This comedy is probably Shakespeare's earliest work. The play was first performed at Gray's Inn on December 28, 1594, as part of the Christmas festivities.
The plot was not original, of course. Shakespeare, like most other playwrights and authors of that time, based his work on another, earlier work. In Shakespeare's case, he chose one of Plautus's most highly respected comedies, the Menaechmi. Significantly, he did not rely exclusively on rhymed couplets for his comedy; in fact, half the play is in blank verse, an exceptional accomplishment for a beginning playwright.
The plot was well known to the public of the time. The use of mistaken identities, as well as the confusion of twins, had long been popular in the Western theater tradition. While Plautus had only one set of twins, Shakespeare has two; thus, in his comedy, he increases to a great extent the possibility of confusion. The comedy was a huge success then, and it has continued to be popular. Indeed, even Broadway audiences were ecstatic over a spectacular musical adaptation of Comedy of Errors in 1938, entitled The Boys from Syracuse.
To begin with, the plot situation seems hopeless (a melodramatic and romantic touch): a father has lost a son and a wife, and his remaining son has gone in search of his long-lost twin brother, and the desolate father has not heard from his remaining son for a long time; thus, he sets out in search of his son and, by accident, arrives in a city that is a sworn enemy to his own city. Accordingly, he faces almost certain death; yet, by the close of the play, the entire family — servants included — are reunited, and marriages are in the offing.
In addition, Shakespeare introduces the character of Luciana, a foil-sister of the fiercely jealous Adriana. She, in turn, furnishes the love interest for Antipholus of Syracuse. As a result, even in this, Shakespeare's first attempt at satisfying the seasoned Elizabethan theater-goers with a sparkling comedy, is a vivid demonstration of both a high degree of genius and creativity in this young playwright.
He combines adventure, the comedy of human folly, romance, and suspense in a play that while not one of his masterpieces can be said to be both clever and original and still popular today.