Study Guide

The Comedy of Errors Genre

By William Shakespeare

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In addition to the title, The Comedy of Errors has all the elements of a Shakespearean comedy – there’s a conflict, some resolution, confusion is cleared up, families and lovers get reunited, and it’s also funny. Still, The Comedy of Errors is often dismissed as a farce, which is defined as a short work (and this is actually Shakespeare’s shortest) that is based on utterly unbelievable premises and solely designed to evoke laughter (as compared to bringing up deep, dramatic points or conflicts). Our vote is that this play is a comedy, not a farce, and Harold Bloom, Shakespeare scholar and professor, agrees with us. The Comedy of Errors may be based on some ridiculous principles, but so is A Midsummer Night's Dream, and practically everyone takes it seriously.

Our stance is that the entire Egeon subplot, if played correctly, elevates the whole play above a farce, and even makes the work a tragicomedy (literally a mixture of comic and tragic elements). Egeon’s plight is serious, but it avoids being melodramatic because of Egeon’s beautiful speech during what should be his death scene, when he thinks this son doesn’t recognize him. Egeon’s shadow falls over the whole play. His imminent execution has the special distinction of being the subject of the opening lines, and his release allows the whole resolution of the play to seem complete. His would-be tragedy puts the comic action of the play into perspective, balancing its light with darkness. His possible death allows Shakespeare to place something meaningful at stake in the play’s resolution. This meaningful conclusion (as opposed to just a random one that occurs pell-mell) is more in line with Shakespeare’s other comedies, and allows the work to conclude by threading together comic revelation with salvation from tragedy.

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