Study Guide

The Comedy of Errors What’s Up With the Title?

By William Shakespeare

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What’s Up With the Title?

Though it is one of many comedies Shakespeare wrote, The Comedy of Errors is Shakespeare’s only play that has "comedy" explicitly in the title. Interestingly, the conceits of this play are so many and so improbable that it’s often argued to be a farce rather than a true comedy. In a normal comedy, the plot and situations are usually a stretch, but rarely utterly unbelievable. A farce, on the other hand, is simply meant to inspire laughter, and its premises are completely absurd. The plot line for The Comedy of Errors revolves around two sets of identical twin boys, both born at the same hour, separated for more than two decades, and coincidentally meet at the same place, on the same day. To make the situation even more unbelievable, the site of the serendipitous reunion happens to be the same location of their missing mother and father (who have also been separated from each other).

While The Comedy of Errors seems to have all the elements of a farce, Shakespeare asserts that it is a more serious play by deliberately putting "comedy" in the title. Shakespeare’s insistence that it’s actually a comedic work demands that we read it with greater scrutiny. Like many of his comedies, deeper issues (death, loss, isolation, etc.) are addressed alongside the slapstick antics and hi-jinks of misunderstanding. Therefore, this play’s title is simultaneously an admission and an invitation: Shakespeare knows he’d put together a silly piece, but he’s also challenging the viewer or reader of the play to be looking out for deep issues and dangerous problems.

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