Comedy of Errors By William Shakespeare Summary and Analysis Act I: Scene 1

Summary

The play's opening lines signal a mood of tension, and they portend disaster for Egeon, a middle-aged merchant from the ancient city of Syracuse on the island of Sicily. He tells his captor,

Proceed, Solinus, to procure my fall,
And by the doom of death end woes and all. (1–2)

The cities of Syracuse and Ephesus are openly hostile toward one another. Captured in Ephesus, Egeon has been condemned to death by the Duke, who urges him to tell the sad story of how he has come to this state. Thus, Shakespeare sets the background for the play.

Along with his wife Emilia, identical twin sons both named Antipholus, and identical twin slaves both named Dromio, Egeon some years ago suffered a shipwreck. One son and slave survived with the father; the others, he hoped, survived with the mother. Neither group knew of the other's survival, however, nor of their whereabouts, but when Antipholus of Syracuse ("Egeon's twin" son) turned eighteen, his father gave him permission to search for his brother. The worried Egeon then set out after his second son, and after five years of fruitless wandering, he came to Ephesus. Moved by this tale of woe, the Duke of Ephesus gives his captive a day's reprieve, within which time Egeon must raise a "thousand marks!' ransom money:

Try all the friends thou hast in Ephesus; Beg
thou, or borrow, to make up the sum,
And live; if no, then thou art doomed to die. (153–55)

Analysis

The first scene of Comedy of Errors gives all the necessary details for understanding the complications of plot which are to follow. In addition, it sets the gloomy mood which, in keeping with the simple movement of one type of comedy, will give way to joy at the end of the play. Since Shakespeare constructs his plays as symphonies of mood, it should be kept in mind that this scene is not mere exposition of plot detail. "Hapless Egeon," in a deep state of depression, so affects the Duke of Ephesus that the latter is transformed from being a strict upholder of the letter of the law (". . . if any Syracusian born/Come to the bay of Ephesus, he dies") to someone who can say he only wishes it were in his power to help: "My soul should sue as advocate for thee." Lines like the following, depicting the shipwreck, touch the Duke's sensibility:

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 mourned for fashion, ignorant what to fear,
Forced me to seek delays for them and me. (67–75)

That "delay" ended in disaster, as Egeon sees it; small wonder that the "delay" granted him by the Duke at the end of the scene does not stir much hope.

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