(Shakespeare for Students)

The concept of identity is one of the most discussed topics in the criticism on The Comedy of Errors, going well beyond the obvious theme of mistaken identity. Some critics focus solely on personal identity (usually with regard to the twin brothers Antipholi or Adriana, though other characters' identities are also addressed), while others look at how public/social and private identities intersect.

It is generally acknowledged that Antipholus of Syracuse enters the city of Ephesus to make himself "whole" and find his identity, which he believes will happen when he finds his twin brother. However, the strange encounters he has (his social identity) make him question his sanity and that of others who speak to him as if they know him. Antipholus of Ephesus, on the other hand, clings to his personal identity when assailed with threats to it for reasons unknown to him. His wife, Adriana, finds her identity as Antipholus's wife threatened by the perilous course their marriage is taking. Most critics agree that the characters' "original" identities are returned to them or renewed at the end of the play, but not before the social order is seriously threatened.

In most of the commentary on the play, critics devote at least some attention to its genre or classification, even if it is not the subject of the critical piece. It remains a topic of ongoing interest and debate. Some modern critics see the play as pure (or almost pure) farce and important in Shakespeare's canon, unlike early critics who dismissed it as merely a stepping-stone in Shakespeare's career and not worthy of much critical attention.

Commentators who find elements of tragedy and romance in the...

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