The Comedy of Errors | Study Guide

William Shakespeare

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The Comedy of Errors | Act 1, Scene 2 | Summary

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Summary

Antipholus of Syracuse, Egeon's son, has just arrived in Ephesus with his servant, Dromio of Syracuse. He learns about the ban on Syracusians from a merchant friend of his, who advises Antipholus of Syracuse to tell people he is from Epidamium—his birthplace—rather than from Syracuse—where he grew up. Antipholus asks Dromio to seek out their accommodations and stow a large sum of money there for safekeeping.

Moments later, Dromio of Ephesus arrives and, mistaking Antipholus of Syracuse for his own master, implores him to come home to dinner. Antipholus of Syracuse, thinking this is his own servant, proceeds to ask Dromio of Ephesus if the money has been deposited. Dromio of Ephesus has no idea what Antipholus of Syracuse is talking about and assumes his master is playing some kind of joke. He repeats his request that Antipholus come to dinner. Antipholus of Syracuse, who thinks Dromio of Ephesus is the one playing tricks, grows increasingly frustrated and angry. At last he begins beating Dromio of Ephesus, chasing him offstage in the process. Once Dromio has fled, Antipholus of Syracuse reflects uneasily on the rumors he has heard about Ephesus, a town supposedly full of "sorcerers," "witches," and other deceitful types. He decides to visit the inn and check on the money for himself.

Analysis

With this scene, the "errors" of the title begin, and they won't let up until the final act. Only one of the Antipholi has shown up so far, but both Dromios have appeared, and it becomes clear the twin servants are similar in personality as well as appearance. If Antipholus of Syracuse is to be believed, "his" Dromio has a knack for playing ill-timed practical jokes, like pretending to lose a thousand gold coins. Antipholus of Syracuse, however, has something of a paranoid streak, so he may simply imagine his servant is out to make a fool of him. Frankly, Dromio of Syracuse is not onstage long enough to give a strong impression of his sense of humor just yet; he utters only two lines, which take the form of a mild sarcastic quip.

Dromio of Ephesus, who has a larger part in this scene, gives a much better example of the "Dromio Brothers'" brand of humor. His speech to Antipholus of Syracuse is a constant stream of puns, and the jokes seem to grow even more frequent as Antipholus of Syracuse loses his temper. Intellectually, Dromio of Ephesus's snappy repartee puts him on an even footing with Antipholus of Syracuse, but it does not make up for their difference in social standing. At times his joking even seems to serve as a defense mechanism, a way of coping with the rough treatment he experiences as a servant. For example, when Dromio is asked about the marks (coins) he supposedly deposited for Antipholus, he jests instead about the marks (bruises) he has received from his employers. He wittily offers to repay those marks, but warns Antipholus will probably not "bear them patiently."

Indeed, Antipholus of Syracuse does not seem like an especially patient person. In his short closing soliloquy, he jumps to some pretty wild conclusions about what has happened to his money: it must have been spirited away by thieves, wizards, or "mountebanks" (quack doctors who sell fake remedies). Although some of the figures mentioned in Antipholus of Syracuse's speech are ordinary cheats and criminals, most of them are associated with the dark arts in some way. Antipholus, apparently, is a strong believer in the occult and is prepared to assume shapeshifting magicians—those who "change the mind" and "deform the body"—are out to get him. In later acts he will grow increasingly convinced evil forces are at work in Ephesus, and he will seek to leave the city at any cost.

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