AD's English Literature : William Shakespeare’s The Comedy of Errors: Repeated Instances of Mistaken Identity of the Two Pairs of Twins

William Shakespeare’s The Comedy of Errors: Repeated Instances of Mistaken Identity of the Two Pairs of Twins


“Am I in earth, in heaven, or in hell?
Sleeping or waking? mad or well advised?
Known unto these, and to myself disguised!
I'll say as they say, and persever so,
And in this mist at all adventures go” ---ANTIPHOLUS OF SYRACUSE

The Comedy of Errors (1592), play by English playwright and poet William Shakespeare,  exemplifies the common Elizabethan practice of adapting classical comedy to the contemporary stage: The plot is loosely based on the play Menaechmi of Roman dramatist Plautus, and it also borrows from his Amphitrus. The story revolves around the twins Antipholus of Ephesus and Antipholus of Syracuse, their parents, and the family’s two servants, Dromio of Ephesus and Dromio of Syracuse, who are also twins. Read More William Shakespeare  A shipwreck separates the family into two groups, leaving the mother with one son and one servant and the father with the other pair. The 'errors' of the play’s title are caused by repeated instances of mistaken identity. These are finally dispelled when the two pairs of twins meet, are properly recognized, and rejoin the other members of their families.

Coming to the story we find a fascinating tale of ‘errors’. There was a cruel law at Ephesus. If any merchant of Syracuse was seen at Ephesus, he was to be put to death unless he could pay a thousand marks as the ransom of his life.   The states of Syracuse and Ephesus were at variance with each other.  Aegeon, an old merchant of Syracuse was discovered in the streets of Ephesus. So he being a merchant of Syracuse was either to pay one thousand marks or to receive sentence of death according to the strict law of Ephesus. So he was brought before the Duke who would decide about his fate.   Before pronouncing the sentence of death the Duke wished to know from Aegeon the history of his life, together with, the cause for his coming to Ephesus, resulting in his possible death.


 Aegeon was not afraid of death at all because sorrow had made him weary of his life.  Aegeon had to stay at Epidamnum for six months for his business purpose. When he required staying there longer he sent for his wife. While Aegeon was returning to his country from Epidamnum by ship with his family, a dreadful storm arose, about a league from the city. Read More William Shakespeare  It continued with such violence that the sailors— seeing no chance of saving the ship oared the boats to save their lives. They left Aegeon together with his family alone in the ship.  Aegeon together with his family were left alone by the sailors in a ship which was expected to get destroyed by a furious storm. So, his wife being afraid of death wept. Seeing her weep, not perceiving the real danger his babes also wept. Aegeon fastened his younger son together with the younger slave in the ends of a spare mast. He also directed his wife to fasten his elder son together with the elder slave to the ends of the other spare mast. Then, they bound themselves separately with the masts with the children. Thus he contrived the means for the safety of his children.  When the ship was wrecked, Aegeon together with his wife were clinging to two separated masts with children and thus were supported over water but due to the strong waves it was impossible for Aegeon to assist his wife. So, they were separated. Aegean’s wife together with his elder son, besides the elder slave, was taken up by a boat of fishermen, from Corinth (as he supposed). Aegeon, together with his younger son, besides the younger slave, were taken up by a ship. As the sailors knew him, they welcomed them, and landed them safely at Syracuse.  Aegeon was clinging to a mast of the ship together with his younger son besides younger slave and floating over the wild sea-waves. Read More William Shakespeare  Then they were taken .up by a ship. As the sailors knew him they welcomed them and landed them in safely at Syracuse. Thus Aegeon arrived at Syracuse after the shipwreck.  The younger son of Aegeon was extremely eager to know about his mother and brother who were lost due to a storm and shipwreck. So, he get her with his young slave, who also lost his brother went away to find by after leaving Aegeon.  Though Aegeon himself was eager to know about his wife and elder ii, he didn’t readily agree to send his younger son to find them, because, us he would risk the loss of him also.  Aegean’s younger son who went away to find his mother and elder brother who were lost due to a storm and shipwreck, with his young slave who also lost his brother, didn’t return to him or was also lost. So, Aegeon had go travel through the world to find him. He went to farthest Greece, through the bounds of Asia. While he was returning home, he landed at Ephesus, because he didn’t wish to leave that city (Ephells) unsearched. Aegeon was supposed to lose his own life only due to his love for his son. The Duke was really moved after hearing the story of unfortunate Aegeon. So, instead of sentencing him to death instantly, he grants him one more day to try to beg or borrow the money to pay the fine as for his life.   

Aegeon didn’t rightly suppose that he knew nobody in Ephesus, when he was supposed to lose his life his younger son together with his son, both were also at Ephesus. Aegean’s twin sons looked exactly alike with each other. They were called Antipholus. Their twin slaves also looked exactly alike with them. They both were called Dromio. Read More William Shakespeare  The younger son of Aegeon, the Antipholus of Syracuse, due to misfortune met a good friend at Ephesus. So he was not in the same danger as his father.  The friend of the younger son of Aegeon, the Antipholus of Syracusc1 advised him to pass for or identify himself as a merchant of Epidamnum   Aegean’s elder son, the Antipholus of Ephesus, lived as a rich man.  The fishermen who took the elder son of Aegeon, together with his wife, besides the older slave in their boat, carried them away from her intending to sell them. They sold them to Duke Menaphon, a famous warrior besides uncle of the Duke of Ephesus. He brought them to Ephesus. Thus the elder of Aegeon, the Antipholus of Ephesus arrived at Ephesus.   The Duke of Ephesus liked the elder son of Aegeon. He made him officer of his army. He, the elder son of Aegeon, the Antipholus of Ephesus distinguished himself by his great bravery in the wars, where he saved the life his patron, the Duke.   The elder son of Aegeon, the Antipholus of Ephesus was rewarded the Duke for saving his life in the wars, by getting him married with Adriana, a rich lady of Ephesus.  

On the other hand,   Antipholus of Syracuse sent his slave Dromio with some money to an inn, where he intended to dine. When Antipholus of Syracuse sent his slave Dromio with some money to the inn, he wished to walk about and view the city and observe manners of the people at Ephesus.   Read More William Shakespeare  Antipholus of Syracuse used to divert himself, when he was sad, the odd humours, merry jests of his slave, Dromio.   Antipholus of Syracuse used to divert himself with the odd humours and merry jests of his slave Dromio. So he allowed him great freedom of speech. While Antipholus of Syracuse was alone at the streets at of Ephesus he thought that he was like a drop of water in the ocean, which seeking to find its fellow drops would lose itself in the wide sea. Thus he would also lose himself as he was searching his mother and brother.  

When Antipholus of Syracuse was thinking about his weary travels, after sending Dromio with some money to an inn, where he intended to in the Dromio of Ephesus came to him. He took him for his own Dromio. He asked where he had left the money. Dromio took him for his own master told him that his mistress told him to bed him to come to dinner. Thus confusion was created arose between Antipholus of Syracuse and Dromio of Ephesus.

  Antipholus of Syracuse asked Dromio of Ephesus (thinking that he is his own Dromio) where he left the money, which he gave him to carry the inn. He could not answer him properly. Read More William Shakespeare  Dromio of Ephesus, thinking Antipholus of Syracuse, was his own master, his mistress, send him to see him to dinner. Antipholus of Syracuse was not married. He thought that Dromio was not only negligent but also jesting with him. So he became truly angry and beat him.   After being beaten by Antipholus of Syracuse Dromio ran Ephesus away to his house.   Dromio of Ephesus told his mistress about Antipholus of Syracuse (whom he thought to be Antipholus of Ephesus).   Dromio of Ephesus told his mistress that his master, Antipholus of Ephesus (as he thought of Antipholus of Syracuse) refused to come to him and also said that he had no wife.

 Adriana was angry because she heard that her husband said that he had no wife. She was of a jealous temper. She thought that he wished in express that he loved another lady better than herself and became extremely angry with him. She was of a jealous temper. She thought that he wished to express that he loved another lady more than herself. Being angry with him she started to fret and say unkind words of jealousy and reproach of her husband. When Antipholus of Syracuse went to the inn he found his own Dromio with the money in safety there. He tried to chide him for the free jests Dromio of Ephesus, but then Adriana came to him. She not doubting but it was her husband reproached him for looking strangely at her. She asked him how she had lost his love. Bid her in vain that he was not her husband. She made him go to her to dine. He thought that he was dreaming. Dromio was also no less sad as the cook-maid (his brother’s wife) claimed him for her husband. Dromio of Syracuse was no less as the cook-maid, (surprised his brother’s wife) claimed him to be her husband.

When Adriana asked Antipholus of Syracuse, why she had lost his ye, he declared that he was not her husband and he had arrived at Ephesus   hours ago.   Antipholus of Syracuse dined at his brother’s house at Ephesus with his brother’s wife Adriana and her sister Luciana. Read More William Shakespeare  While Antipholus of Syracuse was dining with Adriana at his brother’s house, he thought that either he had been married to Adriana in his sleep he was sleeping then. Dromio of Syracuse was extremely surprised as he was at the house of Adriana because the cook-maid (his brother’s wife) claimed him for husband.   It was not possible for the Antipholus of Ephesus to dine at his house because he was not allowed to come to his house when his brother was dining there.   Antipholus of Ephesus was extremely angry to hear that a gentleman was dining with his wife as he had to go away from his house. Antipholus of Syracuse was extremely perplexed as Adriana persisted in calling him her husband. So he wished to leave her house as soon as possible after finishing the dinner.

William Shakespeare
 Antipholus of Syracuse liked Luciana very much. Antipholus of Syracuse did not like Adriana for her jealous temper. Dromio of Syracuse was not at all satisfied with the fair cook-maid (brother’s wife). Read More William Shakespeare  When Antipholus of Syracuse left Adriana’s house he met a goldsmith. He was taking him for Antipholus of Ephesus calling him by his name gave a gold chain, saying that he had made it by his own orders.  Antipholus of Syracuse ordered Dromio to put his things on board hip because he didn’t wish to stay there where he met with such adventures he thought himself bewitched. The goldsmith was arrested for a sum of money he owed.   The goldsmith asked Antipholus of Ephesus to pay for the gold chain because he thought he had delivered it to him, but in reality he delivered it Antipholus of Syracuse mistaking him for his brother.  Antipholus of Syracuse didn’t pay for the gold chain readily because he hadn’t received it. Read More William Shakespeare  The goldsmith was arrested due to the debt he owed. Antipholus was arrested because he didn’t pay for the gold chain though he hadn’t received it. When Antipholus of Ephesus was going to prison, he met Dromio of Syracuse, his brother’s slave, and mistaking him for his own slave, he ordered him to go to his wife Adriana, to tell her to send the money for which he was arrested. So Dromio of Syracuse had to go back to Adriana’s house. Dromio of Syracuse went back to Adriana’s house grumbling that he must return to Adriana’s house where Dowsabel claimed him for her husband, but he must go for servants must obey their master’s orders.  Antipholus of Ephesus was well-known in Ephesus. Mistaking Antipholus of Syracuse as his brother Antipholus of Ephesus, everybody in street saluted him, some wished to give him money which they said owed him, some invited him to come and see them, some gave him kiss for kindnesses they said he had done them. A tailor showed him icy silk which he had bought for him. He insisted upon taking measure of it for his clothes. So he thought that, He was among a nation of sorceress witches    Dromio of Ephesus asked Antipholus of Syracuse, how he got free from the officer who was taking him to the prison. He also gave him the purse gold which Adriana (gave him) had sent to pay the debt with. So, he was we bewildered. Thus Dromio failed to free him from his bewildered thoughts.

 One unknown lady asked Antipholus of Syracuse to give her a gold chain which he promised to give her. When he denied her statement she led her to give her back the gold ring which she gave him. So, being totally amazed he called her a sorcerer and witch.  On the other hand , When Antipholus of Ephesus was denied to dine at his house, in believing it to be his wife’s jealous freaks, went to dine with this lady received him with great civility. He being pleased promised to give her chain which he earlier wished to give to his wife.   Read More William Shakespeare  Antipholus of Ephesus being debarred from his own house went to dine with the lady who received him with great civility. As he was offended with his wife, he being pleased with her promised to give her a gold chain which he wished to gave his wife earlier. The lady being extremely happy with the thought of receiving a gold chain presented him a gold ring. Antipholus of Ephesus promised to give the lady a gold chain. Lady gave him a gold ring. When she asked Antipholus of Syracuse (believing him to be Antipholus of Ephesus) to give her the chain, he denied that he had promised to give her a chain. When she asked him to give her the gold ring back, he denied that he had got such a ring. So, the lady believing him to the Antipholus of Ephesus thought that he was mad.    

Now, the lady told a story to Adriana to show that her husband Antipholus was mad. Antipholus of Ephesus was allowed by the jailor to go to his home to get the money to pay his debt for which he was arrested wrongly. So he home with the jailor.   The purse of money which Adriana sent by Dromio to give to her husband, Antipholus of Ephesus, was wrongly delivered to Antipholus of Syracuse.

Adriana believed the whole story of the lady. Antipholus of Ephesus reproached Adriana for shutting him out [his own house. Antipholus of Syracuse protested at dinner-time that he was not her husband and never had been to Ephesus till that day. Adriana thought that she had dined with her husband, Antipholus of Ephesus. S. believing Antipholus of Syracuse to be her husband Antipholus of Ephesus, she thought that he had gone mad.  Read More William Shakespeare  The abbess didn’t wish to deliver unhappy Antipholus of Syracuse to the jealous Adriana. She also thought to determine herself to use gentle means for his recovery. So, she didn’t deliver him to her. Adriana cried out to the Duke for justice, telling him that the abbess had refused to deliver up her mad or crazy husband to her care. Antipholus of Ephesus and his servant Dromio, after getting lost, came before the Duke to demand for justice, complaining, that his wife Adriana had confined him on a false charge of   madness, telling him also how he got free. Seeing Antipholus of Ephesus, Aegeon thought that he was his younger son who left him long before to find his wife and elder son. He also thought that he would readily pay his ransom. However, Antipholus of Ephesus didn’t recognize Aegeon. Truly, Antipholus of Ephesus had never seen his father. Aegeon since they were separated by the storm in his fancy. So it was not possible for him to recognize Aegeon. So he couldn’t recognize him.   When Antipholus of Ephesus could not recognize his father Aegeon, he thought that grief and anxieties that he had suffered, so amazingly altered him that he couldn’t recognize him or he didn’t wish to acknowledge him in his misery. When Aegeon was trying his best to make Antipholus of Ephesus recognize him, the abbess together with Antipholus of Syracuse besides Dromio appeared from the convent before the Duke.  Read More William Shakespeare  Seeing Antipholus of Ephesus with his servant Dromio, together with Antipholus of Syracuse with his servant Dromio, Adriana was absolutely perplexed because she saw two husbands and two Dromio before her. When the Duke saw that the two Antipholuses and the two Dromioes so exactly alike, he immediately solved the mystery of the ridding errors because he remembered the story which Aegeon had told him in the morning, and he declared that those men were the two sons of Aegeon and their slaves. When the fishermen took the elder Antipholus and elder Dromio from Aegeon’s wife, she (Aegeon’s wife) went to a nunnery and due to her wise and virtuous conduct she was made the abbess of the convent. As Antipholus of Ephesus recognized Aegeon at last, he wished to y the ransom for his life. The Duke didn’t accept the ransom for the life of Aegeon. The Duke pardoned Aegeon at last. Antipholus of Syracuse married Luciana, the sister of Adriana, his brother’s wife and the story ends in merry note.  

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