Study Guide

The Comedy of Errors Appearances

By William Shakespeare

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Appearances are the primary source of the comedy in The Comedy of Errors. Appearances can almost always be relied on to be false in this play – the twins (the Antipholi and the Dromios) are constantly being mistaken for each other, and though their actions and their temperaments differ, they are mostly identified by their appearance, which is a method prone to folly. It’s not only the twins’ physical appearance that matters in the play – Adriana worries that her beauty is waning, leading her husband to no longer care for her, and Egeon is convinced that his son won’t recognize him because he’s physically altered by his miserable state. The theme of appearances, however, extends to the appearance of a situation as well. The situation in Ephesus is so strange that it appears to be of supernatural origin. But what appears to be supernatural intervention is actually just confusion based on appearance (of the twins). Appearance is filtered through different means in the play, but it’s constantly a basis by which characters judge the people around them, and their own situations. The play reaches a resolution only when the characters realize that how things appear does not necessarily reflect on reality.

Questions About Appearances

  1. How does the appearance v. reality theme function in this play? The play seems to be based on the notion that reality is not always as it appears. Can any appearances be trusted in the play? Are any appearances deliberately misleading, or is everything just the consequence of misunderstandings?
  2. S. Antipholus goes looking for his brother, but when they get together (and throughout the course of the play) it seems the men don’t really have much in common. Is their identical appearance enough to sustain a relationship?
  3. For the play to be performed on stage, Dromio and the Antipholi must appear to be identical. What are some ways to deal with this difficulty?
  4. Adriana immediately faults her diminished appearance from age as the reason her husband might go philandering. Is appearance an important part of her marriage? Is it fair for Adriana to say her looks have been ruined by the usage of her husband? Does this issue get resolved in the play?

Chew on This

The characters in The Comedy of Errors use appearances as an excuse to not look harder for a more complex truth.

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