By Charles Matthews

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

6. The Comedy of Errors, by William Shakespeare, pp. 88-107

Act V

Scene I 

Angelo and the merchant encounter the Syracusan Antipholus and Dromio. Antipholus-S. is wearing Angelo's chain, which surprises the goldsmith, since Antiopholus-E. had denied receiving it from him. When the merchant angrily denounces Antipholus-S.  for having earlier denied having the chain, Antipholus calls him a "villain" for impugning his honor and challenges him to fight.

As both Antipholus and the merchant draw their swords, Adriana, Luciana and the courtesan enter. Adriana tells the merchant not to hurt him: "he is mad," and asks the men accompanying her to seize Antipholus and Dromio and take them to her house. Dromio urges Antipholus to take refuge with him in the nearby priory, and they do so.

The abbess emerges from the priory to quiet the crowd. Adriana pleads with her to let them come in and take Antipholus and Dromio away, explaining that her husband is "distracted." The abbess asks how long he has been mad, and Adriana says he has "been heavy, sour, sad" for a week, but this afternoon he broke out into an "extremity of rage." The abbess asks if he has suffered financial loss or the death of a friend, or if he has begun to indulge in "unlawful love, / A sin prevailing much in youthful men." Adriana admits that this last is the case, and the abbess suggests that Adriana hasn't been stern enough in rebuking her husband's infidelity.

On the contrary, Adriana says. She was constantly criticizing him for it: "In bed he slept not for my urging it, / At board he fed not for my urging it." Even when others were present, she says, she told "him it was vile and bad." And the abbess says that this is what has driven Antipholus mad: "The venom clamours of a jealous woman / Poisons more deadly than a mad dog's tooth." If he couldn't eat or sleep because of her nagging, no wonder he's gone mad: "The consequence is then, thy jealous fits / Hath scar'd thy husband from the use of wits."

Luciana defends her sister -- "She never reprehended him but mildly" -- and Adriana charges the abbess with tricking her into confessing that she caused Antipholus's madness -- "She did betray me to mine own reproof."  She tells the others to enter the priory and take Antipholus and Dromio, but the abbess bars the way: "He took this place for sanctuary." She will treat Antipholus "With wholesome syrups, drugs and holy prayers, / To make of him a formal man again." Adriana refuses to give up, "And ill it doth beseem your holiness / To separate the husband and the wife." But the abbess tells her, "Be quiet and depart, thou shalt not have him," and goes back inside.

Luciana urges Adriana to go plead her case to the duke, and the merchant observes that as it's five o'clock the duke will be there soon to carry out the sentence earlier pronounced on Egeon (remember him?), since "The place of death and sorry execution" is "Behind the ditches of the abbey here."

Sure enough, Solinus enters with Egeon and the executioner, and Adriana accosts him to voice her complaint against the abbess. She fibs a bit about the extent of Antipholus's "fit of madness," asserting that he did "displeasure to the citizens / By rushing in their houses; bearing thence / Rings, jewels, any thing his rage did like." The duke agrees to hear her side of the case because Antipholus had "serv'd me in my wars, / And I to thee engag'd a prince's word, / When thou didst make him master of thy bed, / To do him all the grace and good I could." So he starts to send for the abbess to hear the matter out.

A messenger hurries in to inform Adriana that Antipholus and Dromio have escaped, but not before singing off Pinch's beard and throwing "on him / Great pails of puddled mire to quench the hair." Adriana assures him that  they are here in the priory, but the messenger insists that he's telling the truth and that Antipholus "vows if he can take you / To scorch your face and to disfigure you. Solinus tells Adriana not to worry, as Antipholus-E. and Dromio-E. enter.

As Antipholus-E. addresses the duke, asking for justice, Egeon recognizes what he takes to be his son, Antipholus-S., and Dromio-S. Antipholus-E. continues his case against Adriana for locking him out of his house, which she stoutly denies and Luciana corroborates. And spotting Angelo, Antipholus-E. recounts the argument over the chain, as well as the attempted exorcism of Pinch and that he was bound "in a dark and dankish vault at home," where he gnawed through the ropes and escaped.

Angelo confirms that Antipholus-E. was locked out of his house, but he also insists that "when he ran in here / These people saw the chain about his neck." The merchant confirms that Antipholus was wearing the chain and adds that he had drawn his sword and was about to fight with Antipholus before he took refuge in the abbey. Antipholus-E. protests, "I never came within these abbey walls, / Nor ever didst thou draw thy sword on me; / I never saw this chain, so help me heaven." Dromio-E. confirms that Antipholus-E. dined with the courtesan at the Porpentine, and she attests that he took the ring from her finger, which he now admits.

Convinced that they are all "stark mad," Solinus now sends for the abbess. But Egeon steps forward to try to resolve his case: "Haply I see a friend will save my life, / And pay the sum that may deliver me." He asks the men he thinks are his son and his servant if their names are Antipholus and Dromio, and when they say yes, he says, "I am sure you both of you remember me." They don't, of course, and Dromio-E. asks if he is one of Pinch's patients -- i.e., a madman -- Egeon turns to Antipholus-E., who says, "I never saw you in my life till now."

Egeon thinks that age -- it has been seven years since he last saw them -- must have changed his appearance, but not his voice, but when they deny recognizing that he is distraught. "Tell me thou art my son Antipholus," he pleads, but Antipholus-E. assures him, "I never saw my father in my life." And Solonius assures him that he has been Antipholus's patron for twenty years, "During which time he ne'er saw Syracusa."

But then the abbess enters with the real Syracusan Antipholus and Dromio, causing a great stir. Antipholus-S. recognizes his father, and Dromio-S. asks who has bound his master. The abbess resolves everyone's questions: She is Emilia, Egeon's wife. After they were separated at sea, Emilia explains, fishermen from Corinth took Antipholus-E. and Dromio-E. from her by force. She went on to Epidamnum alone. Eventually, Antipholus-E. and Dromio-E. came to Ephesus with Solinus's "renowned uncle," Menaphon. Emilia presumably made her way there separately, without knowing that the Ephesian Antipholus was her son.

So they proceed to sort out the rest of the day's confusions, such as which Antipholus dined with Adriana and which was barred from the house, which one wooed Luciana and now hopes he "shall have leisure to make good," which one has the chain, which Antipholus sent which Dromio on which errand, and so forth. The courtesan gets her ring back and Egeon's ransom gets paid. The various brothers and parents are reunited.
The conclusion of the BBC-TV production features Wendy Hiller, in a bit of lavish casting, as the abbess, Emilia.

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