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In the Summer of 1594 a translation of a Latin Farce by the Roman Dramatist, Plautus, was made ready for publication in London. It may even have been published then, for, although the title page date is 1595, then, as often now, the issue was made in advance of date. Circulation in MS., moreover, now unusual, was then common.

This translation was registered, at any rate, for publication, June 16, 1594, as "A Booke entitled Menæchmi, being a pleasant and fine conceited comedy taken out of the most wittie poet Plautus, chosen purposely from out the rest as being the least harmful and most delightful."

Six months later, Shakespeare had made an English Farce out of this Latin one. He invented several new characters, arranged many new situations, and put a good deal more life-likeness in the relations of the characters, while yet it may be seen that, his new play, "The Comedie of Errors," was directly drawn from the old one by Plautus.

The first record we have of Shakespeare as an actor before Queen Elizabeth relates to the performance in Christmas week of this same year of "twoe severall comedies." This record in the Accounts of the Treasurer who paid out the money for the Plays acted before the Queen, runs as follows:

"To William Kempe, William Shakespeare, and Richard Burbage, servaunts to the Lord Chamberleyn upon the Councelles warrant dated at Whitehall

  1. die. Marcij 1594 [1595], for twoe severall comedies or enterludes, shewed by them before her Majestie in Christmas tyme laste paste, viz., upon St. Stephen daye, [Dec. 26,] and Innocente's day, [Dec. 28,] xiii^{li} vi^{s} viij^{d} and by way of her Majesties rewarde vi^{li} xiij^{s} iv^{d} in all xx^{li}."

It is fair to infer that the "Comedie of Errors" was one of these two comedies, for on the evening of the 28th of December, 1594, there arose a sudden necessity to hire an entertainment to take the place at Gray's Inn, one of the great Law Schools of London, of a Play by the students which had gone to pieces. In lieu of this amateur play, for which a great stage had been built in their Hall, it is recorded that the great throng assembled were forced, first, to "content themselves with ordinary dancing and revelling, and when that was over, with a Comedy of Errors like to Plautus his Menoechmus, which was played by the players." That these "players" were public players is shown in the Gray's Inn account of these Christmas festivities by another reference to this "company of base and common fellows" who were "foisted" in "to make up our disorders with a play of Errors and Confusions."

Since this substitution of the "players" Play for the Play by the young gentlemen students was unexpected, we can be sure it was not made for this occasion. It seems obvious that whatever comedy was specially designed by Shakespeare and his fellow actors for their Christmas performances before the Queen at Greenwich, would be apt to be chosen for a sudden repetition at Gray's Inn the same evening. And of course for such an institution of scholarly gentlemen as Gray's Inn, a farce based on Plautus would be likely to be thought appropriate.

So Mrs. Charlotte Stopes argues, who brought into association these facts and dates. She brings out also, another curious incident or two concerning what we may take to be the earliest performances of "The Comedie of Errors." One is that the mother of the Earl of Southampton,--the young nobleman who was Shakespeare's patron and to whom the Poet dedicated "Venus and Adonis" and "Lucrece,"--was then acting officially for her late husband. Thus it fell to her care to make up his accounts as Treasurer of the Chamber, and she it was who wrote this particular notice of the acting of Shakespeare before Queen Elizabeth. Others acting as Treasurer did not find it worth their while to include the Actors' names in their accounts. This notice of hers is the first and last to mention names in this way. Her son, being a Gray's Inn man, would have been in a position to suggest the substitution of Shakespeare's Play and as a friend of Shakespeare's would desire to do so.

The other incident of biographical interest is that the Gray's Inn students were much mortified by the uproar which caused the failure of the program of their chief of Revels called "The Prince of Purpoole," and made it necessary for them to call in common players. The result of their desire "to recover their lost honor with some graver conceipt" was to give Jan. 3d, a learned Dialogue called "Divers Plots and Devices." Bacon aided largely in this stately affair. In its course six Councillors one after the other deliver speeches on enrollment of Knights and Chivalry, the glory of War, the study of Philosophy, etc. The scorn felt for Shakespeare's "Comedie" and the contrast with this rival specimen of academic dramatics is significant.

Out of the comparatively simple plot of Plautus, Shakespeare developed an amusing complexity of situations. These appear upon studying the progress of the story, Act by Act, as follows:

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