Comedy of Errors By William Shakespeare Summary and Analysis Act IV: Scene 4

Summary

Antipholus of Ephesus is at the center of this scene. First, he is told by Dromio of Ephesus that he has fetched the flogging rope, but has no memory of being asked to collect five hundred ducats bail money. Antipholus uses the whip on Dromio, who groans in response:

I have served him from the hour of my nativity to
this instant, and have nothing at his hands for my
service but blows. (31–33)

Adriana enters with a schoolmaster, Doctor Pinch, who is to treat her husband for demonic possession:

I charge thee, Satan, housed within this man,
To yield possession to my holy prayers . . . . (57–58)

When Dromio of E. corroborates Antipholus of E.'s story that Adriana had locked them out earlier, she takes it as a ruse to soothe her poor mad husband. Dromio of E. probably thinks she is crazy; meanwhile, the doctor orders the two of them be treated in the accepted Elizabethan manner for dealing with the insane: "They must be bound and laid in some dark room." A battle-royal ensues, with Dr. Pinch blustering on about the "fiend" being "strong within him," Antipholus fighting for his life, and Luciana trying to smooth the troubled waters. Finally, Adriana promises to make good for the outstanding debt, and Antipholus of E., together with his Dromio, are led off by the doctor and others.

Before poor Adriana has had time to catch her breath, her "husband" and his servant return. It is Antipholus of S. and Dromio of S.:

Luciana: God, for thy mercy! they are loose again.
Adriana: And come with naked [drawn] swords. Let's call more help to have them bound again.
Officer: Away! they'll kill us! (Exit, "as fast as may be.") (147–51)

Though Dromio of S. feels that "they will surely do us no harm," Antipholus is determined to leave the city at once.

Analysis

Groucho Marx once said that real comedy depends on a sense of its opposite for full effect: when an old lady in a wheelchair is shoved down a flight of stairs in a comedy, you hold your breath as she approaches the brick wall at the bottom, and when a ramp miraculously appears at the last possible instant gliding her to safety on the other side, the laughter you experience is inseparable from relief at disaster cheated of its due. Without the brick wall, however, the effect would not be the same. Sigmund Freud and numerous other eminent thinkers have remarked on the same phenomenon as Groucho. This scene and the next are Shakespeare's "brick wall" scenes in Comedy of Errors. The mistaken identities have reached the stage where physical harm may come to the innocent participants; we have: Dr. Pinch, a mad proto-psychiatrist; a raging Antipholus; a pitying wife; and sword-bearing "doubles" threatening each other with physical and mental harm. The measure of comedy here, and the speed of the scene, which begins with a flogging and ends with a quick escape, is at its most frenetically enjoyable. Whatever can go wrong, it seems, does. Dromio of S., at the end of the scene, surely to the horror of his master, is even tempted to give in to the frenzy in the air (it hasn't done too much harm to him yet) and join the "demons": "Methinks they are such a gentle nation that, but for the mountain of mad flesh that claims marriage of me, I could find in my heart to stay here still [forever] and turn witch."

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