The Comedy of Errors abbreviated

Centuries ago, a man named Egeon, a merchant from Syracuse, a city on the eastern seacoast of Sicily, found himself in Ephesus, a city on the western seacoast of Turkey.  He was in Ephesus searching for one of his identical-twin sons.  To his enormous misfortune, he finds himself in real trouble the very morning he arrives in Ephesus, but some background first. 

Egeon, his wife Emilia, their twin baby boys and their two “purchased” twin baby boys, were separated two to three decades earlier, the result of a terrible tragedy at sea, all four boys being but months old at the time. These two sets of boys, having grown from babies to young men, are the principals in the play.  Egeon tells us that “the purchased male twins, whose parents were exceeding poor, I bought and brought up to attend my sons.”  We also know that for some eighteen years Egeon and one of his sons and one of the twin servants had lived together in Syracuse.  But we don’t know what ever happened to his wife, the other son and his servant.  We learn that one of Egeon’s sons, Antipholus of Syracuse, the son he seeks, the son who had lived with him, had left Syracuse five years ago on a long-shot of a search to find his long-missing twin brother.  As Egeon says, his son “at eighteen years (he) became inquisitive after his brother and importuned me that his attendant might bear him company in the quest of him.”  Egeon and Emilia had ‘bought’ these two identical-twin boys right after their birth, right after the birth of their own sons. The play is one of Shakespeare’s great love stories, between Egeon and Emilia, the long separated couple.  It is also a family love story disguised as a farce.  By giving each set of twin boys the same name, Shakespeare provided us with a unique, comical and serious challenge. 

The play opens with Egeon being arrested in Ephesus on the morning he arrives, apparently unaware that diplomatic relations between Syracuse and Ephesus had deteriorated to the point where “if any Syracusian born come to the bay of Ephesus, he dies.” (Grief, Act 1, Scene 1) Egeon doesn’t put up much of a fight over his arrest, being discouraged and exhausted, saying “for five summers have I spent in farthest Greece, roaming clean through the bounds of Asia, came to Ephesus” searching for the twin-son who had lived with him for eighteen years.  He is sent to jail, to be put to death that night unless he can come up with “a thousand marks to quit the penalty and ransom him,” he having about a tenth of what he needs. 

Egeon and Emilia’s identical-twin sons were given the same name, Antipholus.  For sake of clarity, Shakespeare called one Antipholus of Syracuse; the other, Antipholus of Ephesus.  The identical-twin boys, bought to attend their sons, also were given the same name, Dromio.  So, to make sure we keep it straight, Shakespeare named one of the attendants Dromio of Syracuse and the other, of course, Dromio of Ephesus. 

Antipholus of Syracuse and Dromio of Syracuse, by mere coincidence, arrive in Ephesus the same morning Egeon arrives. Egeon may well have been in jail by the time the young men arrived.  Shakespeare often contracts his stories, this one very compact, covering one day.  The brother and his attendant are there continuing their search for Antipholus of Syracuse’s brother and his attendant.  Again by mere happenstance, twenty-three years ago, after the tragic incident at sea, Antipholus of Syracuse’s mother and brother, and the brother’s attendant, had arrived and settled in Ephesus.  Egeon tells us that Emilia, one of her sons and his intended attendant, both babies at the time were “taken up by fishermen of Corinth, as we thought.”   How these now young men and Emilia ended up in Ephesus, with the men not knowing she was there and she not knowing they were there remains a mystery.

Moving on with the story, soon after arriving in Ephesus, Antipholus of Syracuse gives Dromio of Syracuse some of his gold currency and asks him to “go bear it to the Centaur, where we host, and stay there.”  Antipholus of Syracuse tells his attendant that over the next hour “I’ll view the manners of the town.” (Introspection, Act 1, Scene 2) Dromio of Ephesus then enters and the confusion of identities begins.  With a sense of urgency, Dromio of Ephesus tells Antipholus of Syracuse, thinking he is his master, that his wife and her sister are eagerly waiting for him to come home for dinner, saying of Antipholus’ wife “She is so hot because the meat is cold; the meat is cold because you come not home.”  Antipholus of Syracuse is baffled, of course, asking “Tell me, and dally not: where is the money?”

Adriana and Luciana (Antipholus of Ephesus’ wife and sister-in-law) moralize about the nature and being of men, particularly their short-comings, and in particular the short-comings of Adriana’s husband. (Counsel, Act 2, Scene 1) Dromio of Ephesus returns to Adriana and she immediately asks “So, didst thou speak with him?”  He tries to explain, saying “He is stark mad.”  She says “Go back again, thou slave, and fetch him home.”  He exits. Adriana proceeds to tell Luciana how sorry she feels for herself. (Resentment, Act 2, Scene 1)

Antipholus of Syracuse is now on stage, having gone to the Centaur to confirm that his gold was safe.  Dromio of Syracuse enters at the Centaur and the two of them argue over who is kidding whom, Antipholus of Syracuse, of course, mistaking his Dromio for Dromio of Ephesus, saying such things as “Villain, thou didst deny the gold’s receipt and told’st me of a mistress and a dinner.”  

Adriana and Luciana then enter.  Adriana, seeing Antipholus of Syracuse and of course thinking he is her husband, and by now a very angry woman, says “Some other mistress has thy sweet aspects.”  (Spurned, Act 2, Scene 2) Misidentification reigns. But the men like the attention. Gathering herself, Adriana takes Antipholus of Syracuse by the arm, saying “Thou art an elm, my husband, I a vine” and “Come, come, no longer will I be a fool, come sir to dinner” and “Husband, I’ll dine above with you today.”  She commands Dromio of Syracuse to “keep the gate” saying “If any ask you for your master, say he dines forth, and let no creature enter.”  The women are persuasive.  The men accept the invitation. Antipholus of Syracuse aside saying “Am I in earth, in heaven, or in hell?  Sleeping or waking, mad or well-advised?” 

Antipholus of Ephesus has invited Angelo, a goldsmith, along with his Dromio to join him at his home for dinner, confident his wife will welcome them.  As requested by Antipholus of Ephesus, Angelo is in the midst of creating a gold chain for Adriana.  When they arrive, an unseen Dromio of Syracuse denies them access.  A very-angry-with-his-wife Antipholus of Ephesus tells Angelo “Get you home and fetch the chain.  Bring it to the Porpentine.  That chain will I bestow upon mine hostess there.”  We really don’t want to know what the Porpentine is.  His hostess is the Courtesan, a name given to mistresses of kings.  Meanwhile, back at the dinner table, misidentification continues to rule, Luciana lecturing Antipholus of Syracuse, suggesting he pay more attention to his wife, her sister. (Counsel, Act 3, Scene 2) All the while Antipholus of Syracuse, showing real interest in Luciana, tries to encourage her to pay more attention to him, saying such things as “your weeping sister is no wife of mine.”

Angelo rushes to his home, gets the gold chain and inadvertently delivers it to Antipholus of Syracuse, who happens to be out for a walk, Angelo believing, of course, that he is Antipholus of Ephesus.  Angelo, knowing how angry Antipholus of Ephesus has been, being denied access to his home, graciously suggests he pay for the chain later.  Still upset over the incident at his home, Antipholus of Ephesus dispatches Dromio of Ephesus to buy a rope’s end.  By this time, Angelo, needing the proceeds from the gold chain to repay a creditor, named the Second Merchant, runs into Antipholus of Ephesus and suggests that maybe it is better if he pay him now, believing, of course, that he had just given him the gold chain.  A generally frustrated Antipholus of Ephesus erupts, yelling out that he never received the chain. Angelo has him arrested. 

Now more than ever believing that the city is inhabited by conjurers and sorcerers, Antipholus of Syracuse believes it is time to leave Ephesus, telling his Dromio to “go immediately, an if the wind blow any way from shore, and any bark put forth, come to the mart where I will walk till thou return to me.”  Dromio of Syracuse exits to make arrangements to leave Ephesus.  He later rushes onto the stage telling Antipholus of Ephesus that he’s made plans for them to get away from the city by ship that very night.  Antipholus of Ephesus responds “How now?  A madman?  I sent thee for a rope.”  Dromio of Syracuse counters “You sent me to the bay, sir, for a bark.”  Preoccupied with the need to buy his way out of his arrest, Antipholus of Ephesus says “I will debate this matter at more leisure.”  He instructs Dromio of Syracuse “to Adriana. Give her this key, and tell her in the desk there is a purse of ducats. Let her send it. And that shall bail me.”  Dromio of Syracuse freely enters Adriana’s home, she not knowing the difference between the Dromios, and makes sure he gets the gold he needs as bail for her husband.  He leaves. 

Antipholus of Syracuse, while waiting for his Dromio’s return, proudly strolls about the mart with the gold chain prominently displayed about his neck.  Dromio of Syracuse sees him and quickly and mistakenly gives him the gold meant as bail for Antipholus of Ephesus.  Receiving the gold chain and gold coins, Antipholus of Syracuse decides that maybe they don’t after all need to get out of town so quickly.  The Courtesan then enters and asks Antipholus of Syracuse to give her the gold chain he’d promised her.  But, of course, he has no idea who she is and refuses to part with the chain.  She immediately rushes to Adriana to tell her what a dishonorable husband she has. 

Dromio of Ephesus returns to Antipholus of Ephesus and happily presents him with the rope’s end he’d just bought, just as instructed.  An infuriated Antipholus of Ephesus, thinking this is the Dromio he sent to Adriana to get his gold bail-money (that he never received), proceeds to beat his Dromio with the rope’s end. Separately, Adriana, Luciana, the Courtesan and their friend, a Dr. Pinch, a schoolmaster who works on the side as an exorcist, enter stage central and observe the beating Antipholus of Ephesus is inflicting on his Dromio.  The outspoken Courtesan says to Adriana “Is not your husband mad?”  The group of them has a heated exchange over the meaning of all the bizarre misidentification issues they’ve been dealing with. Adriana calls her husband a “dissembling villain.”  He yells back at her “Dissembling harlot, thou art false in all.”  She then shouts at the police officers to have him arrested, saying “O bind him, bind him!  Let him not come near me.”  The police do arrest him, turning him over to Dr. Pinch. 

Antipholus and Dromio of Syracuse enter, Antipholus of Syracuse with his sword drawn.  Being frightened, they all exit, except for the two men.  Antipholus and Dromio of Syracuse decide they absolutely must leave Ephesus promptly.  They soon encounter an angry Angelo, Second Merchant and Adriana.  For the sake of their lives, the two men decide their best option is to hide in the priory.  Adriana sees the two of them run into the church property and tries to get the Abbess of the priory to release the men to her.  Unaware of events, the Abbess protects the men inside, all the while giving Adriana a lecture. (Counsel, Act 5, Scene 1)  

At about this time, evening having arrived, the Duke enters leading Egeon to the gallows.  Seeing the Duke, an infuriated Adriana, disregarding Egeon, begs the Duke to intervene on her behalf and require the Abbess to release her husband. (Pleading, Act 5, Scene 1.1)

Antipholus of Ephesus and his Dromio enter stage central, Antipholus of Ephesus having escaped from Dr. Pinch. Through all the commotion, Antipholus of Ephesus defends himself to the Duke, saying among things that he is not “disturbed with the effect of wine.” (Pleading, Act 5, Scene 1.2)

Seeing his son, Egeon says to the Duke “haply I see a friend will save my life and pay the sum that may deliver me” believing “the friend” to be the son who lived with him in Syracuse for so many years. (Joy, Act 5, Scene 1) Antipholus and Dromio of Ephesus deny knowing him, Antipholus of Ephesus saying “I never saw my father in my life.”  The Abbess (Emilia) enters with Antipholus and Dromio of Syracuse.  All falls into place.  Emilia recognizes Egeon as her long-lost husband.  (Wife to Husband, Act 5, Scene 1) Adriana and Antipholus of Ephesus are reconciled.  Antipholus of Syracuse declares his love for Luciana.  Both sets of twin brothers joyfully greet each other.  Dromio of Ephesus says to his brother “We came into the world like brother and brother, and now let’s go hand in hand, not one before another.”  All is well. A party begins.