Generally believed to be Shakespeare's first comedy, The Comedy of Errors was first performed at the London Inns of Court in 1594, and has been unfairly dismissed as a piece of knockabout farce from Shakespeare's apprentice years. The play's action is very funny, especially in performance. Shipwrecked many years before the start of the play, Egeon of Syracuse searches vainly for his lost wife, one of his twin sons and one of their twin servants. Landing in Ephesus he falls foul of an obscure law condemning him to death unless he pays an enormous fine within 24 hours. The clock starts ticking and the action of the play begins to unfold. Egeon is not aware that his son Antipholus of Syracuse and his servant Dromio have also landed in Ephesus, but even worse, it soon becomes clear to the audience that Ephesus is also the home of the lost twin and servant, Antipholus and Dromio of Ephesus.
So begins the comedy of errors, as the pairs of twins are repeatedly and hilariously mistaken for each other, much to the consternation of their friends, creditors and lovers. Yet the play is also shot through with more serious issues. The sentence of death hangs over the father from the very beginning of the play, strange things happen to time as the play progresses, and the space of trade and the marketplace are never far away. The laughter of mistaken identity also gives way to more profound questions of identity, as when Antipholus of Syracuse says of himself that "I to the world am like a drop of water/That in the ocean seeks another drop." The Comedy of Errors is a much neglected play which is only now achieving the critical and theatrical attention it deserves. --Jerry Brotton [via]