The Comedy of Errors | Study Guide

William Shakespeare

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The Comedy of Errors | Act 4, Scene 3 | Summary

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Summary

Antipholus of Syracuse has put on the gold chain and is now wandering through the streets of Ephesus, musing on how everyone here seems to know him. Dromio of Syracuse runs up to him with the money he retrieved from Adriana in the previous scene. He asks how Antipholus of Syracuse has managed to escape from jail, but Antipholus of Syracuse does not understand the question. Instead, he inquires if Dromio has found a ship to get them out of Ephesus without further delay.

While Dromio is explaining travel options, the courtesan appears and asks Antipholus of Syracuse about the chain he promised her. Antipholus of Syracuse has never met the courtesan, so he not only refuses to give her the chain, but he calls her a "devil" and a "sorceress." She then asks for her ring back, but Antipholus of Syracuse has no recollection of giving her a ring either. At this point the courtesan realizes she is likely to have neither the ring nor the chain. Antipholus, she decides, must be going mad, since he is so agitated by such small matters. She plans to visit his house to tell Adriana her husband stole the ring in a fit.

Analysis

Antipholus of Syracuse is still preoccupied with the idea that Ephesus is a magical place, but now that he has received a "free" golden chain from Angelo, he is beginning to see the city's "imaginary wiles" in a different light. After all, he reasons, the people of Ephesus seem hospitable enough:

There's not a man I meet but doth salute me
As if I were their well-acquainted friend,
And everyone doth call me by my name.

When he encounters the courtesan, however, Antipholus of Syracuse quickly falls back on his previous position: everything in Ephesus is the result of evil enchantments. His dismissal of the courtesan as a "devil" is tinged with sexism, which is encouraged by Dromio of Syracuse in his complicated pun on "light" (i.e., promiscuous or morally lax) women. As usual (compare Act 3, Scene 1) Dromio is happy to dispense some punning proverbial wisdom: "He must have a long spoon that must eat with the devil" (i.e., you should keep your distance when dealing with dangerous people). Considering Antipholus of Ephesus is actually involved with the courtesan and enough so to give her the expensive gold chain he has already told Adriana is for her, the implication is Antipholus of Syracuse is speaking about his own brother. He does not realize it, but the audience will perceive the dramatic irony in the contradictory situation only they know about.

The courtesan, to her credit, holds her ground in the face of the Syracusians' jeering: she refuses to be bullied or dismissed by Antipholus of Syracuse, or by his servant. When he runs off without giving her the chain, it takes her no time at all to decide on a new course of action: have a word with his wife. Neither as emotional as Adriana nor as idealistic as Luciana, the courtesan is a pragmatist; she will not let pride or squeamishness prevent her from getting what she wants.

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