The Menaechmi Summary
by Plautus

Start Your Free Trial

Download The Menaechmi Study Guide

Subscribe Now

The Menaechmi Summary

"The Menaechmi" is a comedic play about mistaken identity, a misplaced twin, and the relationship between a husband and his wife.

Narrators in the guise of a professor and clowns set the stage at the opening of the play. They explain that a merchant took one of his twin sons with him on a journey and left the other at home with his mother. When the boy went missing, he was adopted by a wealthy merchant. The father, however, had to return home without his son and died of heartbreak. The remaining son was renamed Menaechmus—which was also their grandfather's name—to pay homage to their grief about the missing twin. Meanwhile, the boys grew up apart and the first Menaechmus did not remember the second. The second Menaechmus decides to search the world for his brother along with his slave, Messenio.

Meanwhile, in the city where the first Menaechmus lives, he's quarreling with his wife. She—rightfully—believes him to be untrue. He calls her a shrew. He takes her cloak, which he says he bought for forty pieces of silver, and gives it to a prostitute called Erotium that he is enamored of. When he leaves, she instructs her servant to take gold and prepare for a fine dinner that evening.

Messenio and the second Menaechmus arrive in the city. Messenio tries to convince his master to give up his twin brother for lost. They're almost out of resources to continue the search. However, the second Menaechmus refuses to stop. He says that it's important to him and he'll continue on until he finds his twin. When they leave the ship, he's recognized by the servant of Erotium but doesn't understand that it's a case of mistaken identity. Messenio convinces him that it's just the scammers of the city who have helped the servant know his name and they continue on.

Next, the second Menaechmus is accosted by Erotium, who believes that he is her lover. He pretends to know her and that he is the one who gave her the cloak so that he can stay at her house and conserve their resources. When he leaves to sell the cloak under the guise of repairing it, he is stopped by the first Menaechmus's parasite—a person who is getting patronage from him—and accused of abandoning him. Peniculus leaves in a rage and tells the first Menaechmus's wife about Erotium.

The first Menaechmus tries to get the cloak back from Erotium but she thinks she already gave it to him and is enraged. The second Menaechmus runs into his twin's wife and doesn't understand why she thinks the cloak is her's and says he doesn't know her. When his twin's father-in-law gets involved, they both call for doctors to help the second Menaechmus, believing he is his twin and that something is wrong with him.

The people who come to take him to the doctor end up trying to take the first Menaechmus. Messenio stops them and the first Menaechmus gives him his freedom—not understanding that he's the slave of his twin. When Messenio sees his master, he reminds him of his freedom and is rebuffed. Meanwhile, the first Menaechmus comes upon the second and Messenio. The slave helps them understand that they're twin brothers. The first Menaechmus decides to sell all his goods—and his wife—so that he can move away with his twin. He also convinces his twin to honor his promise to free Messenio.


(Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

When the two Menaechmi are seven years old, one, later to become Menaechmus of Epidamnum, accompanies his merchant father from their home in Syracuse to Tarentum. There, fascinated by the confused activity, the boy wanders away, becomes lost, and is finally picked up by another merchant who takes him to the merchant’s own home in Epidamnum and adopts him. The boy’s family is so grief-stricken at his loss that his name is given to the remaining son. This boy, Menaechmus Sosicles, grows up, and when he comes of age and inherits his father’s property, he goes out on a quest for his brother.

Menaechmus of Epidamnum by this time has inherited his foster father’s wealth, married a somewhat shrewish woman, and...

(The entire section is 1,329 words.)