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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, "Menechmus one, and Sosicles the other;
"The first his father lost, a little lad;
The grandsire namde the latter like his brother :
"Where th'other dwelt inricht, and him so like,
"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 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 canvass-spoiler 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.
ANTIPHOLUS of Ephesus, Twin brothers, and sons to ANTIPHOLUS of Syracuse,
Egeon and Emilia, but unknown to each other.
DROMIO of Ephesus, Twin brothers, and attendants on
BALTHAZAR, a Merchant.
A Merchant, Friend to Antipholus of Syracuse.
EMILIA, Wife to Egeon, an Abbess at Ephesus.
LUCE, her Servant.
Gaoler, Officers, and other Attendants.