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The Comedy of Errors - Act 1, scene 1
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Navigate this workThe Comedy of Errors - Act 1, scene 1
Act 1, scene 1
Egeon, a merchant from Syracusae, is arrested for having illegally entered Ephesus. He tells the story of how he lost his wife and an infant son; the remaining identical-twin son grew up and set out to find his lost brother; Egeon in turn journeyed in search of the son he had raised. His journey has brought him to Ephesus. Now Egeon is given until the end of the day to raise ransom money. If he fails, he will be executed.Enter ⌜Solinus⌝ the Duke of Ephesus, with ⌜Egeon⌝ the
Merchant of Syracuse, Jailer, and other Attendants.
0001 Proceed, Solinus, to procure my fall,
0002 And by the doom of death end woes and all.
0003 Merchant of Syracusa, plead no more.
0004 I am not partial to infringe our laws.
0005 5 The enmity and discord which of late
0006 Sprung from the rancorous outrage of your duke
0007 To merchants, our well-dealing countrymen,
0008 Who, wanting guilders to redeem their lives,
0009 Have sealed his rigorous statutes with their bloods,
0010 10 Excludes all pity from our threat’ning looks.
0011 For since the mortal and intestine jars
0012 ’Twixt thy seditious countrymen and us,
0013 It hath in solemn synods been decreed,
0014 Both by the Syracusians and ourselves,
0015 15 To admit no traffic to our adverse towns.
0016 Nay, more, if any born at Ephesus
0017 Be seen at Syracusian marts and fairs;
0018 Again, if any Syracusian born
0019 Come to the bay of Ephesus, he dies,
0020 20 His goods confiscate to the Duke’s dispose,
p. 90021 Unless a thousand marks be levièd
0022 To quit the penalty and to ransom him.
0023 Thy substance, valued at the highest rate,
0024 Cannot amount unto a hundred marks;
0025 25 Therefore by law thou art condemned to die.
0026 Yet this my comfort: when your words are done,
0027 My woes end likewise with the evening sun.
0028 Well, Syracusian, say in brief the cause
0029 Why thou departedst from thy native home
0030 30 And for what cause thou cam’st to Ephesus.
0031 A heavier task could not have been imposed
0032 Than I to speak my griefs unspeakable;
0033 Yet, that the world may witness that my end
0034 Was wrought by nature, not by vile offense,
0035 35 I’ll utter what my sorrow gives me leave.
0036 In Syracusa was I born, and wed
0037 Unto a woman happy but for me,
0038 And by me, had not our hap been bad.
0039 With her I lived in joy. Our wealth increased
0040 40 By prosperous voyages I often made
0041 To Epidamium, till my factor’s death
0042 And ⌜the⌝ great care of goods at random left
0043 Drew me from kind embracements of my spouse;
0044 From whom my absence was not six months old
0045 45 Before herself—almost at fainting under
0046 The pleasing punishment that women bear—
0047 Had made provision for her following me
0048 And soon and safe arrivèd where I was.
0049 There had she not been long but she became
0050 50 A joyful mother of two goodly sons,
0051 And, which was strange, the one so like the other
0052 As could not be distinguished but by names.
p. 110053 That very hour, and in the selfsame inn,
0054 A mean woman was deliverèd
0055 55 Of such a burden, male twins, both alike.
0056 Those, for their parents were exceeding poor,
0057 I bought and brought up to attend my sons.
0058 My wife, not meanly proud of two such boys,
0059 Made daily motions for our home return.
0060 60 Unwilling, I agreed. Alas, too soon
0061 We came aboard.
0062 A league from Epidamium had we sailed
0063 Before the always-wind-obeying deep
0064 Gave any tragic instance of our harm;
0065 65 But longer did we not retain much hope,
0066 For what obscurèd light the heavens did grant
0067 Did but convey unto our fearful minds
0068 A doubtful warrant of immediate death,
0069 Which though myself would gladly have embraced,
0070 70 Yet the incessant weepings of my wife,
0071 Weeping before for what she saw must come,
0072 And piteous plainings of the pretty babes,
0073 That mourned for fashion, ignorant what to fear,
0074 Forced me to seek delays for them and me.
0075 75 And this it was, for other means was none:
0076 The sailors sought for safety by our boat
0077 And left the ship, then sinking-ripe, to us.
0078 My wife, more careful for the latter-born,
0079 Had fastened him unto a small spare mast,
0080 80 Such as seafaring men provide for storms.
0081 To him one of the other twins was bound,
0082 Whilst I had been like heedful of the other.
0083 The children thus disposed, my wife and I,
0084 Fixing our eyes on whom our care was fixed,
0085 85 Fastened ourselves at either end the mast
0086 And, floating straight, obedient to the stream,
0087 Was carried towards Corinth, as we thought.
p. 130088 At length the sun, gazing upon the earth,
0089 Dispersed those vapors that offended us,
0090 90 And by the benefit of his wished light
0091 The seas waxed calm, and we discoverèd
0092 Two ships from far, making amain to us,
0093 Of Corinth that, of Epidaurus this.
0094 But ere they came—O, let me say no more!
0095 95 Gather the sequel by that went before.
0096 Nay, forward, old man. Do not break off so,
0097 For we may pity though not pardon thee.
0098 O, had the gods done so, I had not now
0099 Worthily termed them merciless to us.
0100 100 For, ere the ships could meet by twice five leagues,
0101 We were encountered by a mighty rock,
0102 Which being violently borne ⌜upon,⌝
0103 Our helpful ship was splitted in the midst;
0104 So that, in this unjust divorce of us,
0105 105 Fortune had left to both of us alike
0106 What to delight in, what to sorrow for.
0107 Her part, poor soul, seeming as burdenèd
0108 With lesser weight, but not with lesser woe,
0109 Was carried with more speed before the wind,
0110 110 And in our sight they three were taken up
0111 By fishermen of Corinth, as we thought.
0112 At length, another ship had seized on us
0113 And, knowing whom it was their hap to save,
0114 Gave healthful welcome to their shipwracked guests,
0115 115 And would have reft the fishers of their prey
0116 Had not their ⌜bark⌝ been very slow of sail;
0117 And therefore homeward did they bend their course.
0118 Thus have you heard me severed from my bliss,
0119 That by misfortunes was my life prolonged
0120 120 To tell sad stories of my own mishaps.
0121 And for the sake of them thou sorrowest for,
0122 Do me the favor to dilate at full
0123 What have befall’n of them and ⌜thee⌝ till now.
0124 My youngest boy, and yet my eldest care,
0125 125 At eighteen years became inquisitive
0126 After his brother, and importuned me
0127 That his attendant—so his case was like,
0128 Reft of his brother, but retained his name—
0129 Might bear him company in the quest of him,
0130 130 Whom whilst I labored of a love to see,
0131 I hazarded the loss of whom I loved.
0132 Five summers have I spent in farthest Greece,
0133 Roaming clean through the bounds of Asia,
0134 And, coasting homeward, came to Ephesus,
0135 135 Hopeless to find, yet loath to leave unsought
0136 Or that or any place that harbors men.
0137 But here must end the story of my life;
0138 And happy were I in my timely death
0139 Could all my travels warrant me they live.
0140 140 Hapless Egeon, whom the fates have marked
0141 To bear the extremity of dire mishap,
0142 Now, trust me, were it not against our laws,
0143 Against my crown, my oath, my dignity,
0144 Which princes, would they, may not disannul,
0145 145 My soul should sue as advocate for thee.
0146 But though thou art adjudgèd to the death,
0147 And passèd sentence may not be recalled
0148 But to our honor’s great disparagement,
0149 Yet will I favor thee in what I can.
0150 150 Therefore, merchant, I’ll limit thee this day
0151 To seek thy ⌜life⌝ by beneficial help.
0152 Try all the friends thou hast in Ephesus;
0153 Beg thou, or borrow, to make up the sum,
p. 170154 And live. If no, then thou art doomed to die.—
0155 155 Jailer, take him to thy custody.
JAILER 0156 I will, my lord.
0157 Hopeless and helpless doth Egeon wend,
0158 But to procrastinate his lifeless end.