The Comedy of Errors: Character Profiles
Abbess: The abbess of the priory in Ephesus finally turns out to be Emilia, the long-lost mother of the Antipholus twins and wife of Egeon. In the shipwreck that separated her from Egeon, she had tied herself, one of her twin sons (Antipholus E.), and one of the twin servants (Dromio E.) to a mast from the split-apart ship. Egeon had done the same with the other twin son and servant. In the last scene of the play, Emilia/the Abbess reveals that she and her charges were rescued by men of Epidamnum, and that afterwards, fishermen from Corinth stole away the boys. She had not seen either boy since, and remained unaware that they were living in Ephesus.
The Abbess acts as a kind of deus ex machina (literally, 'god from the machine,' after the god that traditionally descended onto the stage at the end of a play to resolve all conflicts and give everyone their just deserts). She resolves the confusion that has accumulated throughout the play and that reaches its height in this last act. She also rebukes Adriana for her shrewish treatment of her husband, though how much credit we should give her advice is open to question, since she previously argued that Adriana was not being tough enough on Antipholus E. The important factor is that this advice rings true for Adriana, who wishes to change as a result.
Some critics suggest that the Abbess provided a religious commentary for audiences in Elizabethan England. Though Queen Elizabeth ruled an officially Protestant England, many people continued to practice the Catholic religion secretly and there was still debate about the truth and usefulness of certain Catholic traditions. One question was whether Catholics or Protestants were more effective in exorcising demons from possessed people. The Abbess proposes to cure Antipholus S. of his supposed possession by treating him with herbs and praying for him - a Protestant approach to possession. Catholicism favored a ritualized exorcism. In the play, the Catholic approach is satirized in the character of Pinch, who disrupts the social order by brutally binding Antipholus and his servant, and who is exposed as a fraud.
Adriana: Antipholus E.'s wife and sister of Luciana. A fierce, outspoken and 'shrewish' woman who is possessive and jealous of her husband, Adriana kicks against the restrictions on women's freedom brought by marriage and does not see why double standards should apply to men and women. She becomes furiously jealous of her husband's friendship with the Courtesan and believes that he is having an affair with her. She fears that she has lost her attractiveness to her husband and that this explains his frequent absences from home.
At the end of the play, Adriana is rebuked by the Abbess for her "jealous fits" and takes the message to heart. It is implied that she modifies her behavior towards her husband towards the more gentle style of her sister. There is never any doubt, however, that Adriana truly loves her husband, as is seen by her readiness to pay his ransom when he is arrested, and her well-intentioned though misguided engagement of Pinch to exorcise him.
Angelo: A goldsmith in Ephesus and a friend and business associate of Antipholus E. He makes the gold chain that Antipholus E. means to give to Adriana. When Antipholus E. fails to pay him for it because he did not receive it (the wrong Antipholus received the chain), Angelo has him arrested.
Antipholus of Ephesus (Antipholus E.): The twin brother of Antipholus of Syracuse (Antipholus S.) and the son of Egeon and Emilia (the Abbess). He is a well-respected and wealthy merchant in Ephesus and Adriana's husband. In the shipwreck that separates his family, he ends up with his mother, Emilia. According to her account, she, with the infants Antipholus E. and Dromio E., were rescued by men from Epidamnum. Afterwards, Antipholus E. and Dromio E. were stolen from her by fishermen from Corinth. Later in the play, Antipholus E. says that he was taken from Corinth to Ephesus by the uncle of Duke Solinus.
At the start of the play, unknown to Antipholus E., his twin has arrived in Ephesus. A series of confusing incidents follow in which Antipholus S. is mistaken for Antipholus E. by the latter's wife and friends. His wife thinks Antipholus E. has been possessed and driven mad by demons and arranges for him to be exorcised. He thinks that his wife is plotting against him. At the play's conclusion, the confusion of identity is resolved, and Antipholus E. is reunited with his family.
Antipholus E. differs from his twin brother in two main respects. First, unlike his brother, he begins the play with a firm sense of identity as a man with many material assets: wealth, a comfortable home, business associates who respect him, and a wife. All these will be threatened before the play's resolution. Second, he is less sympathetic a character than Antipholus S., responding to every new challenge with anger, violence and a lack of humor. However, he does lose more than his brother, who gains from the confusion.
Antipholus of Syracuse (Antipholus S.): The twin brother of Antipholus E. and the son of Egeon and Emilia. In the shipwreck, he ends up with his father, Egeon, and lives with him in Syracuse until he is 18, when he and his servant Dromio S. leave to go in search of his long-lost mother and twin brother. He arrives in Ephesus, not knowing that his father, mother and brother are also there.
In Ephesus, he is constantly mistaken for his twin, but does not guess that this may mean that his twin is here too. Instead, he attributes the confusion to the witchcraft and sorcery for which Ephesus is famous. He becomes frightened and wants to leave, but is delayed by circumstances. When Adriana invites him to dinner, he accepts and finds himself attracted to Luciana. At the play's conclusion, the confusion of identity is resolved, and Antipholus S. is reunited with his family and free to resume his suit to Luciana.
Antipholus S. is a sad, lost man at the start of the play, wanting only to complete himself by finding his lost brother and mother. He is a more sympathetic character than his brother, engaging in friendly jesting with his servant Dromio and showing an openness to new experiences in his acceptance of Adriana's invitation.
Balthasar: A merchant in Ephesus. He accompanies Angelo and Antipholus E. to the latter's house. When Antipholus grows angry at being locked out of his home and decides to break in, Balthasar convinces him not to do so. Antipholus E. wants to break open the door, but Balthasar advises him not to, lest it cause a scandal and stain Adriana's reputation, and, by extension, his own.
Courtesan: A prostitute and the hostess of the Porpentine Inn who is also a friend of Antipholus E. Antipholus E., angry with his wife for locking him out of his house, means to give the gold chain he ordered for Adriana to the Courtesan. The Courtesan later mistakes Antipholus S. for his twin and requests the chain in exchange for a ring she previously gave Antipholus E. at dinner earlier at the Porpentine. Antipholus S. views her as a creature of the devil and runs away from her in fear.
Doctor Pinch: Dr Pinch is described as a schoolmaster but is also a conjurer. Adriana engages him to exorcise the demons from Antipholus E. Pinch has Antipholus E. and Dromio E. tied up in preparation for the exorcism. But Antipholus E. and Dromio E. escape their bonds, beat Pinch, set fire to his hair and douse the fire with filthy water. Dr Pinch represents the Catholic practice of exorcism rejected by the Protestant Church of England in the Elizabethan period. Pinch begins his exorcism with the words, "I conjure thee by all the saints in heaven!" (Act 4, scene 4, line 55). The belief in saints and their intervention in human affairs was a Catholic doctrine that was rejected by the Protestant Church.
Dromio of Ephesus (Dromio E.): The twin brother of Dromio S, he was born to a poor woman at the same time that Emilia (the Abbess) gave birth to her twin Antipholuses. Egeon bought the Dromios from the poor woman to be servants to his sons. Dromio E. shared the same fate in the shipwreck as Antipholus E. Throughout the play, Dromio E. mistakes Antipholus S. for his own master. He is sent on a series of errands only to return to the wrong master with the wrong item or information, and gets beaten as a result. Dromio E. is romantically involved with the kitchen maid, Nell, also called Luce (a mistake by Shakespeare). Dromio E. is not much differentiated in character from Dromio S. The two Dromios are the clowns of the play and its comic heart. Their final reunion is both more loving and more touching than that of the Antipholuses.
Dromio of Syracuse (Dromio S.) : The twin brother of Dromio of Ephesus. He has shared the same fate in the shipwreck as Antipholus S., to whom he is servant. Like his brother, he falls victim to the confusion caused by the mistaken identities and is beaten by the Antipholuses when he fails to bring the right item or information. Dromio S. is not much differentiated in character from Dromio E. The two Dromios are the clowns of the play and its comic heart. Their final reunion is both more loving and more touching than that of the Antipholuses.
Duke Solinus of Ephesus: The Duke appears in the first and last scenes of the play. In the first scene, the Duke shows himself to be a stickler for law rigidly applied when he condemns Egeon to pay a large ransom or be executed for breaking the law forbidding Syracusan merchants to travel to Ephesus. However, once he has heard Egeon's story, he is moved and shows enough mercy to give Egeon a day to raise his ransom.
In the last scene, the Duke is intending to carry out Egeon's sentence of death. Before he can do so, various characters who have suffered from the confusion of identities ask the Duke to intercede and ensure justice for them. The Duke becomes confused himself and, though usually a man of reason, begins to fall victim to fears of sorcery. The situation is saved by the intervention of the Abbess, who explains all. The Duke pardons Egeon, allowing mercy to triumph over the law's requirements.
Egeon: A merchant from Syracuse, father of the Antipholus twins and husband of the Abbess, Emilia. He is separated from his wife and one son in the shipwreck. He arrives in Ephesus hoping to find not only the half of his family lost in the wreck, but also his more recently departed son, Antipholus S., who is looking for his brother. As soon as he reaches Ephesus, he is arrested under a law forbidding Syracusan merchants from traveling to Ephesus. He must pay a ransom of a thousand marks or be executed. Moved by his story of suffering, the Duke gives him a day's grace to raise the money.
Egeon reappears at the end of the play and is reunited with his entire family. Antipholus E. offers to pay his ransom but the Duke refuses and gives him a pardon.
Emilia: See Abbess
First Merchant: The First Merchant warns Antipholus S. on his arrival in Ephesus that Syracusan merchants are being held for ransom and advises him to claim to be from Epidamnum. He tells Antipholus S. that the Duke has just sentenced a Syracusan merchant to death for his inability to pay that ransom. The First Merchant is unaware that the Syracusan merchant is Egeon, Antipholus S.'s father.
Luce: See Nell
Luciana: Adriana's sister. She is unmarried and at the start of the play, she holds very different views on marriage from those of her sister. She presents the view of the dutiful wife, counseling Adriana to be patient with her husband's absences. She says women should accept that men have more freedom than women and that the husband is lord over his wife. Adriana condemns this attitude as "servitude" and says it is the reason Luciana remains unmarried. But Luciana says that the reason she has not married is that she sees only troubled marriages around her.
When Antipholus S. is dining at his brother's house with Adriana and Luciana, Luciana advises him to be more attentive to Adriana. She tells him that if he is having an affair, he should be discreet to avoid hurting his wife and he should at least pretend to love Adriana. (Her advice would appear to set a dangerous precedent because unknown to her, she may end up marrying Antipholus S. and she is effectively giving him permission to stray.) Because she believes that Antipholus S. is Adriana's husband, Luciana is shocked when he reveals his romantic interest in her. She tells Adriana that he has made advances to her and tries to console her by saying that she is better off without him. Luciana backs up her sister in engaging Pinch to exorcise Antipholus E. She also defends Adriana against the Abbess's accusation that she has been too tough on Antipholus E., suggesting that she has modified her previously subservient views.
Messenger: In the last scene of the play, the Messenger tells Adriana that Antipholus E. and Dromio E. have broken free of their bonds, beaten the maids and bound Dr Pinch. They have set Pinch's hair on fire and then doused the fire with buckets of filthy water. Finally, they have cut his hair in the style associated with fools.
Nell (also known as Luce - a mistake by Shakespeare): A servant in Antipholus E.'s home. She helps Dromio S. keep Antipholus E. out of his house when Adriana and Luciana are entertaining Antipholus S. inside, in the belief that Antipholus S. is Adriana's husband. We discover later that she has laid claim to Dromio S. in the belief that he is Dromio E., with whom she is romantically involved. Dromio S. finds her extremely unattractive and describes her as "the kitchen wench, and all grease" (Act 3, scene 2, lines 93-4). He also describes her as being so fat that she is "No longer from head to foot than from hip to hip: she is spherical, like a globe" (Act 3, scene 2, lines 111-2).
Officers: These are police officers of Ephesus. An Officer arrests Angelo when the Second Merchant demands it. On Angelo's orders, he also arrests Antipholus E. for failing to pay for the gold chain. Later, the Officer refuses to turn over Antipholus E. to Adriana because he does not want to lose the payment he will receive for capturing the prisoner.
Pinch: See Doctor Pinch
Second Merchant: The Second Merchant is owed money by Angelo. When he asks Angelo to pay him, Angelo tells him that he is owed a similar sum by Antipholus E. for the gold chain. When Antipholus E. refuses to pay because he never received the chain, Angelo cannot pay the Second Merchant, who has Angelo arrested for non-payment of debt. Angelo, in turn, has Antipholus E. arrested on the same grounds. Later, the Second Merchant asks Angelo about Antipholus E.'s reputation, and Angelo assures him that, excepting this occasion, Antipholus E. has always been a reputable businessman.