The Comedy of Errors | Study Guide

William Shakespeare

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The Comedy of Errors | Act 3, Scene 1 | Summary

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Summary

Antipholus of Ephesus stands outside of his house, conferring with the goldsmith Angelo and the merchant Balthasar. Although this is the first time he appears onstage, Antipholus of Ephesus has already met Dromio of Syracuse and mistaken him for his own servant. So when Dromio of Ephesus enters, Antipholus asks him to explain himself, but Dromio insists he never said anything about gold marks. Antipholus of Ephesus, confused and embarrassed, invites Angelo and Balthasar to dinner.

When Antipholus of Ephesus tries the door, however, he finds it locked. Dromio of Ephesus calls to the servants within to open the door for their master, but Dromio of Syracuse, the gatekeeper, gives a rude reply from within. He tells the two Ephesians to go away, since the master of the house (actually Antipholus of Syracuse) is already at home. Luce, the cook, comes to the door as well, but she likewise refuses to admit anyone. Adriana, who is dining with the man she believes to be her husband, scoffs at the notion that "Antipholus" is at the door.

Confronted with this apparent betrayal, Antipholus of Ephesus threatens to break into the house with a crowbar, but Balthasar talks him out of it. Instead, the three merchants "depart in quiet" to dine at the Tiger, a local inn. Before they leave Antipholus of Ephesus reminds Angelo about a gold chain he has commissioned for Adriana. He asks the goldsmith to retrieve the chain from his shop and, to spite Adriana, give it to a "wench" (the courtesan) who resides at the Porpentine Inn (Porpentine means "porcupine").

Analysis

This scene brings the two Dromios together for the Elizabethan equivalent of a rap battle. In one rhyming couplet after another, the twins—ignorant of each other's identities—trade insults and jokes in a jeering tone of voice. Many of the proverbs they use are now obsolete, making it difficult to keep up with their verbal sparring. To "set in my staff," as Dromio of Ephesus proposes to do in his spat with Luce, is to make oneself at home (think of a person setting down their walking stick at the end of a long journey). The "crow without feather" mentioned later is a crowbar, which will enable Dromio to break down the door and "pluck a crow" (i.e., start a quarrel) with the mysterious gatekeeper.

The Dromios sometimes manage to curb their sarcastic wit when the Antipholi are around to punish them. In this encounter, however, they leave it all on the field, returning pun for pun and jab for jab. Their long lines of verse, called fourteeners, are snappier and more casual than the iambic pentameter spoken by their superiors—and by the Dromios themselves in more formal situations. The singsong quality of the fourteener is easiest to see in couplets like this one, spoken by Dromio of Ephesus:

Your cake here is warm within; you stand here in the cold.
It would make a man mad as a buck to be so bought and sold.

Compare this with the more dignified blank verse of Balthasar, who speaks in iambic pentameter when he urges Antipholus not to break down the door:

Have patience, sir. O, let it be not so.
Herein you war against your reputation.

Balthasar's wise words win Antipholus of Ephesus over this time, but they do not stop him from being an essentially rash and impulsive man. Before the scene is through, Antipholus of Ephesus vents his anger at Adriana by denying her a costly piece of jewelry he has been promising her. His merchant friends may warn him against acting over-hastily, but this gesture puts them on notice not to expect coolheaded behavior from Antipholus of Ephesus.

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