Ah, The Comedy of Errors, one of Shakespeare's earliest known plays. This one is definitely the wackiest one I've read yet involving two sets of identical twins who were separated at birth. You can imagine the shenanigans to follow. Let's get straight to it.
We open on poor, unfortunate Ægeon, a merchant from Syracuse, who has come to Ephesus in search of his son. His timing isn't great because Ephesus and Syracuse are at odds and any Syracusian found in Ephesus is condemned to death. The Duke of Ephesus is bored though and wants to hear why any self-respecting Syracusian would dare show his face on Ephesian soil. So Ægeon tells him...
...Once upon a time, he was a happy newlywed with a gorgeous wife and infant twin sons. The same day his sons were born, some random poor woman with no job and no prospects also had twin sons which she happily sold to Ægeon so they could be his twin sons' slaves for life. Convenient, right? So this happy little family decides to go on a trip, but they run into a gnarly storm at sea at which point, Ægeon lashes himself to one of the ship's masts with one son and slave, and his wife lashes herself to the other ship's mast with the other son and slave. As you can imagine, the ship comes apart, everyone gets separated, and that's the last time Ægeon ever sees his wife and son and son's slave again. He did raise the other son (whom he has dubbed Antipholus) and his son's slave (whom he has dubbed Dromio) and when they grew up, they decided to go off in search of their lost twin brothers. After they didn't come back home for a while, Ægeon went off looking for them which has brought him to Ephesus because who cares about dying when his life has been such a graveyard of all his hopes and dreams anyway...
To which the Duke of Ephesus is like, "Sad story, bro. We're still going to kill you in the morning."
Meanwhile, on the streets of Ephesus, Antipholus and Dromio (of Syracuse) are figuring out their lodging situation for the night, making dinner plans, and lamenting the fact that their search for their long lost twin brothers has yielded a big fat nothing. Antipholus sends Dromio off to secure a hotel and is surprised when just minutes later Dromio shows back up saying Antipholus' wife is expecting him home for lunch so can he please come on already.
A wife? In Ephesus? Where he's never been before? Ridiculous. And what could this possibly have to do with his search for his identical twin brother?
Probably nothing and Dromio is probably just making a bad joke so Antipholus soundly beats him.
Dromio (of Ephesus, because if all this isn't confusing enough, let's give both sets of twins the exact same names) goes back home and tells Adriana (Antipholus of Ephesus' wife) that her husband refuses to come home for lunch, and, on top of that, he says he doesn't even have a wife. Adriana, who has already had some sneaking suspicions about her husband's faithfulness, starts crying about the pitiful state of her marriage.
Back on the streets, Antipholus (of Syracuse) meets back up with Dromio (of Syracuse) who denies making any bad jokes about Antipholus having a wife so naturally, Antipholus starts beating him. But then Adriana shows up and begs them to come home for lunch and for the love of Greece, please don't leave her. Concluding that Ephesus is full of witches, Antipholus and Dromio go home with the strange woman. Still no thought that any of this might be connected to their search for their identical twin brothers.
Next, we meet Antipholus (of Ephesus) who is coming home to have lunch with his wife. But he's locked out of his own house because Adriana commanded Dromio (of Syracuse) to shut the gate and not let anyone in. He's about ready to break down the door but his friends convince him to go out to lunch with some other lady instead. (Which makes me think Adriana's hysterics over the state of her marriage probably aren't too far off the mark.)
Inside the house, Antipholus (of Syracuse) has discovered his wife's hot sister and is doing his best to woo her to which she's all, "That's sweet, but wouldn't it be, like, wrong for us to be together? What with you being married to my sister and all?!" Dromio (of Syracuse) has also discovered that he's the object of affection of a hideous kitchen-maid and starts in on the most outrageous bit of fat-shaming I've ever seen. He and Antipholus decide it's time to get the heck out of Ephesus away from all this witchcraft.
Dromio (of Syracuse) runs off to arrange their travel plans, and Antipholus (of Syracuse) is stopped in the street by Angelo the goldsmith who is delivering a gold necklace that was commissioned by Antipholus (of Ephesus). Antipholus (of Syracuse) takes it and tries to pay Angelo, but Angelo, for reasons known only unto himself, is all, "Nah bro, I'll get it from you later."
In the meantime, Antipholus (of Ephesus) has finished his lunch but is still pretty steamed about being locked out of his own house and sends Dromio (of Ephesus) off to get a rope that he can beat his wife with. Because apparently, physical abuse is the answer to everything for the Antipholuses...Antipholi?
Then Angelo (the goldsmith) strolls up asking for his money for the gold necklace he just gave him. To which Antipholus (of Ephesus) is like, "Come off it, man, you haven't even shown me the necklace, much less given it to me." So Angelo has him arrested by the officer that I guess is just hanging out on retainer or something.
Just as he's being led away, Dromio (of Syracuse) shows up, and Antipholus (of Ephesus) orders him to go to his wife and get some bail money. Dromio obeys (still without finding any of this odd), but delivers the money to the wrong Antipholus, of course.
So just to catch you up, Antipholus and Dromio (of Syracuse) are currently together with a gold necklace they got for free, a bunch of bail money, and they're ready to leave Ephesus on the next ship they can get on because their identical twin brothers probably aren't here and all this confusion is obviously the result of witchcraft. Antipholus (of Ephesus) is under arrest waiting for his bail money, and Dromio (of Ephesus) is out buying a wife-beating rope. Are we all caught up?
Now a random lady walks up to Antipholus and Dromio (of Syracuse) when she sees Antipholus wearing the gold necklace and demands that he either give her back her ring or give her the necklace in place of the ring like he promised. Antipholus (of Syracuse) has, obviously, never seen this woman before and is all, "Peace out, you crazy witch."
The lady then decides the only way she's going to get any satisfaction is to go to Adriana and tell her that her husband is certifiably insane. Seems like a logical course of action.
Dromio (of Ephesus) finally shows back up with the wife-beating rope, and Antipholus (of Ephesus) is, needless to say, a bit peeved that he didn't bring any bail money with him. But right at this moment, Adriana shows up with a conjurer named Pinch to cast the evil demons out of the insane Antipholus. Because let's not overreact or anything.
The officer in charge is all, "This is my prisoner, guys." But Pinch is all, "Do you really want to keep this demon-possessed maniac in custody?" So the officer lets Pinch take him.
Minutes later, Antipholus and Dromio (of Syracuse) rush onto the scene with swords drawn and Adriana and her people run away because the only logical explanation is that Antipholus and Dromio (of Ephesus) somehow escaped from Pinch just a few minutes ago and came back to vent their demon-induced rage on everyone.
Somehow, Adriana in the blink of an eye comes back with some ripped dudes to capture Antipholus and Dromio who see they're clearly in over their heads and take refuge in a nearby abbey at which the abbess fiercely protects them.
At this point, the Duke is marching poor Ægeon through the streets to his execution and Adriana appeals to him to make the abbess give up Antipholus and Dromio (of Syracuse). But Antipholus and Dromio (of Ephesus) who actually have escaped come running up at that very moment and also appeal to the Duke for justice in this nutty situation.
Ægeon is like, "Hey it's my son."
And Antipholus is like, "I've never seen you before in my life."
And then we have a gigantic, hilarious exchange of he-said-she-said to which everyone is agreeing and disagreeing right and left, and then the abbess finally comes out with the other Antipholus and Dromio and surprise! she's actually their long lost mother Æmelia, and ohhhhhhh, our identical twins live here: everything makes sense now.
The Duke pardons Ægeon and they all go to dinner to celebrate their reunified family. Tra-la-la.
Obviously, it's completely ridiculous that it never once occurs to Antipholus and Dromio (of Syracuse) that all this trouble could be explained by the fact that their identical twin brothers—who they're in Ephesus to find!—live there, but nonetheless, this wacky play was a rip-roaring good time. It's Shakespeare's shortest work and easily read in one sitting (in fact, I'd recommend reading it in one sitting so you're not totally lost each time you come back to it trying to remember which Antipholus and Dromio are in what crazy scenario). This is one I'd definitely recommend, but seeing a stage production of it would be even more fun.
Next up is Troilus and Cressida. Check back in around August or September for my recap of this year's tragedy, and as always, feel free to nominate your choices for my 2022 Shakespeare plays in the comments below. Click here to see which ones we've already covered.