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The Comedy of Errors | Study Guide

William Shakespeare

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The Comedy of Errors | Quotes


For we may pity though not pardon thee.

Duke, Act 1, Scene 1

In the opening scene the duke makes much of the fact he cannot undo Egeon's death sentence without violating the laws of his realm and calling into question his fairness as a ruler. He abruptly changes his mind in Act 5, Scene 1 pardoning Egeon and refusing to accept the fine. Throughout the play, characters base decisions on how their actions will affect their reputations. Likewise, the duke bends the law as long as his reputation is intact.


Hopeless and helpless doth Egeon wend, / But to procrastinate his lifeless end.

Egeon, Act 1, Scene 1

With no friends or family in town (so he believes), Egeon fully expects to be executed for trespassing in Ephesus. He can see no way of raising the money required by the duke for his release.

Antipholus of Syracuse appears in the next scene, but since Egeon does not mention his sons' names, it is not immediately apparent that Antipholus presents a solution to Egeon's problem. Gradually, as the Antipholi are revealed to be Egeon's lost twin sons, it becomes clear the old man will be saved.


I to the world am like a drop of water / That in the ocean seeks another drop.

Antipholus of Syracuse, Act 1, Scene 2

This brief soliloquy helps to establish Antipholus of Syracuse as the "thoughtful" brother, in contrast to the rash and irritable twin introduced in Act 3, Scene 1. The speech also helps to cast Antipholus of Syracuse in a sympathetic light, since he seems genuinely discouraged in his search for his missing twin and mother.


There's none but asses will be bridled so.

Adriana, Act 2, Scene 1

Here, Adriana objects to the idea husbands should be allowed to go wherever they like, while wives are expected to wait at home. Her sister, Luciana, is evidently more accepting of this unfair system and urges Adriana to be patient.


How many fond fools serve mad jealousy!

Luciana, Act 2, Scene 1

This line typifies Luciana's response to the events of the play. In itself it is a wise observation: people often drive themselves mad by jealousy, imagining worst-case scenarios. The timing, however, is way off: the last thing Adriana needs at this moment is a sermon, no matter how well-intentioned.


Fie, brother, how the world is changed with you!

Luciana, Act 2, Scene 2

Given her responses to Adriana's jealousy in Act 2, Scene 1 it seems fitting Luciana should be the character who announces the obvious: something's different about Antipholus. What she fails to recognize (and what nobody in Ephesus knows yet) is there are two Antipholi. It is not the "world" that has changed, but the man.


Am I in Earth, in heaven, or in hell? / Sleeping or waking, mad or well-advised?

Antipholus of Syracuse, Act 2, Scene 2

At this point Antipholus of Syracuse has just met Adriana and Luciana, who think he is "their" Antipholus. Confused by their behavior, Antipholus of Syracuse begins to doubt his own senses and to view the Ephesian strangers with fear and suspicion. These doubts will multiply in subsequent acts until Antipholus of Syracuse is convinced he is surrounded by witches and demons.


Ill deeds is doubled with an evil word.

Luciana, Act 3, Scene 2

Luciana, the perennial giver of advice, is at it again. This time she is advising Antipholus of Syracuse (who she thinks is Antipholus of Ephesus) to be more discreet in his extramarital affairs. Luciana takes it for granted he is cheating on Adriana (the "ill deeds") but warns he does her an even greater wrong by admitting he does not love her (the "evil word").


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.

Antipholus of Syracuse, Act 3, Scene 2

Antipholus of Syracuse is so completely smitten with Luciana he lapses into love poetry. In this quatrain, which is part of a longer monologue, Antipholus of Syracuse urges Luciana not to plead on behalf of her sister Adriana, whom he does not love. Instead, Luciana should "sing for herself" and encourage Antipholus to be her lover, not Adriana's.


I buy a thousand pound a year! I buy a rope!

Dromio of Ephesus, Act 4, Scene 1

This is typical Dromio humor. He knows the rope he is buying will eventually be used to beat him, but he cannot resist the pun. Both Dromios resort to jokes of this type throughout the play.


Sure these are but imaginary wiles, / And Lapland sorcerers inhabit here.

Antipholus of Syracuse, Act 4, Scene 3

In this scene Antipholus vacillates a little about leaving Ephesus so soon, since everyone here seems to be friendly and strangers are giving him gold necklaces for no reason. He ultimately decides to leave town anyway, since he cannot trust his senses while in Ephesus.


Marry, he must have a long spoon that must eat with the devil.

Dromio of Syracuse, Act 4, Scene 3

This bit of proverbial wisdom comes in the middle of a long string of "devil" puns. The idea is: it's dangerous to get close to the devil, and a long spoon would allow one to keep one's distance. Dromio says this to get a laugh from the audience, but he is also warning Antipholus to steer clear of the courtesan.


The venom clamors of a jealous woman / Poisons more deadly than a mad dog's tooth.

Emilia, Act 5, Scene 1

The abbess effectively blames Adriana for Antipholus of Ephesus's madness. In a previous line she argues Adriana should have tried to dissuade her husband from his "unlawful" affair with the courtesan. Here, she insinuates Adriana's complaining, like a sort of mental poison, has driven Antipholus mad.


I see we still did meet each other's man, / And I was ta'en for him, and he for me, / And thereupon these errors are arose.

Antipholus of Syracuse, Act 5, Scene 1

This is the "aha!" moment for Antipholus of Syracuse, who is just now understanding the source of the play's confusion.


We came into the world like brother and brother, / And now let's go hand in hand, not one before another.

Dromio of Ephesus, Act 5, Scene 1

Almost everybody in The Comedy of Errors is interested in establishing some sort of hierarchy: husband over wife, master over servant, true wife over false mistress. Only the Dromios seem to opt out of this way of thinking. This may be because both of them are essentially good-natured, or it may be because they are too low on the social ladder to bother climbing it. Either way the Dromios' moment of brotherly goodwill brings the play to an unambiguously happy end.

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