[Source:The Comedy of Errors Picture Gallery at Absolute Shakespeare]
Quoted from The SparkNotes
The Comedy of Errors is generally assumed to be one of Shakespeare's early plays, (perhaps even his very first) and its emphasis on slapstick over verbal humor (in contrast with later comedies) has led many critics to term it an "apprentice comedy." The exact date of composition is unknown: It was first performed on December 28, 1594, at the Gray's Inn Christmas Revels, to an audience that would have been largely composed of lawyers and law students. Attempts have been made to date it by references to historical events mentioned in the text (notably in Act III Scene ii, when Dromio describes the fearsome Nell/Luce with references to European politics and geography), but the references are so vague that any exact dating amounts to guesswork.
As with many of his plays, Shakespeare drew on classical sources for the plot of The Comedy of Errors. The bare bones of the story are drawn from the Roman comedy Menaechmi, written by the ancient dramatist Plautus (c.254- 184 B.C.); Shakespeare might have read the play either in the original Latin or in an English translation that was published in 1594 but may have circulated in manuscript form before that year. In any case, the English playwright made a number of changes to the original story, including the addition of a second set of identical twins (the Dromios), the expansion of Adriana's character and the creation of her sister, Luciana, and, finally, the creation of the back-story involving Egeon and Emilia. The play also draws on a number of other sources-- the lock-out scene, where Antipholus of Ephesus is locked out of his home for dinner, resembles a scene in another Plautine work, Amphitruo, in which a master is kept out of his own house while the God Jupiter impersonates him. The general tone of Comedy is drawn from Italian comedy of the period, the shrewish wife is a characteristic figure in English comedy, and a number of the ideas about marriage are drawn from early humanists like Erasmus of Rotterdam. The play has always been very popular with audiences, if somewhat less so with critics, and in this century, the plot was borrowed by Rodgers and Hart for their musical, The Boys from Syracuse.
Short Summary, Quoated from Bibliomania:
The Comedy of Errors may have been written as early as 1590 and was performed at Gray's Inn in 1594. It was published in the First Folio of 1623 and is Shakespeare's shortest play. It also follows the neo-classical unities of time, place and action. The play on which it is based is Plautus's Menaechmi, although he adds a number of new elements such as a new pair of twins both named Dromio. Egeon has been arrested in Ephesus and, being an enemy of the state as a Syracusan merchant, he is forced by the duke to explain his presence. We find out that Egeon and his wife Emilia had twin sons who were exactly identical and were both named Antipholus. The twin slaves called Dromio were employed to look after them. A shipwreck had separated one Dromio, the elder Antipholus and Emila from Egeon and the others. Now Egeon has lost his remaining son and Dromio for five years since they went to look for their twins. While Egeus is forced to find the ransom before evening to avoid being put to death for being in Ephesus all the twins by accident have converged on Ephesus (the elder Antipholus is married there). As such the comedy of errors ensues with the wrong twins meeting and variously falling in love, escaping to convents and being confined as madmen. Inevitably for a Shakespearean comedy there comes resolution and everyone is saved, married or rescued.
Comedy of Errors - Study Guide [Quoted from HERE]
Comedy of Errors was one of Shakespeare's earliest plays. We can't be sure of the date of its composition or of its first performance, but it was played at Gray's Inn (one of the London law schools) on 28 December, 1594. It was not printed until 1623, when it appears among the Comedies in the so-called first Folio. The play is modeled on a Roman comedy, the Menaechmi, by Plautus, which, as it wasn't translated into English until 1595, Shakespeare presumably read in Latin.
1. Plautus sets the action of his play in Epidamnum; Shakespeare sets his farce in Ephesus. Why might Shakespeare have relocated the action? What might Ephesus suggested to a Renaissance audience? What would the major source of this knowledge be?
2. Plautus's play has one set of twins (he writes another play, the Amphitruo, which has identical twin slaves). Shakespeare gives us two sets of twins, each identical even in name. What does this do beyond merely multiplying the opportunities for confusion?
3. In a sense this is a "city comedy". the urban setting and commercial culture are part of its plot. How does this setting affect the play? (Unlike many of the other comedies, here there is no alternative or "green" world for characters to flee to.)
4. Egeon's opening speech is a disturbing tale of loss and danger; how does the genuine threat to his life affect the audience's experience of the play's hilarity (It IS funny). How does his experience provide a context for understanding the notion of comedy at work here?
5. Think about the language of dissolution. Look, for example, at 1.2.35-8. Clearly what amuses the audience unnerves the characters.
6. Think about the play's various women. Compare Luciana and Adriana - and think paticularly about their attitudes towards marriage.
7. What do you make of the Abbess at the end. What values does she give voice to? his is one of only two places in Shakespeare where he withholds from the audience some crucial aspect of the plot. What does that do?
8. Social inequities are given voice throughout the play - a husband, for example,may be "master of his liberty" (2.1.7), a wife must "practise to obey" (2.1. 29), or the Dromios who are somehow born into service. What does the comedy suggest about the social order and what does the social order suggest about comedy)?
9. In what ways is Comedy of Errors like the later comedies? How does it differ? Think especially about what the inhibition is to the happy ending that is finally achieved.
On-line essays IPL Online Literary Criticism Collection University Theatre Study Guide, University of Maryland A Critical Essay ClassicNotes: The Comedy of Errors Analysis of the Play