Comedy of Errors

Questions and Notes by Act and Scene

1.1 Duke Solinus outlines the brief history and structure of antipathy between Ephesus and Syracuse. Why, however, does he use the word "intestine" (11) to refer to a feud between cities so distant from each other, Syracuse on the east coast of Sicily and Ephesus on the west coast of Asia Minor? As Dolan's notes reveal, intestine "usually means 'internal.'" Another apt gloss for intestine is civil; thus "intestine jars" might be a poetic euphemism for civil conflict. Why would conflict between these two cities be referred to as civil or "intestine?"

Perhaps we're meant to understand Syracuse as having been politically subordinate to Ephesus during the period in which the play is set. That would be sometime before Ephesus became a Roman city in 133 BCE. People in Shakespeare's day may well have regarded power as radiating out from Athens or Sparta in the Greek world, and this would place Ephesus as Syracuse's superior. This would also help to make sense of the Duke's reference to Syracusians as Egeon's "seditious countrymen" (12). The Duke of Syracuse, we may speculate, has recently disrupted his city-state's relationship to Ephesus by imposing steep tariffs on Ephesian merchants and enforcing "his rigorous statutes with their bloods" (9)?

Egeon's twin sons, we note, were born neither in Syracuse nor Ephesus, but in Epidamnum (49-50). Thus they do not fall under the decrees regarding those born at Ephesus and Syracuse (16-19).

The symmetry of old Egeon's story invites us to notice the several differences between the brother's fates: one Antipholus and Dromio go off to Corinth with Adriana (mother) and both of them wind up in Ephesus and married; the other Antipholus and Dromio settle in Syracuse with Egeon and both remain single. Antipholus of Syracuse, at age eighteen (125) goes on a "quest" (129) for his brother and his father follows him after several years.

If the strife between Ephesus and Syracuse is as intense and bloody as the Duke implies, what "friends" (152) is Syracusian Egeon likely to find in Ephesus to save his life?

1.2 Is the "Merchant" in this scene an Ephesian? If so, why is he so friendly to Antipholus, whom he apparently knows hails from Syracuse, though born at Epidamnum.

What use of the word "man" is implied in line 17? What is the relation between Antipholus and Dromio? Man and "man"? What difference lies between man and "man," master and slave besides "means"? Recall that the Dromios became slaves as a result of their parents' poverty (1.1.57). Why does Antipholus refer to him a "trusty villain" in line 19?

Lines 30-41 will repay close reading. It serves as a prologue of sorts to the mistaken identity episodes that follow. May it not also serve as a thematic meditation on the contingencies of identity quite apart from the comical mistakes that follow? Does a man know himself by what he desires? Does he lose himself in pursuing desire, or only in failing to find it? Should line 30 have been amedned from "loose" (F1) to "lose"? What symmetry between lines 30 and 40 might have been made or lost by this emendation?

Line 41 initiates the mistaken identity plot; Antipholus S. mistakes Dromio E. for his Dromio. How is Dromio "the almanac of [his] true date" (41)?

Antipholus E. and his wife have, according to Dromio E., a habit of beating him. This scene winds up with Antipholus S. beating him, even though (because) he mistakes him for his own Dromio, with whom normally he's great friends (19-21). On beating wives and servants, see the Elizabethan Homily on Matrimonie (II.18.1-304-306). Here Antipholus S. first refers to Dromio as a "slave" (104).

2.1 Worth some study is the 1559 Book of Common Prayer's service for marriage.

Also useful to study is AN HOMILIE OF the staqte of Matrimonie (1623).

Luciana recites the contemporary orthodoxies of wifely subjection to husbands, but Adriana calls this "servitude" (26). This invites comparisons between the status of wife and the status of servants, in this case the Dromios. See also Ephesians 5 (on wives) and Ephesians 6 (on servants); also Colossians 3 (on wives) and Colossians 4 (on servants). Other Pauline teaching on marriage can be found in 1 Corinthians 7.

Is "liberty" effectively a gendered category in this discussion between Luciana and Adriana? See the various senses of liberty in the OED2. How does liberty relate to master/servant relations?

2.2 Antipholus S. cautions his servant not to be too familiar, even when he thinks his master has encouraged it. He should fashion his demeanor to his master's looks (33). How like marriage is this advice? How like friendship? Does not Antipholus then proceed, once again, to be familiar with Dromio and use him for his fool (27) in the lines that follow, up until Adriana's entrance?

Adriana's speech (especially 118-128) strikes thematic notes uncannily reminiscent of Antipholus S.'s soliloquy in 1.2.35-40. Why does the play repeat these motives at this point and in this way?

On Adriana's apparently bizarre logic of adultery by contamination, recall Genesis 2: 23-24.

3.1 Balthasar's advice (85-106) focuses on Antipholus's reputation. How? Why?

Antipholus E. refers to the courtesan as "a wench of excellent discourse" (109). Is he joking? Does he mean discourse euphemistically? Refused board and bed at home, does he seek "discourse" abroad?

3.2 Luciana's advice--to pretend to be a devoted and loving husband even if he's not--must affect Antipholus S. quite otherwide than she intends. In the first instance, pretense is precisely what he's doing, since he is NOT Adriana's husband. In the second instance, it must sound to him as if Luciana is suggesting he keep her sister happy even if he loves elsewhere, that is, her.

Can you detect the Petrarchan notes in Antipholus S.'s speech to Luciana (29-52)? Antipholus S. quickly moves from the Petrarchan rhetoric of a lover into the rhetoric of marriage and other selves (61-69). Of course he is currently being taken for an other self--his brother, and Luciana fears herself supplanting one of her other selves--her sister. Is there a special identity formed in misrecognition? Is the self not, after all, just another version of misrecognition, one that is liable to be upset and even overturned now and again?

Dromio presents a more hilarious and more vulgar version of the two-selves-become-one-flesh conundrum of marriage doctrine. His version emphasizes the body in all its grossness--the world, the flesh (and the devil?). Might a husband, in becoming "one flesh" with a woman, reduce himself to little more than gross flesh and all its worldliness. Might a man lose himself (his inner self) in marriage?

Though he has fallen in love with Luciana, after listening to his Dromio's story of a wife, Antipholus S. wants to flee immediately. He has had a kind of wake-up call from his servant and now thinks Luciana has almost made him a traitor to himself (161). How is it that marriage is taken to be a twinning of one's self, a finding of one's other self or better self, and at the same time is full of the risk of self-loss and self-betrayal?

The image of ear-stopping recalls Odysseus and the sirens in Homer's Odyssey 12.36. It also reminds one of other temptresses like Circe and Dido, Queen of Carthage.

4.1 The golden chain serves as a suitable emblem for the chain of associations, trusts, and dependencies that hold a community together--friend to friend, merchant to customer, man to servant, man to wife, and, perhaps, man to courtesan. Antipholus E. assumes that his goldsmith friend, Angelo, has saved him from rashly giving the chain intended for his wife to the courtesan (26). Thus Antipholus is bound to his friend, but his friend the goldsmith needs payment or he will be bound to jail for defaulting on his bond to a merchant, and so on. Any breakdown in the chain of human relations may be labeled shrewishness? The chain is both a chain of relations and of economic dependencies. We're treated to both ideal and cynical versions of human relations, and both gone awry here because of misrecognitions.

4.3 The Courtesan believes that Antipholus has lost his mind. Has he lost his mind or gained a new body, a second self. Is it madness to gain a second self--be it servant, friend, or wife?

4.4 Is madness also an experience of a second self? The devil inside one's self? Possession? Self-possession? Posession by another? Can we have an identity except in relation to another? Do such relations inevitably threaten one with loss of identity, or at least misrecognition? What shapes does loss of identity take--disgrace, shame, madness, and so on?

Finally Antipholus E. really does appear to be beside himself with anger and exasperation (102-105) and turns into a sort of shrew himself, attacking his wife's eyes with his fingernails. He appears part raging shrew, part madman, and part overplayed tragic Oedipus--he finally knows himself (or thinks he knows himself) a cuckold.

5.1 What role(s) does the Abbess play? What positions does she fill in relation to Antipholus S.? In place of nurse, mother, wife, priest? Does she put Antipholus and his wife asunder?

Which relations, repeatedly appealed to as the play flies towards chaos, remain relatively stable (161, 190-95)?

Why does Antipholus E.'s outburst in line 198 echo this verse from Genesis 3:12: "And the man said, The woman whom thou gavest to be with me, she gave me of the tree, and I did eat." What sort of satisfaction does the play imply Antipholus E. expects from the Duke (197-202, 253-54, and see 182-83)?

Why does Pinch come in for such a string of abusive epithets (238-42)? Does the play invite contempt for those who prey on people's superstitious beliefs?

The Duke's allusion to Circe's cup (271) reminds us of Antipholus S.'s conviction that Luciana is an enchantress or siren (3.2.155-63) and Dromio's fear that Nell wants to turn him into a beast (3.2.86 and 145). Women appear as both supernatural and hypernatural threats.

This play surely is a farce, but for Egeon the same structures of misrecognition and confused identities that makes this play the broadest of comic farces threaten him with tragedy. Certainly this speech has a strongly tragic tone and os contributes to the farce (308-319).

Genius in line 344 is a word charged with a plethora of possible denotations and connotations: see the OED.

Why bring Corinth into this (353)? Perhaps Corinth stands for Paul's teaching that it is better not to touch a woman, but also better to marry than to burn with lust (1 Corinthians 7)? The Ephesian Antipholus is actually the son of a Syracusan, born in Epidamnum, shipwrecked between Epidamnum and Syracuse, rescued to Corinth, and he winds up an Ephesian by virtue of his "patron" the Duke (329). His brother remained a Syracusan, single, attached to his Father until he set out in quest of his brother. His twin was separated from his Father at sea and his Mother in Corinth (Genesis 2:24); he marries in Ephesus.

Might there be something to the name Menaphon in line 370? Menaphon was the name Robert Greene gave to one of his Arcadian shepherd characters in Menaphon: Camila's alarm to slumbring Euphues in his melancholy cell (London 1589). A famous university wit, Greene once referred to Shakespeare as an upstart who stole rhetorical flowers from wits like himself; in his Greene's Groatsworth of Wit (1592) he complained about Shakespeare being "beautified with our feathers."

Dromio E. has the final speech, insisting, as it seems, on the naturalness of fraternity, and its equality, but the phrase "hand in hand" cannot help but invite us to compare fraternity and friendship to marriage, where "hand in hand" does not imply equality.