The Comedy of Errors: Novel Summary: Act 1 Scene 2
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Act 1 Scene 2
Antipholus of Syracuse enters with his servant, Dromio of Syracuse. They do not know that Antipholus's father Egeon is also in Ephesus. The First Merchant advises Antipholus to say he is from Epidamnum rather than from Syracuse, lest he be arrested. Antipholus S. gives a purse of his money (a thousand gold marks) to Dromio of Syracuse and asks him to take it to the Centaur inn where they are staying, while he explores the city. Left alone, Antipholus S. reflects on his unhappiness at failing to find his mother and brother.
Dromio of Ephesus enters and mistakes Antipholus S. for his master, Antipholus of Ephesus, a wealthy citizen married to Adriana; Antipholus S. mistakes Dromio E. for his servant, Dromio S. This misunderstanding leads to an argument. Dromio E. chides Antipholus S. for being late home for dinner. Antipholus S. asks Dromio E. where he left the money he gave him (in fact, he gave it to Dromio S.). Dromio E. does not know what he is talking about. Antipholus S. slaps Dromio E., who flees. Left alone, Antipholus S. worries that his servant has stolen his money. This does not surprise him as he believes Ephesus to be full of cheats, witches, and sorcerers. He thinks that perhaps one has bewitched his servant. He goes off to the Centaur inn to look for him.
This scene continues the theme of buying and selling. The First Merchant turns down Antipholus S.'s invitation to walk round the town with him on the grounds that he is meeting some merchants by whom he hopes to make a profit. In Ephesus, it is implied, money is placed above friendship, and the human is subject to the monetary. Thus, Egeon is forced by a law enacted by quarreling merchants to pay a ransom for his life in spite of the Duke's compassion towards him. This value system, where economics are paramount, gained ground in Shakespeare's time and dominates our social system today. While Shakespeare had too universal an outlook to be a didactic or narrowly 'political' writer, he presents the dominant status of economic values along with an uncompromising view of the human cost.
The theme of identity is movingly developed in Antipholus S.'s soliloquy (lines 33-40), in which he likens himself to a drop of water that has plunged into the ocean to seek another drop, losing his own identity in the process. In his quest for his twin brother, he has lost his family and his homeland and in this scene loses his money and servant. He finds himself in a strange land which he believes to be full of people who trade in lies and illusion, some of whom have the power to change or deform the bodies of their victims - a direct attack on self-identity. This speech helps establish the setting of Ephesus as one of strangeness and enchantment, in which anything can happen.
Dromio E.'s mystified responses to the man he believes to be his master also have a disorienting effect, since our identity partly depends on the memory of our personality and interactions as held by ourselves and others. Much modern literature has explored the question of who we are, if suddenly one day, nobody else recognizes or knows us. This is the situation in which the two sets of twins find themselves.
Identity, or sense of self, is explored in many of Shakespeare's plays. Often, the characters are thrown into a situation that robs them of the external props and appendages by which they define their identity. In King Lear, Lear loses his kingly status and corrupt daughters and followers, and wanders naked on a moor; in As You Like It, Rosalind and Duke Senior are exiled from the court and, no longer able to draw upon the support system that surrounds nobles, must fall back on their own resources. Such periods of deprivation and suffering serve as a school in which the characters discover a new and stronger self-identity that is less dependant on such crutches as worldly status and rank. In The Comedy of Errors, the strange city of Ephesus is the place where the characters lose their identity, only to regain it in the final act.