Study Guide

The Comedy of Errors Rules and Order

By William Shakespeare

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Rules and Order

Law and order frame the action of the play. Rather than be the foundation for what happens in the play, law and order are significant because of their impotence. The play is about forces greater than law – family, identity, isolation and more are outside the bounds of what’s traditionally dealt with by the law. Law is present, but it is relatively powerless in the face of all the confusion of the play. The law can’t keep marriages together, or reunite families, and as those are the areas where justice needs to be served, the law is inapplicable, though it is present as a powerless force.

Questions About Rules and Order

  1. The Duke frames the play with his presence as the voice of order in the first and last scenes. Is the law, and it’s perceived ability to bestow order, supposed to organize the play? What does it mean that in both scenes the Duke doesn’t carry out the law to the full extent (when he refuses to kill Egeon)?
  2. Are law and order presented realistically or parodied in this play? Does Ephesus strike us as an orderly place, or is it dictated by rules of some other forces?
  3. How does justice relate to law and order in the play? Is there any suggestion that an ordered society is a just society? Is Ephesus, because of its disorder, a decidedly unjust society?
  4. E. Antipholus and Adriana both decide to appeal to the Duke in search of resolution, though he’ll satisfy neither of them ultimately. If the law is so constantly impotent, why do the characters bother deferring to its authority?

Chew on This

Law and order in Ephesus are notable for their impotence.

There is order in Ephesus, it just has nothing to do with the law. All the characters have their own way of ordering the world, and these individual rubrics aren’t codified.

The Comedy of Errors Rules and Order Study Group

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