The Comedy of Errors, by William Shakespeare

Act I

Scene I. A hall in Duke Solinus’s palace.

Enter Duke Solinus, Aegeon, Gaoler, Officers, and other Attendants

Aegeon

Proceed, Solinus, to procure my fall
And by the doom of death end woes and all.

Duke Solinus

Merchant of Syracuse, plead no more;
I am not partial to infringe our laws:
The enmity and discord which of late
Sprung from the rancorous outrage of your duke
To merchants, our well-dealing countrymen,
Who wanting guilders to redeem their lives
Have seal’d his rigorous statutes with their bloods,
Excludes all pity from our threatening looks.
For, since the mortal and intestine jars
’Twixt thy seditious countrymen and us,
It hath in solemn synods been decreed
Both by the Syracusians and ourselves,
To admit no traffic to our adverse towns Nay, more,
If any born at Ephesus be seen
At any Syracusian marts and fairs;
Again: if any Syracusian born
Come to the bay of Ephesus, he dies,
His goods confiscate to the duke’s dispose,
Unless a thousand marks be levied,
To quit the penalty and to ransom him.
Thy substance, valued at the highest rate,
Cannot amount unto a hundred marks;
Therefore by law thou art condemned to die.

Aegeon

Yet this my comfort: when your words are done,
My woes end likewise with the evening sun.

Duke Solinus

Well, Syracusian, say in brief the cause
Why thou departed’st from thy native home
And for what cause thou camest to Ephesus.

Aegeon

A heavier task could not have been imposed
Than I to speak my griefs unspeakable:
Yet, that the world may witness that my end
Was wrought by nature, not by vile offence,
I’ll utter what my sorrows give me leave.
In Syracusa was I born, and wed
Unto a woman, happy but for me,
And by me, had not our hap been bad.
With her I lived in joy; our wealth increased
By prosperous voyages I often made
To Epidamnum; till my factor’s death
And the great care of goods at random left
Drew me from kind embracements of my spouse:
From whom my absence was not six months old
Before herself, almost at fainting under
The pleasing punishment that women bear,
Had made provision for her following me
And soon and safe arrived where I was.
There had she not been long, but she became
A joyful mother of two goodly sons;
And, which was strange, the one so like the other,
As could not be distinguish’d but by names.
That very hour, and in the self-same inn,
A meaner woman was delivered
Of such a burden, male twins, both alike:
Those — for their parents were exceeding poor —
I bought and brought up to attend my sons.
My wife, not meanly proud of two such boys,
Made daily motions for our home return:
Unwilling I agreed. Alas! too soon,
We came aboard.
A league from Epidamnum had we sail’d,
Before the always wind-obeying deep
Gave any tragic instance of our harm:
But longer did we not retain much hope;
For what obscured light the heavens did grant
Did but convey unto our fearful minds
A doubtful warrant of immediate death;
Which though myself would gladly have embraced,
Yet the incessant weepings of my wife,
Weeping before for what she saw must come,
And piteous plainings of the pretty babes,
That mourn’d for fashion, ignorant what to fear,
Forced me to seek delays for them and me.
And this it was, for other means was none:
The sailors sought for safety by our boat,
And left the ship, then sinking-ripe, to us:
My wife, more careful for the latter-born,
Had fasten’d him unto a small spare mast,
Such as seafaring men provide for storms;
To him one of the other twins was bound,
Whilst I had been like heedful of the other:
The children thus disposed, my wife and I,
Fixing our eyes on whom our care was fix’d,
Fasten’d ourselves at either end the mast;
And floating straight, obedient to the stream,
Was carried towards Corinth, as we thought.
At length the sun, gazing upon the earth,
Dispersed those vapours that offended us;
And by the benefit of his wished light,
The seas wax’d calm, and we discovered
Two ships from far making amain to us,
Of Corinth that, of Epidaurus this:
But ere they came — O, let me say no more!
Gather the sequel by that went before.

Duke Solinus

Nay, forward, old man; do not break off so;
For we may pity, though not pardon thee.

Aegeon

O, had the gods done so, I had not now
Worthily term’d them merciless to us!
For, ere the ships could meet by twice five leagues,
We were encounterd by a mighty rock;
Which being violently borne upon,
Our helpful ship was splitted in the midst;
So that, in this unjust divorce of us,
Fortune had left to both of us alike
What to delight in, what to sorrow for.
Her part, poor soul! seeming as burdened
With lesser weight but not with lesser woe,
Was carried with more speed before the wind;
And in our sight they three were taken up
By fishermen of Corinth, as we thought.
At length, another ship had seized on us;
And, knowing whom it was their hap to save,
Gave healthful welcome to their shipwreck’d guests;
And would have reft the fishers of their prey,
Had not their bark been very slow of sail;
And therefore homeward did they bend their course.
Thus have you heard me sever’d from my bliss;
That by misfortunes was my life prolong’d,
To tell sad stories of my own mishaps.

Duke Solinus

And for the sake of them thou sorrowest for,
Do me the favour to dilate at full
What hath befall’n of them and thee till now.

Aegeon

My youngest boy, and yet my eldest care,
At eighteen years became inquisitive
After his brother: and importuned me
That his attendant — so his case was like,
Reft of his brother, but retain’d his name —
Might bear him company in the quest of him:
Whom whilst I labour’d of a love to see,
I hazarded the loss of whom I loved.
Five summers have I spent in furthest Greece,
Roaming clean through the bounds of Asia,
And, coasting homeward, came to Ephesus;
Hopeless to find, yet loath to leave unsought
Or that or any place that harbours men.
But here must end the story of my life;
And happy were I in my timely death,
Could all my travels warrant me they live.

Duke Solinus

Hapless Aegeon, whom the fates have mark’d
To bear the extremity of dire mishap!
Now, trust me, were it not against our laws,
Against my crown, my oath, my dignity,
Which princes, would they, may not disannul,
My soul would sue as advocate for thee.
But, though thou art adjudged to the death
And passed sentence may not be recall’d
But to our honour’s great disparagement,
Yet I will favour thee in what I can.
Therefore, merchant, I’ll limit thee this day
To seek thy life by beneficial help:
Try all the friends thou hast in Ephesus;
Beg thou, or borrow, to make up the sum,
And live; if no, then thou art doom’d to die.
Gaoler, take him to thy custody.

Gaoler

I will, my lord.

Aegeon

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

Exeunt

Scene II. The Mart.

Enter Antipholus of Syracuse, Dromio of Syracuse, and First Merchant

First Merchant

Therefore give out you are of Epidamnum,
Lest that your goods too soon be confiscate.
This very day a Syracusian merchant
Is apprehended for arrival here;
And not being able to buy out his life
According to the statute of the town,
Dies ere the weary sun set in the west.
There is your money that I had to keep.

Antipholus of Syracuse

Go bear it to the Centaur, where we host,
And stay there, Dromio, till I come to thee.
Within this hour it will be dinner-time:
Till that, I’ll view the manners of the town,
Peruse the traders, gaze upon the buildings,
And then return and sleep within mine inn,
For with long travel I am stiff and weary.
Get thee away.

Dromio of Syracuse

Many a man would take you at your word,
And go indeed, having so good a mean.

Exit

Antipholus of Syracuse

A trusty villain, sir, that very oft,
When I am dull with care and melancholy,
Lightens my humour with his merry jests.
What, will you walk with me about the town,
And then go to my inn and dine with me?

First Merchant

I am invited, sir, to certain merchants,
Of whom I hope to make much benefit;
I crave your pardon. Soon at five o’clock,
Please you, I’ll meet with you upon the mart
And afterward consort you till bed-time:
My present business calls me from you now.

Antipholus of Syracuse

Farewell till then: I will go lose myself
And wander up and down to view the city.

First Merchant

Sir, I commend you to your own content.

Exit

Antipholus of Syracuse

He that commends me to mine own content
Commends me to the thing I cannot get.
I to the world am like a drop of water
That in the ocean seeks another drop,
Who, falling there to find his fellow forth,
Unseen, inquisitive, confounds himself:
So I, to find a mother and a brother,
In quest of them, unhappy, lose myself.

Enter Dromio of Ephesus

Here comes the almanac of my true date.
What now? how chance thou art return’d so soon?

Dromio of Ephesus

Return’d so soon! rather approach’d too late:
The capon burns, the pig falls from the spit,
The clock hath strucken twelve upon the bell;
My mistress made it one upon my cheek:
She is so hot because the meat is cold;
The meat is cold because you come not home;
You come not home because you have no stomach;
You have no stomach having broke your fast;
But we that know what ’tis to fast and pray
Are penitent for your default to-day.

Antipholus of Syracuse

Stop in your wind, sir: tell me this, I pray:
Where have you left the money that I gave you?

Dromio of Ephesus

O— sixpence, that I had o’ Wednesday last
To pay the saddler for my mistress’ crupper?
The saddler had it, sir; I kept it not.

Antipholus of Syracuse

I am not in a sportive humour now:
Tell me, and dally not, where is the money?
We being strangers here, how darest thou trust
So great a charge from thine own custody?

Dromio of Ephesus

I pray you, air, as you sit at dinner:
I from my mistress come to you in post;
If I return, I shall be post indeed,
For she will score your fault upon my pate.
Methinks your maw, like mine, should be your clock,
And strike you home without a messenger.

Antipholus of Syracuse

Come, Dromio, come, these jests are out of season;
Reserve them till a merrier hour than this.
Where is the gold I gave in charge to thee?

Dromio of Ephesus

To me, sir? why, you gave no gold to me.

Antipholus of Syracuse

Come on, sir knave, have done your foolishness,
And tell me how thou hast disposed thy charge.

Dromio of Ephesus

My charge was but to fetch you from the mart
Home to your house, the Phoenix, sir, to dinner:
My mistress and her sister stays for you.

Antipholus of Syracuse

In what safe place you have bestow’d my money,
Or I shall break that merry sconce of yours
That stands on tricks when I am undisposed:
Where is the thousand marks thou hadst of me?

Dromio of Ephesus

I have some marks of yours upon my pate,
Some of my mistress’ marks upon my shoulders,
But not a thousand marks between you both.
If I should pay your worship those again,
Perchance you will not bear them patiently.

Antipholus of Syracuse

Thy mistress’ marks? what mistress, slave, hast thou?

Dromio of Ephesus

Your worship’s wife, my mistress at the Phoenix;
She that doth fast till you come home to dinner,
And prays that you will hie you home to dinner.

Antipholus of Syracuse

What, wilt thou flout me thus unto my face,
Being forbid? There, take you that, sir knave.

Dromio of Ephesus

What mean you, sir? for God’s sake, hold your hands!
Nay, and you will not, sir, I’ll take my heels.

Exit

Antipholus of Syracuse

Upon my life, by some device or other
The villain is o’er-raught of all my money.
They say this town is full of cozenage,
As, nimble jugglers that deceive the eye,
Dark-working sorcerers that change the mind,
Soul-killing witches that deform the body,
Disguised cheaters, prating mountebanks,
And many such-like liberties of sin:
If it prove so, I will be gone the sooner.
I’ll to the Centaur, to go seek this slave:
I greatly fear my money is not safe.

Exit

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Last updated Wednesday, March 5, 2014 at 22:29