William Shakespeare was not always the master playwright that he became in his later life. When he first began writing plays, he did not have the mastery of plot, character, concept, and language for which he was to be universally praised. In 1592, he was a young playwright with a historical trilogy and a classical tragedy to his credit; he was just beginning to explore and perfect his craft. The Comedy of Errors is an early experiment with comedy, and his enthusiasm for the experiment is clear in his writing.
Shakespeare followed the example of most playwrights of the Elizabethan era by adapting other plays and sources to make his dramas. This in no way detracts from his genius because what he adapted he made distinctively his own.
Most of The Comedy of Errors derives from Menaechmi (pr. second century b.c.e.; The Menaechmi, 1595) by the classical Roman playwright Plautus, who lived from c. 254 b.c.e. to 184 b.c.e. Act 3, scene 1 of the play originates from another work by Plautus, Amphitruo (Amphitryon, 1694). Both of these plays concern mistaken identity, which Shakespeare adapted for the crux of his plot as well. Just as Shakespeare adapted Plautus, Plautus apparently drew from an unknown Greek playwright. It was said of Plautus that his special genius was for turning a Greek original into a...
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