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Last Updated on August 5, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 583

"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...

(The entire section contains 1329 words.)

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"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.

Summary

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 746

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 acquired a mistress. On the day Menaechmus Sosicles arrives in Epidamnum on his undirected search, Menaechmus of Epidamnum quarrels with his suspicious wife and parts from her, secretly bearing one of her robes as a gift to Erotium, his mistress. Delivering the robe, he instructs Erotium to prepare an elaborate meal for their evening’s entertainment; then he leaves to attend to some business at the Forum.

Shortly afterward, Menaechmus Sosicles happens to arrive before Erotium’s house and, much to his dismay, is addressed familiarly, first by one of her servants and then by Erotium herself. Confusion follows, but Menaechmus Sosicles finally decides that this is merely Erotium’s way of trying to seduce him; so he gives his servant Messenio his wallet for safekeeping and accompanies the courtesan into the house.

When he comes out later, having consumed the food that Menaechmus of Epidamnum ordered for himself and his parasite, Erotium gives him the robe so that he can have it altered for her. As he walks away, intent on selling the robe for his own gain, he is accosted by Peniculus, Menaechmus of Epidamnum’s parasite, indignant at having missed a banquet to which he was invited only a short time before and convinced that he was purposely affronted. Menaechmus Sosicles finally dismisses Peniculus with an insult, and the latter, believing himself grievously treated by his erstwhile benefactor, goes to Menaechmus of Epidamnum’s wife and reveals to her that her husband is not only keeping another woman but also gave his mistress his wife’s robe. When Peniculus finishes, Menaechmus of Epidamnum comes by on his way from the Forum to Erotium’s house, and, in concealment, the two overhear him soliloquizing in a way that substantiates Peniculus’s whole story. Satisfied with what she hears, the wife steps forward and accosts her husband. There follows a confused argument in which Menaechmus of Epidamnum alternates between dissembled ignorance regarding the theft of the robe and genuine dismay regarding his assumed presence at the banquet Erotium gave. At last, seeing that Peniculus revealed all, he agrees to get the robe and return it. When he goes to Erotium and, unaware that Menaechmus Sosicles already took the robe, tries to explain his dilemma, she assumes he is trying to defraud her, grows angry, and slams her door in his face.

Meanwhile, Menaechmus Sosicles, still carrying the robe, meets the angry wife, who assumes that he is Menaechmus of Epidamnum returning the robe as he promised. While the whole situation is still in confusion, the wife’s father arrives to take her part. Menaechmus Sosicles decides to feign madness to get rid of the two and is so successful in his attempt that they go off in search of a physician and men to restrain him.

When these people are assembled, they meet Menaechmus of Epidamnum instead of his brother. They are about to carry him off when Messenio happens along and, mistaking Menaechmus of Epidamnum for his brother, beats off the assailants. When the others flee, Messenio asks for his freedom in return for saving his “master’s” life; his request is granted by the amazed Menaechmus of Epidamnum, and Messenio goes off to collect his master’s belongings and to return them.

On the way, however, he meets Menaechmus Sosicles. Gradually the nature of the confusion comes to light. The two brothers finally confront each other and exchange their stories. Menaechmus of Epidamnum decides to sell his property and return to Syracuse with his brother. Messenio is freed again, this time by his own master, and is made auctioneer for the sale of the property. Everything is to be converted into cash, including Menaechmus of Epidamnum’s wife.

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