The Comedy of Errors | Study Guide

William Shakespeare

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The Comedy of Errors | Act 3, Scene 2 | Summary

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Summary

Back on the streets of Ephesus, Luciana upbraids Antipholus of Syracuse for his coldness toward Adriana—his "wife" and Luciana's sister. If he is truly unhappy with his marriage, she tells him, he nonetheless should try to be a gentleman and hide his dissatisfaction from Adriana. In reply Antipholus of Syracuse tells Luciana he is actually in love with her, not Adriana. Luciana is shocked by this revelation and begins to suspect Antipholus is mad. Stalling for time, she eventually manages to escape the stage.

Just then Dromio of Syracuse comes running in, fresh from a disturbing encounter with Luce, the cook, alias Nell. He says Luce claims to be betrothed to him and somehow knows about all of his "privy marks"—his birthmarks, moles, and warts. For Antipholus of Syracuse, this confirms the rumors of rampant witchcraft in Ephesus; he tells Dromio of Syracuse to hurry to the harbor and buy passage on the next ship out of town.

After Dromio leaves Angelo arrives and presents Antipholus of Syracuse with the gold chain, which has just now been finished. Antipholus of Syracuse, who doesn't know Angelo and didn't order any jewelry, is confused and offers to pay the goldsmith on the spot. Angelo tells Antipholus of Syracuse not to worry: he will stop by for payment later. For Antipholus of Syracuse, the whole encounter is one more sign something is not right in this city. He decides to pocket the "golden gift," then runs off to look for Dromio of Syracuse.

Analysis

Awestruck by Luciana's beauty, Antipholus of Syracuse lapses into the language of Elizabethan love poetry. Beginning in line 31, he speaks to Luciana, using a string of lofty images, which could just as easily have come from Shakespeare's sonnets:

Teach me, dear creature, how to think and speak.
Lay open to my earthly gross conceit,
Smothered in errors, feeble, shallow, weak,
The folded meaning of your words' deceit.

In subsequent lines Antipholus likens Luciana to a goddess, a mermaid, and a siren—a sharp contrast from the folk proverbs and lowbrow insults exchanged in the previous scene. The rhyme scheme, too, helps to mark this passage as distinct from the ordinary speech of The Comedy of Errors: although iambic pentameter is used throughout the play, Antipholus's quatrains stand out against a backdrop of unrhymed blank verse and zingy Dromio couplets.

For the audience these lines might come as a nice reprieve from the turbulence of the rest of the play. To Luciana, however, Antipholus of Syracuse's high-flown love speeches probably constitute further proof her brother-in-law is not in his right mind. Antipholus of Ephesus, her real brother-in-law, does not speak like this anywhere in the play: he is a short-tempered man of affairs whose long speeches (e.g., at the end of Act 5, Scene 1) tend to be provoked by anger, not love.

Not that the love poetry lasts in any case. Dromio of Syracuse's description of Luce in the latter half of the scene is vulgar and grotesque, almost the opposite of Antipholus's admiring speech to Luciana. He begins with some fat-shaming remarks about Luce's size, but these soon morph into a geography lesson, as Dromio of Syracuse likens the "spherical" Luce to a globe and each body part to a country. In the process he rehearses contemporary English stereotypes about other nations: Scotland, like Luce's callused palms, is a "hard" and "barren" place; Spain is "hot" like her breath. The joke on France is a little more complicated: Dromio likens the country to Luce's forehead because it is "making war against her heir." This pun reflects the English view of France as a country plagued by infighting among its nobles and royalty.

Later in the scene Angelo hints Antipholus of Ephesus has a reputation for being hotheaded and easily agitated. The goldsmith first claims to have been unable to deliver the chain at the Porpentine, where he was supposed to give it to the courtesan. However, he then tells Antipholus of Syracuse to "go home with it, and please your wife withal"—in other words, give the chain to Adriana as originally planned. It's possible Angelo is simply forgetful, or so caught up in his work he has forgotten Antipholus's intentions for the chain. It seems equally likely he is trying yet again to prevent Antipholus from acting rashly. Balthasar, after all, pulls a very similar move in the previous scene, proposing alternate dinner plans, so Antipholus will not break down his own door in broad daylight.

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