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Royal Shakespeare Company, 1996

The Comedy of Errors

Synopsis and plot overview of Shakespeare's The Comedy of Errors

TL;DR (may contain spoilers): Antiphonus searches for his long lost identical twin brother, Antiphonus, while his servant, Dromio, searches for his long lost identical twin brother, Dromio. Shenanigans ensue.

The Comedy of Errors Summary

After both being separated from their twins in a shipwreck, Antipholus and his slave Dromio go to Ephesus to find them. The other set of twins lives in Ephesus, and the new arrivals cause a series of incidents of mistaken identity. At the end, the twins find each other and their parents and resolve all of the problems caused earlier.

More detail: 2 minute read

Act I

Duke Solinus, ruler of Ephesus, presides over the trial of Egeon of Syracuse. Syracusians are not allowed in Ephesus, so Egeon has been detained. When asked why he is now in Ephesus, Egeon explains how he is searching for his lost twin sons and their twin servants. 

Twenty three years before, Egeon had lost his wife and one of their identical twin sons (along with the boy's slave) in a storm at sea. Egeon had brought up the surviving boy and his slave. At eighteen, they had gone in search of their lost brothers. After no word from them, Egeon had also left home to seek news in Ephesus. Solinus is softened by the story and allows Egeon until sunset to try to raise 1,000 marks as a ransom or else he must die.

I to the world am like a drop of water that in the ocean seeks another drop

— Comedy of Errors, Act 1 Scene 2

Meanwhile, in a nearby marketplace, a merchant has befriended two tourists: Antipholus of Syracuse (Egeon's son) and his servant companion, Dromio. Learning of the ban on Syracusians, they put on local dress before going to explore the town. Unknown to them, their twin brothers (with identical names) have been living there after being saved from the storm by fishermen. 

Royal Shakespeare Company, 1996. The twins, in identical white T-shirts, long light-brown jackets, and black shorts face each other on a pavement in front of a building.
Comedy of Errors, RSC, 1996

Act II

Antipholus of Syracuse is very surprised to be accosted by Dromio of Ephesus. Dromio is angry that his master has not returned home to his wife, Adriana, for dinner. The likeness of the Dromio twins, and also the sons of Egeon, leads to a series of confusions. This is especially true when Antipholus of Syracuse dines with his sister-in-law and falls in love with her sister, Luciana. His servant, Dromio of Syracuse, refuses to open the door to anyone. He bars the door even when Antipholus of Ephesus returns home with his merchant friends. This exclusion enrages Antipholus of Ephesus and leads him to dine with his friend, the courtesan.

Am I in earth, in heaven, or in hell?

— Comedy of Errors, Act 2 Scene 2


A gold chain that Antipholus of Ephesus has ordered is delivered to Antipholus of Syracuse instead. The goldsmith’s claim for payment leads to the arrest of Antipholus of Ephesus and his servant. They refuse to pay for a chain that they did not receive. Adriana, fearing for her husband's sanity, gets the schoolmaster to exorcise him and Dromio (both of Ephesus). While they are under restraint, their Syracusian brothers cause panic in the town. The people think that the Ephesian brothers have somehow escaped. The Syracusian brothers, also frightened, take refuge in a priory or abbey.

Mask worn by one of the twins in ‘The Comedy of Errors’ in 1962. A floppy black hat covering head and neck frames  a white mask with small forehead, two large eye-sockets, a stubby nose and a moustache.
Mask worn by one of the twins in ‘The Comedy of Errors’, RSC, 1962

Act V

The sunset hour of Egeon's sentence is soon approaching. The Duke returns, but is stopped by Adriana, who appeals for aid for her husband. The Ephesian twins escape their bonds and arrive to claim justice. Egeon recognises them, or so he thinks, as the boys he brought up in Syracuse. Solinus, the Duke, sends for the Abbess, who appears with the second pair of twins. She further amazes everyone by recognising Egeon and revealing herself as Emilia, his long-lost wife. She had entered a religious order after surviving the storm and fearing that all her family had died.

O, grief hath changed me since you saw me last.

— Comedy of Errors, Act 5 Scene 1

When all have told their stories, Antipholus of Syracuse renews his attempts to woo his sister-in-law, Luciana. The Duke pardons Egeon, and everyone goes to celebrate with Emilia at the temple. The two Dromios joyfully leave the stage hand in hand.

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