The Comedy of Errors: Novel Summary: Act 3 Scene 1

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Act 3 Scene 1

Antipholus of Ephesus enters with his servant, Dromio of Ephesus, the goldsmith Angelo and the merchant Balthasar. Antipholus E. asks Angelo to help him placate his wife by telling her that he was delayed at Angelo's shop to oversee the making of the gold chain he intends to give her as a present. He mocks Dromio E. for claiming that he was beaten by his master for misappropriating the thousand marks, saying he must have been drunk.
Antipholus E. arrives at his house with Dromio E., Angelo and Balthasar. All are expecting dinner, and are unaware that inside the house, dinner is already being eaten by the other Antipholus. They are barred from entering by Dromio S., who is under orders to let no one in. Antipholus E. angrily demands to be let in, but Adriana and the maid Luce (also called Nell - a mistake by Shakespeare) refuse; as far as they are concerned, the master is dining at home and those outside the door are imposters and pranksters. Antipholus E. wants to break down the door, but Balthasar advises him against it, lest it cause a scandal and stain Adriana's reputation. Antipholus E. backs down and suggests that they all dine with a woman friend of his, referred to in the play as the Courtesan (prostitute). She is the hostess of the Porpentine (Porcupine) inn. Antipholous E.'s friendship with her has often caused jealous rages in Adriana. He asks Angelo to bring the chain intended for Adriana to him at the Porpentine inn, so that he can give it to the Courtesan to spite his wife.
This is our first sight of Antipholus E. and it is hard to judge him as sympathically as we do his twin. Unlike his brother, he cannot be laughed out of a rage by his servant; and his action in giving a chain meant for his wife to the Courtesan is spiteful and petty. However, in his justification, he seems to think that he is shut out of his house because his wife is engaged in some sexual liaison, so he is punishing her supposed infidelity with an adventure of his own.
Whether Adriana is offering Antipholus S. more than just dinner has been debated by critics. On one hand, her insistence that no one be allowed to disturb them suggests a sexual motive. On the other hand, in the very next scene we see Antipholus S. pursuing Adriana's sister Luciana, which suggests that his attentions were never directed towards Adriana. Indeed, in Act 3, scene 2, he declares that his "soul" "abhor[s]" Adriana.
The themes of debt, and buying and selling are explored here in Antipholus E.'s attempt to 'buy off' his wife, who is angry at his absences, with the gold chain he has ordered for her. The gold chain becomes a way of paying off a marital debt he has incurred by his neglect of his wife. When he believes that she has been unfaithful to him, he decides that he this frees him of the obligation: he determines to give the chain to the Courtesan instead. As we see later, the chain is not offered to the Courtesan without obligation, either. Antipholus E. receives a ring from the Courtesan in exchange for the chain. Thus relationships in Ephesus are defined by a chain of debts.

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