The Play’s the Thing: Ægeon of Syracuse has been brought before the Duke of Ephesus as there is currently a disagreement between Syracuse and Ephesus. Anyone of Syracuse found in Ephesus is to be executed and his goods confiscated unless he can pay the fine of one thousand marks. Ægeon can’t pay but he explains he’s come to Ephesus because when his children were quite young, he and his wife were traveling on a ship that was caught in a storm. He and his wife tied one of their sons (identical twins) and one of the servant children (also twins) to a mast with each of them. The ship then broke in half and the couple and their respective children were rescued by different groups. Ægeon is now trying to find his wife and other son. The Duke is sympathetic but can’t break the law but he does give Ægeon the day to find someone to pay the bond on his behalf. So with the stage for identical twin shenanigans, we meet Antipholus and his servant, Dromio, of Syracuse. Knowing the legislation in place, they only plan to spend the day in Ephesus and then hurry on their way. Antipholus gives Dromio the money to take to the inn for safekeeping. He then runs into Dromio of Ephesus (that’s right, not only are there two pairs of identical twins but the twins have the SAME NAMES. Isn’t that hysterical?). Dromio’s been sent by his master’s wife to fetch him home for dinner. Antipholus thinks the guy is kidding and asks about his money. Dromio has no clue about the money, Antipholus beats him for stealing and then heads off to the inn to see if the money is there.
Adriana, the wife of Antipholus of Ephesus, is talking with her sister, Luciana about her husband’s tardiness and Adriana’s jealous suspicions of her husband’s infidelity. They then meet Dromio of Ephesus who tells them of the crazy behaviour of Antipholus who denied having a wife and was only interested in his money. Adriana sends Dromio out again to fetch Antipholus. At the same time, Antipholus and Dromio of Syracuse meet up again, shortly after Antipholus has confirmed his money is safe. He asks Dromio what was with all the jokes about his wife and Dromio has no clue what he’s talking about. They then run into Adriana and Luciana who tell them to come home for dinner. Antipholus has no idea who these women are and asks Dromio as he delivered the same message but Dromio also has no clue. Antipholus goes to have lunch with the ladies and Dromio is left to guard the gate.
Antipholus and Dromio of Ephesus are headed home with some of Antipholus merchant friends to have dinner. However, Dromio of Syracuse refuses to let them in. Adriana is brought down and says she’s already dining with her husband, refusing to let in the group of men. Antipholus is outraged and decides to take the group for dinner to the house of a lady of the night he happens to know. He then tells his friend Angelo to go pick up the gold chain he had commissioned as he’ll give it to the courtesan to make his wife jealous. Meanwhile, Antipholus of Syracuse is attempting to woo Luciana whom he finds absolutely delightful and wants to marry. He then chats with Dromio who has encountered the woman who says she’s his betrothed in the kitchen. There’s some riffing on how fat she is and then Angelo shows up with the gold chain which he gives to Antipholus. Antipholus is now absolutely convinced the entire town of Ephesus is nutty and tells Dromio to find a ship that’s leaving ASAP.
Angelo now encounters a merchant he owes money and tells him as soon as Antipholus pays him he’ll be able to pay the merchant. Antipholus of Ephesus then happens by and the end up in the circuitous conversation of Angelo asking for his money and Antipholus refusing to pay until he gets the chain which Angelo swears he’s given to him. Antipholus is eventually arrested. Dromio of Syracuse then happens by and tells Antipholus he’s found a ship that sets sail that evening. Confused, Antipholus tells him to forget the ship and go to Adriana to get money to pay his bail. Adriana and Luciana are talking about how her “husband” hit on her sister when Dromio of Syracuse arrives to get the money. Antipholus of Syracuse is marveling at how well everyone in Ephesus treats him when he meets Dromio of Syracuse who gives him the bail money. Antipholus is super confused and asks about the options of leaving town. Dromio is confused because he already told him. They then meet the courtesan who demands the chain Antipholus is wearing in exchange for the diamond ring he took from her at dinner. Antipholus and Dromio refuse and then leave. The courtesan then heads to Antipholus’ house to get her money or ring one way or another. Meanwhile, Antipholus of Ephesus is in jail when Dromio of Ephesus shows up. Antipholus wants to know where the bail money is and Dromio has no clue what he’s talking about. Adriana, Luciana, and the Courtesan then show up along with “Doctor” Pinch. Pinch decides that Antipholus and Dromio are possessed and order them bound and carried off to Adriana’s house to be cured. Shortly after the pair are carried out, Antipholus and Dromio of Syracuse arrive with swords drawn to keep away all the crazy people and are very eager to get the hell out of Dodge.
Antipholus of Syracuse runs into Angela and the merchant who ask about the chain he’s wearing about his neck and why he refused he had it before. Antipholus says he did no such thing. He and the merchant are about to duel when Adriana shows up and tells them not to fight as Antipholus is mad. Antipholus and Dromio of Syracuse then head off to the Priory. The abbess then comes out to chat with Adriana and refuses to release her husband to her. Adriana is outraged and decides to plead her case with the Duke he just happens to be passing that way as he escorts to Ægeon to the place of execution. Adriana outlines the craziness of her husband the stance of the abbess. A servant then arrives to tell her that Antipholus and Dromio broke loose and are on their way. Antipholus and Dromio of Ephesus then show up. Everybody’s super confused, even Ægeon who can’t believe his own son doesn’t recognize him. Then Antipholus and Dromio of Syracuse come out of the abbey and everybody realized that it’s just been identical twin hijinks that have been going on all day. It’s also revealed that the abbess is Ægeon’s lost wife, Æmelia. Antipholus of Syracuse declares his intention to marry Luciana and everyone heads off to talk about the crazy sauce day they’ve had.
Heroes and Villains: This play is really all about the mistaken identity hijinks with very little opportunity to get to know the characters at all. However, if pressed to choose, I guess my favourite characters would be the Dromios who have the most difficult time of it and are ridiculously comic at the same time.
Speech to Know: There’s no truly brilliant speeches in this play although there is lots of rhyming couplets. However, Antipholus of Syracuse’s wooing speech to Luciana is pretty charming.
“Sweet mistress, – what your name is else, I know not,
Nor by what wonder do you hit on mine, –
Less, in your knowledge and your grace, you show not
Than our earth’s wonder; more than earth divine.
Teach me, dear creature, how to think and speak;
Lay open to my earthly gross conceit,
Smother’d in errors, feeble, shallow, weak,
The folded meaning of your words’ deceit.
Against my soul’s pure truth why labour you
To make it wander in an unknown field?
Are you a god? would you create me new?
Transform me, then, and to your power I’ll yield.
But if that I am I, then well I know
Your weeping sister is no wife of mine,
Nor to her bed no homage do I owe:
Far more, far more, to you do I decline.
O, train me not, sweet mermaid, with thy note,
To drown me in thy sister’s flood of tears:
Sing, siren, for thyself, and I will dote:
Spread o’er the silver waves thy golden hairs,
And as a bed I’ll take thee, and there lie;
And, in that glorious supposition, think
He gains by death that hath such means to die: –
Let love, being light, be drowned if she sink!” (III.ii)
View from the Pit: The Comedy of Errors is in many ways a precursor to the screwball comedies of the 1920s and 30s. We have ridiculous plot lines, mistaken identities taken to their heights, and everyone is forever racing about with frenetic energy. The play is pure frothy comedy with very little substance as we watch everyone misidentify the twins over and over again. While towards the end of the play the plot begins to wear a bit thin and you wish they’d just figure it out already, the resolution is predictably happy with couples and siblings reunited and the promise of a wedding. Not a bad way to spend your time, really.