Study Guide

The Comedy of Errors Identity

By William Shakespeare

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Much of The Comedy of Errors is about mistaken identity, and the search for true identity. The most significant identity search belongs to S. Antipholus, who feels incomplete for any number of reasons. He seeks to fill the void about who he is by getting a family, a wife, or returning to a familiar place, but ultimately it seems he’s seeking to be defined by things outside of himself. This is particularly dangerous because of the issue of mistaken identity. Characters in the play are so positive about the identity of others that they ignore all the hints pointing to how they’re mistaken. Interestingly, this habit of being mistaken leads some of the characters to question their notions of their own identity.

Questions About Identity

  1. Throughout the whole play, S. Antipholus struggles with his identity. When he finds Luciana, he pleads with her to create him anew, and to teach him about himself. Do you consider this a cop-out in the search for identity? Does it undermine all of the personal struggles S. Antipholus has had up to this point?
  2. What are the most important factors in how characters identify themselves in this play? Do we get the sense that everyone besides S. Antipholus is sure of their personal identities? Does anyone question who they are as a result of all the confusion surrounding identity?
  3. Are the women in the play realistic characters? How do they define themselves? Is it fair to say their identity is discussed (even among themselves) only in relation to the men of the play? Do the women consider themselves as important beyond these relationships?

Chew on This

How others identify each character is as important as how each character identifies himself. For instance, S. Antipholus’s and E. Antipholus’s self-perceptions are ultimately less important than the way other characters perceive them.

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