Summary and Analysis
Act IV: Scene 3
Antipholus of S., alone on stage, recounts each strange occurrence of the day, concluding that "Lapland sorcerers" must inhabit the place. Just as he lists the last bit of madness, in comes Dromio of S. with the gold for bail money which his master had demanded that he fetch. Antipholus of S., knowing nothing of his own "arrest" grows acutely bewildered:
The fellow is distract, and so am I, And here we
wander in illusions. Some blessed power deliver
us from hence! (42–44)
When a courtesan arrives requesting a gold chain in exchange for a ring which she claims to have given Antipholus, he takes her to be the devil incarnate, and he exits post-haste. The courtesan concludes that he must be mad and decides to tell his wife that he had stolen her ring by force.
Two points should be made about this scene. First, try to envision two good actors playing the parts of Dromio and Antipholus. As characters, the two of them enjoy "playing' with and for each other: they exchange witty remarks, feign arguments, and sometimes go too far with their "performances," which usually result in the master thumping the servant. This conventional relationship between well-bred masters and their servants in Shakespeare's comedy also exists in the Roman play which he used as a model. In Shakespeare's comedies, the fools (and servants) have a certain degree of freedom with their masters, which is denied to other people, but they must always be careful not to break the unwritten code, not to overstep their bounds. We have noticed the comedy of the early scenes when Antipholus of S. beats Dromio of E. because of the "joke," as he saw it, about a wife waiting to share dinner with him. The beating came quickly then. Here, one must imagine Dromio of S. taking pause when his "master" denies knowing anything about bail money, but pursuing the matter and simultaneously feeling him out to see if he is "playing" a game. Accustomed to his master's whimsical, abnormal behavior by now, Dromio seems to carry on the game when Antipholus of S. remains serious. This is evident in Antipholus's quite serious fear of the witch, in the image of a courtesan, and Dromio's continued banter through the whole exchange: "Marry, he must have a long spoon that must eat with the devil."
The second matter of note in this scene is the biblical cast of the language. Though the comedy brought on by the errors is paramount, the fact that Shakespeare has his sympathetic character Antipholus appear beside himself and use Christ's words to the devil who tempted Him in the desert ("Satan, avoid!" — equivalent to "Get thee behind me, Satan") indicates that at one level the fear is real and the affair serious. If dreams and the subconscious are one source of other non-rational realities, another source very real to the Elizabethans was the nether world of demons and their legions of witches. Comedy of Errors is farce, but one of the chief appeals of farce can be its invitation to audiences to release themselves through laughter from deep-lying fears and the sneaking suspicion that a combination of pure chance, sheer chaos at the heart of things, or alternately but no more comfortingly, malevolent forces control our destinies. In Shakespeare's late plays, these themes are developed elaborately; their sketchy presence here, however, should not be overlooked if one is to capture the sense of this early work.