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The Comedy of Errors

William Shakespeare

Act II, scene ii; Act III, scene i

Act I, scene ii; Act II, scene i

Act III, scene ii; Act IV, scenes i-ii

Summary

Antipholus of Syracuse goes to the inn and finds that his slave did, in fact, bring his money and luggage safely there. Confused, he wanders the city until he encounters Dromio of Syracuse--his Dromio--who, of course, has no memory of telling him to come home to dinner or anything else from Antipholus' earlier conversation with Dromio of Ephesus. Antipholus grows angry with him, but the slave manages to defuse his anger through a long, involved joke about baldness.

While the master and slave converse and jest, Adriana and Luciana come upon them, mistaking them for Antipholus of Ephesus and his Dromio. Adriana immediately accuses the man she believes to be her husband of infidelity and rebukes him for violating his own promise of love and their marriage bed. Antipholus, confused, says that he has never met her, which only makes Adriana more furious. She insists on dragging her perplexed "husband" home to dinner, bringing Dromio with them, and the confused Antipholus decides to play along until he understands the situation better. They go into Antipholus of Ephesus' house, and Dromio is left below to guard the door during dinner. /PARAGRAPH While his double is upstairs eating, Antipholus of Ephesus returns from the marketplace, accompanied by Dromio of Ephesus, Angelo the goldsmith, and Balthasar the merchant. He asks his fellow businessmen to give Adriana an excuse for his tardiness and then mentions that his slave is behaving oddly. When he knocks at the gate, however, Dromio of Syracuse refuses to let the company in. Antipholus pounds and shouts furiously, bringing Luce, his maid to the door, and then Adriana--but since both believe that Antipholus is already inside, they refuse to admit him. In a rage, Antipholus is about to break down the door when Balthasar dissuades him, telling him that doing so will reflect badly on his wife's honor and that Adriana must have a good reason for keeping him out. Still seething, Antipholus leads his friends away, resolving to dine with a Courtesan at her house, the Porpentine. He asks Angelo to go fetch a gold chain, recently made, that he had promised to his wife; Antipholus now plans to present it to the Courtesan instead.

Commentary

The conversation between the Syracusan Antipholus and his Dromio is illustrative of their relationship--what begins with anger and threatened blows is quickly turned to laughter by Dromio's artful sense of humor. This will contrast sharply with the behavior of the other Antipholus, who comes across as a humorless, angry master, unlikely to joke around with his slave. (In the Ephesian Antipholus' defense, however, it must be pointed out that he suffers most during the comedy: The confusing events are beneficial to Antipholus of Syracuse, providing him with a wife (Adriana), a new love (Luciana), and a valuable gold chain, while the unlucky brother is locked out of his house, accused of being mad, and eventually imprisoned, none of which are conductive to a good humor.)

The sympathy that the audience feels for Antipholus of Syracuse is further enhanced by his willingness to go along with what seems to him to be nonsense--namely, Adriana's demand that he return to "their home" for dinner. ("Dinner," in Elizabethan parlance, is the midday meal.) Despite his earlier, somewhat fearful reference to Ephesus' reputation for witchcraft, he willingly takes up the peculiar adventure offered by the women, declaring that "I'll entertain the offered fallacy"(II.ii.185), and later "I'll say as they say, and persevere so, / and in this mist at all adventures go (II.ii.214-215)." This openness to adventure is characteristic of a comic hero, and it will be amply rewarded at the play's end.

The exchange across the barred door between Antipholus of Ephesus and those inside his house is played for laughs, of course, but it can be argued that there is more going on than simple confusion. Antipholus of Syracuse may be only given dinner by his "wife," but there are hints of a sexual element in the confusion--that Adriana may offer her "husband" more than food. Balthasar urges Antipholus of Ephesus not to break down the door because that would lead to gossip and ruin the reputation of his wife, but the Ephesian Antipholus seems to assume that there is something sexual going on inside, and his quick decision to dine at the house of the Courtesan (an expensive prostitute) suggests that he plans to revenge what he perceives as his wife's infidelity with infidelity of his own. Whether his jealousy is justified is a matter for interpretation--most critics see Adriana as innocent of adultery with her husband's twin, but others believe that Shakespeare is implying a strong sexual element in the dinner. (However, the subsequent scene, in which Antipholus is already wooing Luciana, suggests that nothing is going on between him and Adriana.)

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