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SHAKSPEARE might have taken the general plan of this comedy from a translation of the Menæchmi of Plautus, by W. W. i. e. (according to Wood) William Warner, in 1595, whose version of the acrostical argument hereafter quoted is as follows:
“ Two twinne borne sonnes a Sicill marchant had,
“ The first his father lost, a little lad;
“ This (growne a man) long travell took to seeke
" Where th' other dwelt inricht, and him so like, “ That citizens there take him for the same,
“Father, wife, neighbours, each mistaking either, “ Much pleasant error, ere they meet togither.” Perhaps the last of these lines suggested to Shakspeare the title for his piece.
See this translation of the Menæchmi, among six old Plays on which Shakspeare founded, &c. published by S. Leacroft, Charing
At the beginning of an address Ad Lectorem, prefixed to the errata of Decker's Satiromastix, &c. 1602, is the following passage, which apparently alludes to the title of the comedy before us:
“ In steed of the Trumpets sounding thrice before the play begin, it shall not be amisse (for him that will read) first to beholde this short Comedy of Errors, and where the greatest enter, to give them instead of a hisse, a gentle correction.” STEEVENS.
I suspect this and all other plays where much rhyme is used, and especially long hobbling verses, to have been among Shakspeare's more early productions. BLACKSTONE.
I am possibly singular in thinking that Shakspeare was not under the slightest obligation, in forming this comedy, to Warner's translation of the Menæchmi. The additions of Erotes and Sereptus, which do not occur in that translation, and he could never invent, are, alone, a sufficient inducement to believe that he was no way indebted to it. But a further and more convincing proof is, that he has not a name, line, or word, from the old play, nor any one incident but what must, of course, be common to every translation. Sir William Blackstone, I observe, suspects “ this and all other plays where much rhyme is used, and especially long hobbling verses, to have been among Shakspeare's more early productions.” But I much doubt whether any of these “ long hobbling verses” have the honour of proceeding from his pen: and, in fact, the superior elegance and harmony of his language is no less distinguishable in his earliest than his latest production. The truth is, if any inference can be drawn from the most striking dissimilarity of style, a tissue as different as silk and worsted, that this comedy, though boasting the embellishments of our author's genius, in additional words, lines
speeches, and scenes, was not originally his, but proceeded from some inferior playwright, who was capable of reading the Menæchmi without the help of a translation, or, at least, did not make use of Warner's. And this I take to have been the case, not only with the three Parts of King Henry VI. as I think a late editor (O si sic omnia!) has satisfactorily proved, but with The Two Gentlemen of Verona, Love's Labour's Lost, and King Richard II., in all which pieces Shakspeare's new work is as apparent as the brightest touches of Titian would be on the poorest performance of the veriest canvasspoiler that ever handled a brush. The originals of these plays, (except The Second and Third Parts of King Henry VI.) were never printed, and may be thought to have been put into his hands by the manager, for the purpose of alteration and improvement, which we find to have been an ordinary practice of the theatre in his time. We are therefore no longer to look upon the above "pleasant and fine conceited comedie," as entitled to a situation among the six plays on which Shakspeare founded his Measure for Measure,” &c. of which I should hope to see a new and improved edition. Ritson.
This comedy, I believe, was written in 1592. MALONE.
SOLINUS, Duke of Ephesus.
Ægeon and Æmilia, but
unknown to each other. DROMIO of Ephesus, Twin brothers, and attendants on DROMIO of Syracuse, S the two Antipholus's. BALTHAZAR, a Merchant. ANGELO, a Goldsmith. A Merchant, friend to Antipholus of Syracuse. PINCH, a Schoolmaster, and a Conjurer.
ÆMILIA, Wife to Ægeon, an Abbess at Ephesus.
COMEDY OF ERRORS.
SCENE I. - A Hall in the Duke's Palace.
Enter Duke, ÆGEON, Gaoler, Officers, and other
Duke. Merchant of Syracusa, plead no more;
+ "Syracusians," uniformly in Mr. Malone's edit.
Again, If any Syracusan born,
Duke. Well, Syracusan, say, in brief, the cause
Æge. A heavier task could not have been impos’d,
1 Was wrought by nature, not by vile offence,] All his hearers understood that the punishment he was about to undergo was in consequence of no private crime, but of the publick enmity between two states, to one of which he belonged: but it was a general superstition among the ancients, that every great and sudden misfortune was the vengeance of heaven pursuing men for their secret offences. Hence the sentiment put into the mouth of the speaker was proper. By my past life, (says he,) which I am going to relate, the world may understand, that my present death is according to the ordinary course of Providence, [wrought by nature, and not the effects of divine vengeance overtaking me for my crimes (not by vile offence.] WARBURTON.
The real meaning of this passage is much less abstruse than that which Warburton attributes to it. By nature is meant natural affection. Ægeon came to Ephesus in search of his son and tells his story, in order to show that his death was in consequence of natural affection for his child, not of any criminal intention. M. Mason.