By Charles Matthews

Friday, June 3, 2011

2. The Comedy of Errors, by William Shakespeare, pp. 1-18

The Comedy of Errors (Arden Shakespeare: Second Series)Act I 

Scene I 

Solinus, the Duke of Ephesus, informs the Syracusan merchant Egeon that because of the conflict between Syracuse and Ephesus, all trespassers from Syracuse are subject to the death penalty unless they can pay a thousand marks in ransom. Egeon submits to the decree, which means he has only the rest of the day to live -- and as we'll find out shortly, it's getting on toward noon. 

Solinus wants to know why Egeon came to Ephesus in the first place, so Egeon tells him that some years ago he had gone to Epidamnum to take care of business, and had been joined there by his wife, who gave birth to twin boys. At the same time "A mean woman was delivered / Of such a burden male, twins both alike," so Egeon purchased them to be servants to his boys. 

On their way back to Syracuse, a storm came up, and when the ship began to sink, his wife bound one of their sons and one of the servant-twins to "a small spare mast, / Such as sea-faring men provide for storms." Egeon took care of the other two boys and he and his wife "Fasten'd ourselves at either end of the mast." Two ships appeared but before they reached them, the mast was split in two "by a mighty rock." Egeon saw his wife and the two boys swept away by the sea and picked up by a fishing boat. He and the boys in his charge were rescued by another ship, but it was unable to catch up with the fishing boat, and he was separated from his wife and the two boys. 

When the son who remained with Egeon turned eighteen, he decided to go in search of his twin, taking his servant with him. In the five years since then, Egeon has traveled through Greece and Asia Minor, and on his way back to Syracuse decided to stop in Ephesus to see if his son might have stopped there. 

Solinus is touched by Egeon's story, but he is honor-bound to enforce the law, so he gives Egeon until the end of the day to try to raise the money that will free him. Egeon doesn't have much hope that he'll succeed. 

Scene II

A merchant tells Antipholus of Syracuse that another merchant -- i.e., Egeon -- has been arrested in Ephesus, and that Antipholus should take care to let it be known that he's from Epidamnum. He gives Antipholus the money he owes him, and Antipholus sends his servant, Dromio, with the money to the Centaur, where they are staying. He tells Dromio that he'll be there shortly, as it's almost "dinner time" -- i.e., noon. 

When Dromio has left, Antipholus tells the merchant that Dromio is "A trusty villain, sir, that very oft, / When I am dull with care and melancholy, / Lightens my humour with his merry jests." He invites the merchant to join him for dinner, but the merchant has other plans, so they agree to meet at five o'clock. 

Antipholus then reflects to himself on his quest to find his brother: 
I to the world am like a drop of water
That in the ocean seeks another drop, 
Who, falling there to find his fellow forth, 
(Unseen, inquisitive) confounds himself. 
So I, to find a mother and a brother, 
In quest of them, unhappy, lose myself.
And lose himself he is about to do, as Dromio of Ephesus enters. Thinking that this Dromio is his Dromio, he asks why he's returned so quickly from the inn where they were supposed to meet. Dromio-E. tells him that it's noon and and his mistress (i.e., Adriana, the wife of Antipholus of Ephesus) is angry because dinner is getting cold and Antipholus-E. hasn't shown up for it. 

Antipholus-S. is puzzled by this, but more concerned about the money he entrusted to Dromio-S. Dromio-E. thinks he's talking about the sixpence he was given to pay the saddler, and Antipholus-S. thinks he's making some kind of joke. Dromio-E. is more concerned about the wrath of his mistress than about the money, and when Antipholus-S. demands to know what has happened to the gold he gave him, Dromio-E. denies that he was ever given any gold. 

Naturally, Antipholus-S. gets angry, especially when Dromio-E. keeps insisting that he was sent to fetch him for dinner: "My mistress and her sister stays for you." Antipholus-S. persists: "Now as I am a Christian, answer me / In what safe place you have bestow'd my money.... / Where is the thousand marks thou hadst of me." Dromio-E. replies that he has some "marks" from being beaten by Antipholus-E. and his mistress, "But not a thousand marks between you both." 

Antipholus-S. finally gets around to asking about this "mistress" Dromio-E. keeps talking about. "Your worship's wife, my mistress at the Phoenix," he replies, and Antipholus-S. starts to beat him. So Dromio-E. runs away, leaving Antipholus-S. to reflect that he has heard that Ephesus is "full of cozenage" as well as "Dark-working sorcerers that change the mind, / Soul-killing witches that deform the body, / Disguised cheaters, prating mountebanks, / And many such-like liberties of sin." He goes off to the inn to try to sort things out. 
The 1983 BBC-TV production of The Comedy of Errors features Cyril Cusack as Egeon, Michael Kitchen as the Antipholuses, Roger Daltrey as the Dromios, Suzanne Bertish as Adriana, Joanne Pearce as Luciana, and Charles Gray as Solinus.

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