Skip to main content
The Comedy of Errors /

An Introduction to This Text: The Comedy of Errors

By Barbara Mowat and Paul Werstine
Editors of the Folger Shakespeare Library Editions

The Comedy of Errors was first printed in the 1623 collection of Shakespeare’s plays now known as the First Folio. The present edition is based directly upon the First Folio version.1 For the convenience of the reader, we have modernized the punctuation and the spelling of the Folio. Sometimes we go so far as to modernize certain old forms of words; for example, when a means “he,” we change it to he; we change mo to more and ye to you. But it is not our practice in editing any of the plays to modernize words that sound distinctly different from modern forms. For example, when the early printed texts read sith or apricocks or porpentine, we have not modernized to since, apricots, porcupine. When the forms an, and, or and if appear instead of the modern form if, we have reduced and to an but have not changed any of these forms to their modern equivalent, if. We also modernize and, where necessary, correct passages in foreign languages, unless an error in the early printed text can be reasonably explained as a joke.

Whenever we change the wording of the First Folio or add anything to its stage directions, we mark the change by enclosing it in superior half-brackets ( ). We want our readers to be immediately aware when we have intervened. (Only when we correct an obvious typographical error in the First Folio does the change not get marked.) Whenever we change either the First Folio’s wording or its punctuation so that the meaning changes, we list the change in the textual notes, even if all we have done is fix an obvious error.

We regularize a number of proper names, as is the usual practice in editions of the play. For example, the Folio sometimes calls Antipholus of Syracuse by the names Antipholis Errotis or Antipholis Erotes in stage directions, but, like other editions, ours refers to this character as Antipholus of Syracuse throughout its text. The Folio also uses the forms Siracusa and Siracusia, both of which this edition reduces to Syracuse, unless the meter requires the form Syracusa.

This edition differs from many earlier ones in its efforts to aid the reader in imagining the play as a performance rather than as a series of actual events. Thus stage directions are written with reference to the stage. For example, one of the primary ways in which directors help theater audiences keep track of two sets of identically named and costumed twin characters (the Dromios and Antipholuses) is through making prominent the props—the bag of money, the chain, the rope’s end, etc.—that each is given at specific points in the play. In our text, therefore, when one Dromio, given a key in 4.1, enters again in 4.2, we add to the Folio stage direction Enter Dromio of  Syracuse the additional information with the key. Or, to take another example, Antipholus of Syracuse is given a gold chain in 3.2; in his subsequent entrances, we often add wearing the chain, so that readers, like theatergoers, can associate him with earlier action in the play and thereby further differentiate him from his twin, Antipholus of Ephesus. With the addition of such directions, we hope to give our readers a greater opportunity to stage the play in their own imaginations.

For the same reason, whenever we think it is reasonably certain that a speech is accompanied by a particular action, we provide a stage direction describing the action. (Occasional exceptions to this rule occur when the action is so obvious that to add a stage direction would insult the reader.) Stage directions for the entrance of characters in mid-scene are, with rare exceptions, placed so that they immediately precede the characters’ participation in the scene, even though these entrances may appear somewhat earlier in the early printed texts. Whenever we move a stage direction, we record this change in the textual notes. Latin stage directions (e.g., Exeunt) are translated into English (e.g., They exit).

We expand the often severely abbreviated forms of names used as speech headings in early printed texts into the full names of the characters. We also regularize the speakers’ names in speech headings, using only a single designation for each character, even though the early printed texts sometimes use a variety of designations. Variations in the speech headings of the early printed texts are recorded in the textual notes.

In the present edition, as well, we mark with a dash any change of address within a speech, unless a stage direction intervenes. When the -ed ending of a word is to be pronounced, we mark it with an accent. Like editors for the past two centuries we display metrically linked lines in the following way:

 Thou hast thine own form.
DROMIO OF SYRACUSE  No, I am an ape.

However, when there are a number of short verse lines that can be linked in more than one way, we do not, with rare exceptions, indent any of them.

  1. We have also consulted the computerized text of the First Folio provided by the Text Archive of the Oxford University Computing Centre, to which we are grateful.