The Comedy of Errors showcases Shakespeare’s mastery of comic theater. It is a farcical tale of two sets of identical twins being reunited after being separated as infants. The play begins as an aging merchant named Egeon is arrested for entering the city of Ephesus, because the city is in open conflict with Egeon’s home city of Syracuse. Because Egeon cannot afford the 1,000 marks fine, he is sentenced to death by Solinus, the Duke of Ephesus. Egeon then tells Solinus the tragic tale that brought him to the hostile city. He explains that he and his wife, Emilia, had identical twin sons. They named them both Antipholus and bought two identical slave boys, both named Dromio, to serve them. However, when they were still infants, a shipwreck separated the family. Egeon was rescued with one son and one servant and could only hope that the other son and servant survived with Emilia. When his Antipholus turned eighteen, he set out to search for his lost twin, and when he did not return, Egeon himself set out in search of them both. After many years of searching, he found himself in Ephesus where he was captured. Moved by Egeon’s tale, Solinus allows him a day in which to find the money for the fine.
By chance, Antipholus of Syracuse arrives in Ephesus that same day and askes his slave, Dromio, to deposit his purse of 1,000 marks at an inn. Dromio of Syracuse leaves but, almost immediately, Dromio of Ephesus enters and, believing that he is talking to Antipholus of Ephesus, asks Antipholus of Syracuse to come home to dinner where his wife is expecting him. Antipholus assumes that Dromio is his servant from Syracuse and beats him for being mischievous. Dromio of Ephesus runs from him and Antipholus assumes that his servant has stolen the 1,000 marks from him. When Dromio of Ephesus returns to home, he reports to Adriana, wife of Antipholus of Ephesus, that Antipholus beat him and denied being married to her. Adriana becomes upset, believing that this means that her husband is being unfaithful. Elsewhere, Dromio of Syracuse returns to Antipholus of Syracuse who accuses him of joking about marriage. Confused, Dromio denies this and Antipholus beats him. However, Adrianna enter with her sister Luciana and explains that she forgives Antipholus and only wants him to return to dine with her. Although they are confused and afraid, Antipholus of Syracuse and Dromio of Syracuse decide to play along and accompany Adriana to her home.
When Antipholus of Ephesus and his friends arrive at his house, Dromio of Syracuse refuses them entry. Antipholus of Ephesus is furiousand leaves to dine with a courtesan to spite his wife. Unaware of the events outside, Luciana tells Antipholus of Syracuse to be kinder to Adriana. However, Antipholus says that he does not care for Adriana but is deeply attracted to Luciana herself. Although she is flattered, Luciana believes the encounter to be immoral and quickly departs. Dromio of Syracuse then returns and says that he is also having troubles with women, having just learned that he is apparently married to an unattractive, greasy kitchen-maid named Nell. Concerned that witchcraft may be at work, the two men from Syracuse decide to take the first ship away from Ephesus. After Dromio leaves to arrange their travel, a goldsmith named Angelo arrives and, believing that Antipholus of Syracuse is actually Antipholus of Ephesus, tells him that he has brought the gold chain Antipholus ordered,promising to return to collect payment. Later, Antipholus of Ephesus sends Dromio of Ephesus off to buy a rope with which to flog his wife for turning him away. Angelo the goldsmith then asks Antipholus forpayment for the gold chain but Antipholus of Ephesus, of course, has not received the chain, and tells Angelo so. They argue and Antipholus is arrested for refusing to pay. Dromio of Syracuse then arrives and tells Antipholus that he has booked them passage on a ship, accidentally making it seem as if Antipholus was intending to flee without paying his debts. As he is led away, Antipholus of Ephesus tells Dromio of Syracuse to go to Adriana and get money to secure his bail, which he does. However, Dromio of Syracuse then mistakenly presents the money to Antipholus of Syracuse who gets increasingly confused. Antipholus of Ephesus’s courtesan then arrives and claims that Antipholus owes her a gold chain, which he allegedly promised to her. When Antipholus and Dromio run from her, she decides to tell Adriana that her husband is crazy.
Dromio of Ephesus returns to Antipholus of Ephesus with the flogging rope he requested but denies being asked to collect bail money. Enraged, Antipholus flogs him. Adriana and Luciana enter, along with the courtesan and a schoolmaster called Doctor Pinch who attempts to exorcise Antipholus. The attempt is unsuccessful but, when Adriana promises to clear her husband’s debts, Antipholus and Dromio of Ephesus are tied up and led away to her home. Almost immediately, however, Antipholus and Dromio of Syracuse enter armed with swords and everyone flees, thinking that Antipholus and Dromio of Ephesus have escaped and returned for vengeance. Later, Antipholus and Dromio of Syracuse seek refuge in a priory and are offered sanctuary by the Abbess.On his way to execute Egeon, the Duke of Ephesus enters and Adriana begs him to force the Abbess to let her take Antipholus. However, after a messenger announces that he has escaped, Antipholus of Ephesus himself enters and begs the Duke for help. Egeon sees him and believes he is Antipholus of Syracuse, come to save him, but Antipholus says he has never seen Egeon before. Finally, the Abbess enters with Antipholus and Dromio of Syracuse and events become clear. Both pairs of twins are reunited, the Abbess reveals that she is, in fact, Emilia, and the Duke pardons Egeon. The play ends with all the characters departing for a celebratory feast at the abbey.