Dramatic Tension between Illusion and Reality in “Comedy of Errors”

DramaticTension between Illusion and Reality in “Comedy of Errors”

“Comedyof errors” is among the early plays by William Shakespeare. It isan absurd comedy where the major humorous part comes from the farceand mistaken identities. The play, “Comedy of errors” presents astory of two sets of identical twins mistakably separated at birth.Antipholus of Syracuse and Dromio of Syracuse, his servant, visitEphesus which coincidently is the home their twin brothers,Antipholus of Ephesus and Dromio of Ephesus. The Syracusians meettheir twins’ families and friends a series of wild mishaps ensuesfrom the mistaken identities. The play ends happily as the familiesrecognize each other. Below is the dramatic twist of the events as aresult of the tension between illusion and reality in the play.

Thereis a certain Syracusian merchant known as Egeon searching for hislost wife and their twin sons in Ephesus who disappeared during astorm in the sea. He is arrested and tried for entering Ephesus. Thisis because as at that time, it was illegal and forbidden by the lawfor Syracusian to enter the town of Ephesus (Walter, 15). The dukeempathizes with him after listening to his story and is willing togive him a day to raise the fine imposed on him or else death penaltywould be executed. Coincidentally, one of his sons Antipholus ofSyracuse is also visiting the town in search of his brother. In themeantime, the merchant has befriended two tourists,( unknown to himit is one of the sons he is looking for) in a nearby market known asAntipholus of Syracuse together with his companion and servant Dromioof Syracuse. They learn on the ban imposed on Syracusians and thetourists take on the local dress and begin exploration of the town.Unknowingly to them, the same town has hosted their mother and twinbrothers after they were rescued by different fishermen during thestorm.

Antipholusof Syracuse finds it surprising for Dromio of Ephesus to approach himaggressively out of anger that the master had not returned to havedinner with his wife as it has been the custom (Kinney, 45). There isgreat resemblance of the Dromio twins as well as between the sons ofEgeon leading to a series of confusions to an extent wherebyAntipholus of Syracuse shares dinner with his sister in law. This isafter his sister in law mistakes him for his husband. Dromio ofSyracuse is ordered by Adriana to keep guard and allow no one inside.He prevents Antipholus of Ephesus, his servant, and their merchantfriends from entering their own home. Antipholus of Ephesus is thusforced to resort to the tavern. In the house, Antipholus of Syracuseis falling in love with Adriana’s sister by the name Luciana(Kinney, 78). Luciana on the other hand thinks that he is his brotherin law and finds it surprising on the way he behaves.

Confusiondoes not end at that point. There is more confusion when a chainordered by Antipholus of Ephesus is instead delivered to Antipholusof Syracuse. The Ephesian Antipholus refuses to pay for the chainbecause he never received it in the first place and this lead to hisarrest on the claim of unpaid debt. His wife after observing hisstrange behavior concludes he has gone insane and orders he be heldand constrained in a cellar room (Walters, 52). In the meantime,Antipholus of Syracuse and his servant Dromio of Syracuse plan toflee the city, which they believe is full of charm, in the shortesttime possible. They are however threatened by Adriana and the debtofficer who mistake them for Ephesian Antipholus and Dromio and areforced to seek shield in a nearby abbey.

Adrianastill confuses Antipholus of Syracuse for her husband. She pleadswith the Duke for his intervention to have her husband rescued fromthe abbey and brought back to her custody. In the meantime, her realhusband has broken loose and also goes to the Duke to level chargesagainst Adriana, his wife for being unfaithful (Kinney, 102). On theother hand, it is the sunset hour for the sentence of Egeon. Onarrival for the case, the Duke is stopped by Adriana who is pleadingfor help on her husband who has been his friend from the past.Finally, Abbess who happens to be Emilia resolves the case bybringing out the set of twins and identifies herself as Egeon’slong lost wife. Ephesian Antipholus reunites and reconciles with herwife, Adriana, whereas Egeon is forgiven by the Duke and set free andthus reunites with his wife too. Antipholus of Syracuse on the otherhand continues with his romantic pursuit for Luciana and the Dromioscan be seen embracing. The play ends happily as they all exit theabbey to celebrate the re unions.

Inthe above summary of the play “Comedy of Errors”, there existsdramatic tension between illusion and reality. The play begins with alot of illusion. To begin with, Syracusians are forbidden fromentering or visiting the neighboring town of Ephesus yet there areSyracusians living and enjoying freedom in the same town. Emilia is aSyracuse living and practicing religion in Ephesus. Antipholus ofEphesus and Dromio of Ephesus too, are Syracusians living in Ephesusafter they were brought in by fishermen who rescued them during astorm in the sea (Walters, 68). Ironically, nobody knows they areSyracusians. Antipholus of Syracuse and Dromio of Syracuse arevisiting the town and they do not have the slightest idea that it isillegal for them to be in the town. They only realize after they meetand befriend Egeon who is facing death sentence or fine for enteringthe town yet he is from Syracuse. This however, does not prevent themfrom their desire to explore the town and accomplish their mission.After learning of the consequences befalling them, they dress up likethe people of Ephesus and continue with their exploration.

Theillusion is far and wide spread in the play. Adriana, the wife ofAntipholus of Ephesus mistakes Antipholus of Syracuse for his husbandand dines with him. Antipholus of Syracuse is aware that he is notthe husband and begins romantic advances to Adriana’s sister whofinds it as a surprising behavior from his brother in law. On thehand, there is dramatic illusion as Antipholus of Ephesus arrives athis home with his servant and friends but they are denied entry.Antipholus of Syracuse is again mistaken for Ephesian Antipholus andhanded a gold chain ordered by the latter. The debtor comes tocollect the debt and Ephesian Antipholus declines paying because inreality he did not receive any chain and ends up in prison for acrime he did not commit. Adriana, his wife, is busy pleading for therescue of Antipholus of Syracuse hiding in a nearby abbey on thebelief that he is her husband. Ephesian Antipholus is on the otherhand growing wild from the actions of his wife and files a petitionagainst her. All these occasions present illusions in the play.

Thedramatic tension comes in from the fact that these happenings are anillusion and the audience is curios to observe what happens once thecharacter get to know the truth. There are expectations in the mindof the audience on what will happen once these illusions areunfolded. Dramatic reality checks in when Emilia identifies andrecognizes her sons. She brings the twins forth and identifiesherself as the wife to Egeon and Antipholus of Ephesus and Syracuseare their twins who had disappeared during a storm in the sea. TheDrimios are also in reality the other set of twins who had gottenlost.


Theplay “Comedy of errors” is written in the context of dramaticillusion and reality. The illusions versus the reality sets intension mood for the audience in the anticipation of the outcome oncethe reality is set forth. There is wide confusion as a result ofillusion. Antipholus’ are confused by the wife, sister in law andthe goldsmith. This results in wild mishaps from the mistakenidentities, arrest of Ephesian Antipholus, and wrong accusations ofunfaithfulness, insanity, and theft case. It is however a happyending for the play as the reality checks in and they are in aposition to identify each other in the right way and there iscelebrations as the families reunite once again.


Kinney,Arthur. AModern Perspective on the Comedy of Errors. Washington:Washington Square Press, 1996. Print.

Walters,Charles. Introductionto the Comedy of Errors. Oxford:Oxford University Press, 2002. Print.

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