Ah, what a relief to move on from the War of the Roses to something a little more lighthearted. The Comedy of Errors is a play that I was wholly unfamiliar with before this reading and what I know so far is that it is really complicated. The first act is incredibly short, but there are a lot of ins and outs, a lot of what-have-yous.
Act I introduces us to the Duke of Ephesus and Aegeon, a merchant from Syracuse. It turns out that people from Syracuse are not allowed to be in Ephesus, so unless Aegeon can pay his fine for being in the country illegally, he will be put to death. The Duke seems to like him, though, and wants to know his story. So Ephesus says he was married to a nice lady, but his work took them away from their home and she gave birth to their twin boys (both named Antipholus, for some reason) in a foreign inn on the same night a poor lady gave birth to twins boys (both named Dromio, natch) in the very same inn. So Aegeon bought the poor twins (like you do) and decided to raise them as servants to his biological children. As they were making their way as a new family across the sea, they were shipwrecked and Aegeon was left with one of his sons and one of the poor sons, while his wife was left with the other two. The two halves of the family were flung far and wide from one another and Aegeon has spent years trying to find his wife and the other kids. The boys are all grown now and Aegeon has searched everywhere except forbidden Ephesus. So here he is, looking for the rest of his family. The Duke likes his story and gives him a whole day to find the money to pay his fine. Otherwise, off with his head.
Meanwhile, in the market, Antipholus of Syracuse (Aegeon’s son) and Dromio of Syracuse (the servant twin) are in the market trying to avoid detection by the local authorities. They’ve just heard about a merchant from Syracuse about to be executed for trespassing in Ephesus. Antipholus sends Dromio off with a bunch of money to wait at the hotel for him. Then Dromio of Ephesus (twin to the one who just left with the money) arrives on the scene and Ephesus mistakes him for his own servant and yells at him for coming back and not taking care of the money. Dromio of E says he doesn’t know anything about any money but Antipholus better come home for dinner because his wife is mad. Antipholus beats Dromio of E and decides he’d better find out what happened to the money.
All of that was contained in just a couple of pages. I guess the most impressive thing about this play so far is how much information Shakespeare can pack into a couple of relatively short scenes. I also really liked some of the wordplay that happened between Antipholus of Syracuse and Dromio of Ephesus as they become more and more exasperated with one another. For instance, Antipholus asks what Dromio did with the thousand marks he was given and Dromio replied that he has some marks on his head and some on his back, but probably not a thousand. It all seems very silly, but at the same time I just have to marvel at how casually things like buying poor children and giving twins the same name are treated. Accepting this world as it is makes me feel like I’m taking crazy pills. I guess that’s all part of the charm of Bill’s very first comedy.