The Comedy of Errors: Act 1, Scene 1 - Summary

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Summary

      The Comedy of Errors begins in Ephesus, where the duke, Solinus, is punishing Egeon for having trespassed on Ephesian soil. Solinus explains that since the Syracusian duke punished Ephesian merchants simply for doing business in Syracuse, Solinus has decided to likewise punish Syracusian merchants for simply appearing in Ephesus. As such, Egeon, a merchant from Syracuse, must either pay a penalty of one thousand marks - which he does not have - or be put to death.

      When asked by Solinus why he had come to Ephesus, Egeon explains his woeful tale: some eighteen years ago, in Epidamnum, his wife bore him sons, and, coincidentally, an impoverished woman gave birth to her own twin sons in the same inn at the same hour. Since the poor woman could not care for her children, Egeon purchased them as servants for his own children. Later, when Egeon, his wife, and the four young children were sailing back to Syracuse, they came upon rough waters and had to resort to tying themselves to the ship's masts. As two other vessels were coming upon them, their ship was split apart by a "mighty rock," such that the wife, one son, and one servant were separated from Egeon, the other son, and the other servant. When the son raised by Egeon reached the age of eighteen, he grew curious enough about his long-lost brother and mother to wish to travel in search of them, in the company of his servant. Egeon also left in search of the family members and had ended up in Ephesus after "five summers" of travels elsewhere. The duke, taking pity on Egeon, gives him leave to seek the thousand marks needed to buy his freedom from friends in Ephesusbut Egeon has only that very day to obtain the sum.

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