Act 1, Scene 1
The Comedy of Errors begins in Ephesus, where the duke, Solinus, is punishing Egeon for having trespassed on Ephesian soil. Solinus explains that since the Syracusian duke punished Ephesian merchants simply for doing business in Syracuse, Solinus has decided to likewise punish Syracusian merchants for simply appearing in Ephesus. As such, Egeon, a merchant from Syracuse, must either pay a penalty of one thousand marks—which he does not have—or be put to death.
When asked by Solinus why he had come to Ephesus, Egeon explains his woeful tale: some eighteen years ago, in Epidamnum, his wife bore him sons, and, coincidentally, an impoverished woman gave birth to her own twin sons in the same inn at the same hour. Since the poor woman could not care for her children, Egeon purchased them as servants for his own children. Later, when Egeon, his wife, and the four young children were sailing back to Syracuse, they came upon rough waters and had to resort to tying themselves to the ship’s masts. As two other vessels were coming upon them, their ship was split apart by a ‘‘mighty rock,’’ such that the wife, one son, and one servant were separated from Egeon, the other son, and the other servant.When the son raised by Egeon reached the age of eighteen, he grew curious enough about his long-lost brother and mother to wish to travel in search of them, in the company of his servant. Egeon also left in search of the family members and had ended up in Ephesus after ‘‘five summers’’ of travels elsewhere. The duke, taking pity on Egeon, gives him leave to seek the thousand marks needed to buy his freedom from friends in Ephesus—but Egeon has only that very day to obtain the sum.
Act 1, Scene 2
At the marketplace, the son who has been traveling, known as Antipholus of Syracuse (and referred to as S. Antipholus), is finishing a deal with a Merchant, who warns S. Antipholus that he should deny his Syracusian origins, as just that day a merchant from Syracuse was arrested and will be executed. S. Antipholus sends his servant, Dromio of Syracuse (referred to as S. Dromio), to take the money he has just received to their lodgings, the inn known as the Centaur. When S. Dromio departs, S. Antipholus makes plans to meet the Merchant again later that evening.
Dromio of Ephesus (to be referred to as E. Dromio) then arrives and begins telling S. Antipholus about how late he is for dinner; the audience can immediately understand that this Dromio believes he is talking to Antipholus of Ephesus (to be referred to as E. Antipholus). S. Antipholus, in turn thinking that E. Dromio is S. Dromio, imagines that his servant is jesting and demands to know what he did with the large sum of money—one thousand marks—that he had been entrusted with. E. Dromio, however, denies that he has any more marks than the ones he is given when he is beaten. Angered by what seems a sustained jest, S. Antipholus indeed beats E. Dromio, who flees. S. Antipholus then announces that he will return to the Centaur to find out what has become of his money.
Act 2, Scene 1
At the Phoenix, the home of E. Antipholus, Adriana and Luciana are discussing Adriana’s husband’s absence. Luciana advises her sister to be patient and obedient in the extreme, noting that among all animals, the males are the masters of the females. Adriana objects, declaring that within a marriage she ought to have a certain degree of control; Adriana notes that Luciana is only able to advise so much obedience because she is not married herself. Still, Luciana insists that when she marries, she will learn obedience and be patient even if she knows her husband to be cheating on her.
E. Dromio then enters to inform his mistress, Adriana, that he has just come from her husband, who denied that he even had a home or a wife there. E. Dromio notes that he was beaten by Antipholus, who repeatedly demanded to know about his gold, of which E. Dromio knew nothing. Adriana grows upset with E. Dromio, threatening to beat him and demanding that he depart again to find her husband. Adriana then laments at length about her certainty that her husband is cheating on her. She wonders if he looks elsewhere because she has lost her beauty; she also declares that if she has lost her beauty, she has lost it only because her husband is no longer as kind to her as he used to be. Luciana tries to calm her sister, but Adriana is too sorrowful.
Act 2, Scene 2
S. Antipholus, walking through the marketplace, remarks that he has just discovered that S. Dromio has indeed safely stored the gold at the Centaur. S. Dromio then enters, and S. Antipholus demands that he explain the jest from earlier, when Dromio denied all knowledge of the gold. S. Dromio then denies that he ever made any jests, eventually earning a beating from the angered S. Antipholus. S. Antipholus explains to S. Dromio that he should never jest when his master is not in a jesting mood. The two then start speaking of dinner and of the relationship between a man’s wit and the amount of hair on his head.
Adriana and Luciana then arrive, with Adriana immediately launching into a plaint toward S. Antipholus, whom she thinks is her husband. She reminisces about the time when he truly cherished her; she notes that like a drop of water from a gulf, she cannot be separated from him; and she points out that if she were to commit adultery, he would be greatly angered and indignant. She concludes by imploring him to be faithful to her. S. Antipholus professes that he has only been in the town of Ephesus for two hours and that he hardly even understands what people are talking about there. Luciana then notes that they had sent Dromio to speak with him about dinner earlier, of which S. Dromio knows nothing. S. Antipholus, then, imagines that S. Dromio must be conspiring against him along with these women, as Dromio— E. Dromio, actually—had indeed spoken to him earlier about coming home for dinner. S. Dromio, however, denies having ever spoken with Adriana—and Adriana then imagines that Antipholus and Dromio are trying to fool her; at this point she tells S. Antipholus that she is like a vine to his elm, such that he is utterly dependent on her. In an aside, S. Antipholus wonders what is going on and supposes that he may as well go along with the ‘‘fallacy,’’ that is, that he may as well join Adriana for dinner. After S. Dromio declares that they must be in a ‘‘fairy land,’’ and likewise wonders what is happening, Adriana bids Dromio and Antipholus to finally come home. Indeed, S. Antipholus will dine with Adriana at their home, upstairs, while S. Dromio guards the gate.
Act 3, Scene 1
Antipholus of Ephesus is leading E. Dromio, Angelo, and Balthazar to his home, where he intends to gain favor with the two businessmen by entertaining them at dinner. On the way, E. Antipholus mentions that his wife is ‘‘shrewish’’ whenever he is late and that Angelo, the goldsmith, should assert that he was busy buying something for her. He also mentions that E. Dromio could ruin his story, as E. Dromio claimed to have met him in the marketplace earlier. Indeed, E. Dromio confirms that he received a beating at Antipholus’s hand.
When they arrive at the home of E. Antipholus, E. Dromio calls out to gain them entry, only to hear S. Dromio respond rudely, turning them away. S. Dromio declares that Dromio is his name and that he is the porter, and E. Dromio asserts that his office has been stolen by a counterfeit who is using his name. Luce, the cook, then appears above and also speaks rudely to E. Dromio, as she believes that everyone belonging to the household is already inside. Adriana appears to speak with Luce and to hear E. Antipholus call her his wife—but she cannot see him and also believes him to be an impostor, as S. Antipholus is inside.
When the women return inside the house, E. Antipholus declares that he will use force, if necessary to gain entry, asking E. Dromio to fetch him a crowbar. However, Balthazar interrupts to suggest that he refrain from resorting to force, as such an act could ruin his reputation; Balthazar notes that his wife certainly has some reason or another for keeping him out, and he should return later to hear her explanation. E. Antipholus concedes and declares that they will go to the Porpentine—and out of spite Antipholus will give the Courtesan there the chain that he had planned to give to his wife. As they exit, Angelo parts from them to get the chain.
Act 3, Scene 2
Luciana is speaking with S. Antipholus, counseling him to be more cunning with regard to his character around Adriana. Specifically, Luciana tells Antipholus that if he is cheating on his wife, he should make more of an effort to deceive her, to at least make her feel as though he still loves only her. S. Antipholus professes that he understands nothing of what she is saying, as Adriana is most definitely not his wife—and that he is in fact enamored of Luciana herself. Luciana protests that he is being ridiculous, as he must love only his wife, but S. Antipholus insists that he is interested in Luciana alone.
When Luciana leaves to get Adriana, S. Dromio appears to lament that he is being claimed by a woman named Nell (who is understood to be Luce, from act 2, scene 2). He is especially upset by this situation because Nell is quite obese, as his exaggerated comments regarding her girth indicate. S. Dromio makes a number of insulting comparisons between nations and parts of her body. When Nell proves able to tell Dromio about the various marks on his body, he begins to think she is some sort of witch. S. Antipholus then suggests to S. Dromio that he go wait by the harbor; if a seaward wind comes along and a ship is sailing out, S. Dromio should find S. Antipholus in the marketplace, and they will leave immediately. When S. Dromio leaves, S. Antipholus declares his own belief that they are among witches—but also that he will regret leaving Luciana.
Angelo then appears and insists upon giving S. Antipholus the chain that E. Antipholus had ordered. S. Antipholus eventually accepts and tries to pay for it then rather than later, so as not to accidentally cheat the man, but Angelo departs without accepting. S. Antipholus notes that only in such a strangely wonderful place would people bestow random gifts upon him.
Act 4, Scene 1
In the marketplace, a Merchant is demanding the repayment of a debt from Angelo, the goldsmith; the Merchant has summoned an Officer to arrest Angelo if he cannot repay the debt. Angelo notes that he simply needs to obtain the money from E. Antipholus, who owes him the cost of the chain. E. Antipholus then arrives, having just left the Courtesan. E. Antipholus orders E. Dromio to fetch him a rope, with which Antipholus plans to physically punish his wife and any other people responsible for locking him out of his house. Angelo then meets E. Antipholus and demands the sum he is owed, but E. Antipholus remarks that he does not have the money with him and that he will not pay, regardless, until he actually receives the chain. Angelo insists that he already gave him the chain (which S. Antipholus received), leaving both men greatly confounded.
As no one is giving him the money that he is owed, the Merchant has the Officer arrest Angelo; in turn, Angelo, whose reputation will be harmed, has the Officer arrest E. Antipholus, who is likewise greatly offended. S. Dromio then arrives to inform Antipholus that he has found passage for them on a ship that is soon to depart. E. Antipholus is confounded by S. Dromio’s uttering such nonsense—and also by S. Dromio’s failure to bring a rope. Still, as he has been arrested, E. Antipholus promptly sends S. Dromio to fetch money from Adriana.
Act 4, Scene 2
In front of the Phoenix, Luciana is telling Adriana about how S. Antipholus had professed to have fallen in love with her. Upset that her husband should have scorned her so, Adriana insults him at length, then admits to still having feelings for him. S. Dromio then arrives to demand the money on behalf of E. Antipholus. When the ladies inquire about Antipholus, S. Dromio notes that he had been arrested for nonpayment of a debt. Luciana fetches the money, and S. Dromio runs off with it.
Act 4, Scene 3
In the marketplace, S. Antipholus observes how everyone in the town seems to know him somehow. S. Dromio then arrives to hand him the money—but S. Antipholus objects that he had asked him for no money. S. Dromio inquires about the officer and where he might have gone, but S. Antipholus fails to understand. S. Antipholus then asks whether they might soon depart by sea, and S. Dromio points out that he told Antipholus earlier of a ship, but Antipholus had expressed no interest, so they had missed it.
The Courtesan then arrives, greets Antipholus by name, and asks whether the chain he holds is the one that he had promised her earlier. S. Antipholus and S. Dromio alike then both wonder if the Courtesan is perhaps the devil, in the form of a ‘‘light wench.’’ S. Antipholus calls her a sorceress and tells her to leave, but she only demands the ring of hers that Antipholus had worn at dinner. At last certain that the Courtesan is some sort of witch, S. Antipholus and S. Dromio flee. The Courtesan, thinking Antipholus must be insane, resolves to go to his house and tell Adriana that he had stolen her ring, as the Courtesan does not wish to lose it.
Act 4, Scene 4
As E. Antipholus is being led away by the Officer, E. Dromio returns to give him the rope. When E. Antipholus asks about the money he had sent for, E. Dromio declares that he knows nothing about it; E. Antipholus then grows angry and beats E. Dromio. The Officer urges E. Antipholus to calm down, but he continues verbally abusing E. Dromio, who laments that he has long been subject to beatings at the hand of his master.
As Adriana, Luciana, and the Courtesan arrive with a doctor named Pinch, E. Antipholus continues to beat E. Dromio—providing evidence of E. Antipholus’s suspected madness. The women declare that he indeed looks ill, and when Pinch tries to take his pulse, E. Antipholus strikes him. Pinch then attempts to exorcise Satan from E. Antipholus; Antipholus dismisses the man, declares that he is sane, and asks his wife to explain why he had been locked out at dinnertime. Adriana insists that he dined at home, leaving E. Antipholus and E. Dromio to insist that they had been locked out as well as taunted by the kitchen maid.
As the women and the doctor begin to wonder if E. Dromio has also been infected with madness, E. Antipholus and Adriana relate their respective roles in the fetching of the money by S. Dromio— which E. Dromio knows nothing about. Pinch insists that both men must be mad, and when E. Antipholus threatens to assault Adriana, several men appear to bind E. Antipholus. E. Antipholus pleads with the Officer, who asserts that E. Antipholus is in his charge and cannot be taken by the others. Adriana then offers to go with the Officer to repay the debt, and E. Antipholus and E. Dromio are taken away by the doctor.
The Officer tells Adriana that the money is owed for a golden chain, which she knows nothing about. The Courtesan then mentions that after E. Antipholus had taken her ring, she met him holding the chain in question. S. Antipholus and S. Dromio suddenly appear with drawn swords, provoking the Officer and the women to flee. S. Antipholus is glad that the witches fear their weapons, and despite S. Dromio’s suggestion that they remain in that ‘‘gentle nation’’ after all, S. Antipholus insists that they depart immediately.
Act 5, Scene 1
Angelo is apologizing to the Merchant while assuring him that Antipholus is held in very high regard in Ephesus. S. Antipholus and S. Dromio then arrive, and Angelo sees that the chain is indeed around S. Antipholus’s neck. Angelo questions him, and S. Antipholus declares that he never denied having the chain. The Merchant, who earlier heard E. Antipholus deny having the chain, grows angry; he and S. Antipholus argue and eventually draw swords.
Adriana, Luciana, and the Courtesan then arrive with the intention of binding S. Antipholus and S. Dromio, who flee into the Priory. The Abbess then comes out to ask about the commotion; Adriana demands that the Abbess turn over her husband, as she wants to treat her husband. The Abbess asks of the recent trouble and concludes that Antipholus has only been maddened by Adriana’s jealous nagging. The Abbess then declares that she will not deny Antipholus sanctuary there and that she will herself use potions and prayers to try to cure him.
Adriana resolves to ask the duke for assistance, and he presently enters with Egeon, who is to be executed. Adriana tells the duke how she had bound her maddened husband and how he had consequently escaped and was being protected by the Abbess. The duke summons the Abbess, but a Messenger then arrives to tell Adriana that E. Antipholus and E. Dromio have escaped their bonds and were harming the doctor. Everyone is confused, as they believe Antipholus and Dromio to be inside the Priory—but E. Antipholus and E. Dromio indeed then appear.
E. Antipholus relates all that he has suffered to the duke, a wartime friend of his. While Adriana and Luciana claim that he had dined at home, E. Antipholus insists that he had been locked out, which E. Dromio and Angelo confirm. E. Antipholus then explains all that had occurred that day from his perspective, speaking of the missing chain, of Dromio’s failure to bring the money, and of the doctor’s efforts at exorcism. As they all relate what they know about the chain, the duke begins to wonder at how extraordinary the situation seems.
Egeon then finally speaks up, as he believes that E. Antipholus must be his son S. Antipholus. However, both E. Dromio and E. Antipholus profess to having never seen Egeon, who imagines that they simply do not recognize him because they have not seen him for seven years. As the duke confirms that E. Antipholus has not been to Syracuse in the last twenty years, the Abbess enters in the company of S. Antipholus and S. Dromio. The Abbess then tells Egeon that she is Emilia, his long lost wife, and that she had been separated from E. Antipholus and E. Dromio soon after the shipwreck, as the two infants were taken by fishermen from Corinth. E. Antipholus then confirms that he had originally been brought to Ephesus from Corinth. Adriana determines that S. Antipholus was the man with whom she dined, and Angelo sees that S. Antipholus is the one who has the chain. E. Antipholus offers to pay the duke to free Egeon, but the duke releases Egeon without accepting the money. E. Antipholus then returns the ring to the Courtesan.
The Abbess announces that they will hold a festive gathering to celebrate the reunion of all the family members. After a last instance of confusion, when S. Dromio mistakenly addresses E. Antipholus, the Antipholus brothers exit, leaving the Dromio brothers to wonder which of them is older and should lead the other; they at last decide that they will walk side by side, ‘‘not one before another.’’
Shakespeare for Students:Critical Interpretations of Shakespeare’s Plays & Poetry, Second Edition, Volume 1, authored by Anne Marie Hacht & Cynthia Burnstein, published by Thomson-Gale, 2007