The Comedy of Errors (1594)
- First official record: Francis Meres' Palladis Tamia (1598), referred to as "Errors."
- First published: First Folio (1623).
- First recorded performance: probably on Innocents Day, 28 December 1594, at Gray's Inn (one of the four London Inns of Court). The only known evidence for this performance is the Gesta Grayorum, a 1688 text printed for William Canning based on a manuscript apparently handed down from the 1590s, detailing the "Prince of Purpoole" festival from December 1594 to February 1595. According to the text, after a disastrous attempt to stage "some notable performance […] it was thought good not to offer any thing of Account, saving Dancing and Revelling with Gentlewomen; and after such Sports, a Comedy of Errors (like to Plautus his Menaechmus) was played by the Players. So that Night was begun, and continued to the end, in nothing but Confusion and Errors; whereupon, it was ever afterwards called, The Night of Errors." As Comedy of Errors is indeed based on Menaechmus, this is almost universally accepted as a reference to a performance of the play, probably by Shakespeare's own company, the newly formed Lord Chamberlain's Men. The earliest known definite performance was at court on 28 December 1604.
- Evidence: traditionally, Errors has been dated quite early, and has often been seen as Shakespeare's first comedy, perhaps his first play. However, stylistic and linguistic analysis (proportion of verse to prose, amount of rhyme, use of colloquialism-in-verse, and a rare word test) has placed it closer to the composition of Richard II and Romeo and Juliet, both of which were written in 1594 or 1595. More specifically, the limited setting (it is one of only two Shakespeare plays to observe the Classical unities) and the brevity of the play (Shakespeare's shortest at 1777 lines), along with the great abundance of legal terminology, suggests the play may have been written specifically for the Gray's Inn performance. This would place its composition in the latter half of 1594.