, taken out of the most excellent wittie Poet Plautus: Chosen purposely from out the rest, as least harmefull, and yet most delightfull. Written in English by W. W.-London Printed by Tho. Creede, and are to be sold by William Barley, at his shop in Gratious streete. 1595.” 4to.

The title-page, therefore, does not (as we might be led to suppose from Steevens's reprint in the “Six Old Plays ") mention the Menæchmi by name, but we learn it from the argument of the piece itself, which begins thus :

“ Two twin-borne sonnes a Sicill marchant had,

Menechmus one, and Socicles the other."-Sign. A 3 b. Ritson was of opinion, " that Shakespeare was not under the slightest obligation ” to the translation of the Menachmi, by W. W., supposed, by Ant. Wood (Ath. Oxon. by Bliss, i. 766), to be W. Warner; and most likely Ritson was right, not from want of resemblance, but because “ The Comedy of Errors” was, in all probability, anterior in point of date, and because Shakespeare may have availed himself of the old drama which, as already noticed, was performed at court in 1576-7, and in 1582-3. That court-drama, we may infer, had its origin in Plautus ; and it was, perhaps, the popularity of Shakespeare's “ Comedy of Errors" which induced Creede to print W. W.'s version of the Menæchmi in 1595. There are various points of likeness between this version and Shakespeare's “Comedy of Errors; but those points we may suppose to have been derived intermediately, through the courtdrama, and not directly from Plautus'. Sir W. Blackstone entertained the belief, from the “long hobbling verses” in “ The Comedy of Errors," that it was “among Shakespeare's more early productions:" this is plausible; but we imagine, from their general dissimilarity to the style of our great dramatist, that these “ long hobbling verses” formed a portion of the old court-drama, of which Shakespeare made as much use as answered his purpose: they are quite in the style of plays anterior to the time of Shakespeare, and it is easy, we think, to distinguish such portions of the comedy as he must have written.

The earliest notice we have of “The Comedy of Errors," is by Meres, in his Palladis Tamia, 1598, where he gives it to Shakespeare under the name of “Errors ?." How much before that time it had been written and produced on the stage, we can only speculate. Malone refers to a part of the dialogue in Act iii. sc. 2, where Dromio of Syracuse is conversing with his master about the “kitchen wench” who insisted upon making love to him, and who was so fat and round—“spherical like a globe”—that Dromio “could find out countries in her:"— “ Ant. S. Where France ?

Dro. S. In her forehead; arm'd and reverted, making war against her heir." It is supposed that an equivoque was intended on the word "heir” (which is printed in the folio of 1623" heire," at that period an unusual way of spelling "hair"), and that Shakespeare alluded to the civil war in France, which began in the middle of 1589, and did not terminate until the close of 1593. This notion seems well-founded, for otherwise there would be no joke in the reply; and it accords pretty exactly with the time when we may believe “ The Comedy of Errors ” to have been written. But here we have a range of four years and a half, and we can arrive at no nearer approximation to a precise date. As a mere conjecture it may be stated, that Shakespeare would not have inserted the allusion to the hostility between France and her " heir," after the war

1 In Act I. and Act II. of “ The Comedy of Errors," in the folio of 1623, An. tipholus of Syracuse is twice called Erotes and Errotis, which is conjectured to be a corruption of erraticus. Autipholus of Ephesus, in the same way, is once called Sereptus (misprinted, perhaps, for surreptus); but in the last three acts they are distinguished as “Antipholus of Syracusia," and " Antipholus of Ephesus.” The epithets of erraticus and surreptus were not obtained by Shakespeare from W. W., but probably from the old court-drama.

2 The list supplied by Meres is of twelve plays; and, if any thing is to be gathered from the circumstance, he places “Errors” second, “ Gentlemen of Verona " alone coming before it.

had been so long carried on, that interest in, or attention to it in this country would have been relaxed.

Another question by Antipholus, and the answer of Dromio, immediately preceding what is above quoted, are remarkable on a different account:

Ant. S. Where Scotland ?

Dro. S. I found it by the barrenness; hard, in the palm of the hand.”

"From this passage," says Malone) “we may learn that this comedy was not revived after the accession of the Scottish monarch to the English throne; otherwise it would probably have been struck out by the Master of the Revels.” However, we are now certain (a fact till lately unknown), that “ The Comedy of Errors” was represented at Whitehall on the 28th December, 1604. In the account of the Master of the Revels of the expenses of his department, from the end of Oct. 1604, to Shrove Tuesday, 1605, preserved in the Audit Office, we read the subsequent entry :

“By his Matis Plaiers. On Inosents Night, the Plaie of Errors,” the name of Shaxberd, for Shakespeare, being inserted in the margin as “the Poet which mayd the Plaie :." “ The Comedy of Errors" was, therefore, not only “revived," but represented at court very soon after James I. came to the crown: we may be confident, however, that the question and answer respecting Scotland were not repeated on the occasion, though retained in the MS. used by the actor-editors for the folio of 1623.

In his Lectures on Shakespeare in 1811 and 1818, Coleridge passed over “ The Comedy of Errors ” without any particular or separate observation; but in his “Literary Remains” we find it twice mentioned (Vol. ii. 90 and 114), in much the same terms. “Shakespeare,” he observes," has in this piece presented us with a legitimate farce, in exactest consonance with the philosophical principles and character of farce, as distinguished from comedy and entertainments. A proper farce is mainly distinguished from comedy by the licence allowed, and even required, in the fable, in order to produce strange and laughable situations. The story need not be probable; it is enough that it is possible. A comedy would scarcely allow even the two Antipholuses ; because, although there have been instances of almost undistinguishable likeness in two persons, yet these are mere individual accidents, casus ludentis nature, and the verum will not excuse the inverisimile. But farce dares add the two Dromios, and is justified in so doing by the laws of its end and constitution.”

3 “Extracts from the Accounts of the Revels at Court,” by Peter Cunningham, Esq. (published by the Shakespeare Society in 1842), p. 224.

DRAMATIS PERSONÆ'.

SOLINUS, Duke of Ephesus.
ÆGEON, a Merchant of Syracuse.
ANTIPHOLUS of Ephesus, | Twin Brothers, Sons to Ageon
ANTIPHOLUS of Syracuse, and Æmilia.
DROMIO of Ephesus, Twin Brothers, Attendants on the two
DROMIO of Syracuse, Antipholuses.
BALTHAZAR, a Merchant.
ANGELO, a Goldsmith.
A Merchant, Friend to Antipholus of Syracuse.
PINCH, a Schoolmaster.

ÆMILIA, Wife to Ægeon.
ADRIANA, Wife to Antipholus of Ephesus.
LUCIANA, her Sister.
LUCE, Servant to Adriana.
A Courtezan.

Jailor, Officers, and other Attendants.

SCENE, Ephesus.

1

| This enumeration of the persons was first inserted by Rowe.

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