We have only two records of a performance of The Comedy of Errors during Shakespeare’s working life the first was at the Gray’s Inn a treat perhaps for the barristers there which formed part of their Christmas revels. What is interesting is how this highlights the transferable nature of Shakespeare’s plays and how he wrote plays designed to work in simple spaces. The image at the top here shows a picture of this space from 1731 but it was likely quite similar in Shakespeare’s own time.
We can easily see how this space was adaptable enough to accommodate that three sided playing space Shakespeare was familiar with. The audience can be placed on benches to the front and sides and the play performed against the backdrop of the panelled back wall.
This panelling in fact makes a great backdrop for a play full of comedy about two sets of identical twins which involves at least one very funny scene where people are knocking on doors. In fact this is the only one of Shakespeare’s plays which requires only one setting – a town square or street in Ephesus. Much of the comedy relies on the juxtaposition of entrances and exits of the twins so that they don’t meet until the required moment of reunion and resolution. You can see from this modern picture of the space that we have the ideal set up for this with two doors in close proximity.
It’s all shaping up to seem like the performance must have been pretty good but I am sorry to report that the law students had been revelling a bit too much that Christmas and unfortunately the general drunken bawdiness resulted in a riot with an overcrowded stage and no room for the actors! Gee the things Shakespeare had to put up with. However he did get at least one other chance to please with this play as it was staged 10 years later for King James.