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THE COMEDY OF ERRORS was first printed in the Folio of 1623, wherein at folio 85 it stands fifth in the "Catalogue of the severall Comedies Histories and Tragedies contained in this Volume." It may have been printed from Shakespeare's own manuscript, i.e., if it be reasonable, and I think in this case it is reasonable, to assume its preservation during the generation which had elapsed from the production of the play, viz., in or about the winter of 1591-2. Perhaps we may for once assume the truth of Heminge and Condell's statement "To the great Variety of Readers" of the Folio, that they had "scarse received from him a blot in his papers."
In the Folio the play is divided into acts, but not into scenes, although “Scaena Prima” duly figures at the beginning of each act, with the exception, for no apparent reason, of the second; and the play is not furnished at the end with "the names of the actors," as in the case of The Tempest, The Two Gentlemen of Verona, and Measure for Measure, three of the four preceding "Comedies." We are left to conjecture the reason, which was probably sheer carelessness, if not too rapid work, on the part of the printers, and the want of any proper supervision; since there is ample room for the names on folio 100, the concluding page of the play. The dramatis persona, however, were first added by Rowe in 1709.
The text, like that of A Midsummer-Night's Dream, has reached us in a state of comparative excellence, disfigured in places, however, by obvious omissions, corruptions and misprints; notably in the passages II. i. 109-113; II. ii. 190; IV. ii. 33; IV. iii. 13 and IV. iii. 73, 74. Some original— and imperative-emendations I have not hesitated to make; particularly, amongst others, pelf for the first help in I. i. 151; we talk with fairies in II. ii. 190; swear it in v. i. 26; heavy in v. i. 79; and the arrangement in two lines of the last three lines of the play, as the latter are printed in the Folio. These lines are, distinctly, "comic trimeters" or "fourteeners" or "rime dogerel," as Chaucer called this metre ; and the obvious and remarkable blunder of arranging them in three lines beyond doubt originated in the careless printing of the Folio, and has been, strangely enough, perpetuated, in most sheepish fashion, by every subsequent editor for close on two hundred years, viz., since the first edition of Rowe in 1709.
The emendations of the present text, original or adopted, seem to fall, roughly speaking, into three classes; original emendations of the editor being distinguished by an asterisk, and the reasons for change being discussed in the notes.
(a) Instances of words or phrases having dropped out of the text:
*1. i. 61. We came aboard [and put to sea, but scarce].
II. i. 112. And so no man that hath a name.
11. ii. 190. We talk with fairies, goblins, elves and sprites.
i. 98. You sent me for a rope's end, sir, as soon.
IV. ii. 29. Sweet mistress, now make haste.
ii. 33. A devil in an everlasting garment hath him by the heel. IV. iii. 13. What! have you got rid of the picture of old Adam.
. iii. 73. A rush, a hair, a drop of blood, [a kiss,
* v. i. 26.
v. i. 46.
A coll,] a pin, a nut, a cherry-stone.
And God and the rope-maker bear me witness. These ears of mine, thou know'st, did hear thee swear it. And much much different from the man he was.
* v. i. 79. But moody, heavy and dull melancholy.
V. i. 235. He did consent and by the way we met.
(b) Instances of words wrongly introduced into the
* II. ii. 118. Unless I spake, or look'd, or touch'd, or carved to thee. III. i. 1. Good Signior Angelo, you must excuse us all.
And then, Sir, she bears away.
4. Look'd he or red? or pale? or sad or merrily? V. i. 174. My master preaches patience to him and the while.
(c) Instances of corruptions, metatheses of letters, faulty metrical arrangement of words or lines :
*1. i. 150. Therefore, merchant, I'll limit thee this day,
To seek thy pelf by beneficial help.
i. 69. Well, officer, arrest him at my suit. I do ;
IV. ii. 56. If an hour meet a sergeant.
i. 424-5. Nay then thus: we... before another. (Two lines.)
The chronology of the plays is one of the most difficult and at the same time one of the most important subjects of Shakespearian study. Whilst it is difficult if not impossible to fix the date of composition, or production, of The Errors with absolute precision, it is still possible to arrive at conclusions which may be called fairly satisfactory; at anyrate that in respect of date The Errors was one of the earliest, if not the very earliest, of the Comedies, and that it was probably untouched by the author after its first production. The evidence, on the whole, points to the winter of the year 1591-2
as being the most probable date. The Errors stands second in the list of Shakespeare's plays mentioned by Francis Meres in his Palladis Tamia, or Wit's Treasurie, completed for the press about June and entered on the Stationers' Register in September, 1598. He writes as follows: "As Plautus and Seneca are accounted the best for comedy and Tragedy among the Latines, so Shakespeare among the English is the most excellent in both kinds for the stage; for comedy, witness his Getleme of Verona, his Errors, his Love Labors Lost, his Love Labours Wonne, his Midsummers Night Dream, and his Merchant of Venice ; for tragedy, his Richard the 2, Richard the 3, Henry the 4, King John, Titus Andronicus, and his Romeo and Juliet." Meres here gives us the true title of the play, which is simply The Errors. The play then was clearly in existence before 1598. Further, it is highly probable that "his Errors," referred to by Meres, is identical with the "Comedy of Errors" mentioned in a somewhat rare book called Gesta Grayorum; or the History of Henry, Prince of Purpoole; printed by Nichols in Progresses of Queen Elizabeth, iii. 362 (ed. 1823). "Prince Henry" was Henry Helmes, a gentleman of Norfolk, the Lord of Misrule at Gray's Inn during the revels of 1594, and his full style is quaintly given as "The High and Mighty Prince Henry, Prince of Purpoole, Arch Duke of Stapulia and Bernardia, Duke of High and Nether Holborn, Marquis of St. Giles and Tottenham, Count Palatine of Bloomesbury and Clerkenwell, Great Lord of the Cantons of Islington, Kentish Town, Paddington and Knights-Bridge, Knight of the Most Heroical Order of the Helmet, and Sovereign of the same: who reigned and died
This volume contains a contemporary account of the performance of The Errors. The particular references are as follows: "Besides the daily Revels and such like Sports, which were usual, there were intended divers Grand nights for the Entertainment of strangers." On the second grand night, 28th December, the players came over from Shoreditch to entertain the guests, but the spectators were too numerous to allow of proper space for the performance. The guests from the Temple retired "discontented and displeased. After their departure the throngs and tumults did somewhat cease, although so much of them continued as was able to disorder and confound any good Inventions whatsoever. In regard whereof, as also for that the sports intended were especially for the gracing the Templarians, it was thought good not to offer anything of Account saving Dancing and Revelling with Gentlewomen; and after such sports, a Comedy of Errors (like to Plautus his Menechmus) was played by the Players; so that night was begun and continued to the end, in nothing but Confusion and Errors; whereupon it was ever afterwards called The Night of Errors." The expression "played by the Players" must have reference to a performance by the Chamberlain's servants, which was on the 28th December, the "servants" most probably including Shakespeare himself; and it is somewhat singular, as Fleay points out, in his Life and Works of Shakespeare, p. 125, that this performance should also have been given apparently by the same company as that which we know played before the Queen at Greenwich
1 See Gray's Inn, its History and Associations, by W. R. Douthwaite, 1886.