The Comedy of Errors

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Commerce and Exchange Theme Analysis

Themes and Colors
Commerce and Exchange Theme Icon
Marriage and Family Theme Icon
Appearances and Identity Theme Icon
Mistakes and Coincidences Theme Icon
Scapegoats and Social Hierarchy Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in The Comedy of Errors, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.
Commerce and Exchange Theme Icon

Many of the characters in the play are merchants or traders, and issues of money are important from the start of the play: Aegeon’s life depends on whether or not he will be able to come up with 1000 marks in order to pay the fine for being a Syracusan in Ephesus. And one of the first concerns of Antipholus of Syracuse when he arrives in Ephesus is for the safety of his money. All of this emphasis on economic issues points to the general importance of exchanges in the play. It is the exchange of several key objects—the gold chain made by Angelo, the courtesan’s ring, Antipholus of Ephesus’ bail money—that moves the plot along and creates problems for characters. Then, it is with the return of these items to their rightful owners that the play comes to a resolution in the final scene.

But it is not just objects that are exchanged in the comedy. The play’s most important “exchange” is that of the identities of each Antipholus and Dromio. One could say that, for part of the play, Adriana exchanges husbands. As this suggests, the whole world of the play can be seen through a kind of economic logic of exchange, value, and profit: is it more profitable for Antipholus of Syracuse to play along with the person Adriana thinks him to be? How much money is a life (e.g. Aegeon’s) worth? Characters in the play often seem more concerned with profit and money than with other matters. However, the play is also filled with examples of people who respect values other than monetary ones. Antipholus of Syracuse and Aegeon are willing to travel faraway and risk their lives in order to find the missing members of their families. And Antipholus of Ephesus gladly offers to pay his father’s expensive fine to save his life (though the Duke Solinus ends up pardoning him). Thus, while the exchange of valuable objects is central to the plot of the play, Shakespeare reveals that the center of his characters’ lives is not necessarily things, but rather people, specifically family.

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Commerce and Exchange ThemeTracker

The ThemeTracker below shows where, and to what degree, the theme of Commerce and Exchange appears in each scene of The Comedy of Errors. Click or tap on any chapter to read its Summary & Analysis.
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Commerce and Exchange Quotes in The Comedy of Errors

Below you will find the important quotes in The Comedy of Errors related to the theme of Commerce and Exchange.
Act 1, Scene 1 Quotes

Again: if any Syracusian born
Come to the bay of Ephesus, he dies,
His goods confiscate to the duke’s dispose;
Unless a thousand marks be levied,
To quit the penalty and to ransom him.
Thy substance, valued at the highest rate,
Cannot amount unto a hundred marks;
Therefore by law thou art condemn’d to die.

Related Characters: Duke Solinus (speaker)
Page Number: 1.1.18-25
Explanation and Analysis:

Duke Solinus is explaining the legal situation which causes much of the tension in the play. The cities of Syracuse and Ephesus are feuding, so the Duke of Ephesus has decreed that if anyone from Syracuse (a Syracusian) comes to Ephesus, he will be executed unless he can pay a fee of 1000 marks. Solinus explains that since Aegeon only has 100 marks, he will be executed. This comedy begins in a dark place, as Aegeon is not only sentenced to die, but is also willing to die, saying that death will end his troubles.

This quote establishes the problem of Aegeon's execution, which the play will need to resolve. This problem is framed by commerce and exchange, introducing one of the play's major themes. Aegeon's execution can be prevented by an exchange of money. Merchants, money, misunderstandings, and confused exchanges make up most of the plot and the humor of The Comedy of Errors. This quote also leads well into Aegeon's response (below), which explains the familial split that sets the rest of the plot in motion.


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There had she not been long but she became
A joyful mother of two goodly sons;
And, which was strange, the one so like the other
As could not be distinguish’d but by names.
That very hour, and in the self-same inn,
A meaner woman was delivered
Of such a burden, male twins, both alike:
Those, for their parents were exceeding poor,
I bought, and brought up to attend my sons.

Related Characters: Aegeon (speaker)
Page Number: 1.1.49-57
Explanation and Analysis:

Though he plans to execute Aegeon, the Duke is curious about Aegeon's story and reason for being in Ephesus. Aegeon explains that he made a fortune as a merchant, and that when a business partner died, he and his wife traveled to Epidamnum. In this quote, Aegeon describes how soon after his wife's arrival in Epidamnum she gave birth to children: "two goodly sons." He remarks that it was "strange," since the two sons (twins) looked so alike each other that they could only be told apart by their names. By a miraculous coincidence, at the same time that his wife was giving birth, a poor ("meaner') woman gave birth to another set of male twins, also extremely identical. Since Aegeon was wealthy, he purchased and took on the poor set of twins to be servants to his own sons.

This pair of identical births is the basis for much of the confusion and the humor in the play. Almost every single character in the play mistakes one brother for his twin, and hilarity ensues. Family is extremely important to Aegeon, and this "strange" set of twins and serving twins sets the stage for the other problem of the play: the family split. Much of the work of the play and its plot will be to reunite the family after the split that Aegeon describes below.

Act 1, Scene 2 Quotes

Where is the gold I gave in charge to thee?

To me, sir? Why, you gave no gold to me.

Come on, sir knave, have done your foolishness,
And tell me how thou hast disposed thy charge.

My charge was but to fetch you from the mart
Home to your house, the Phoenix, sir, to dinner:
My mistress and her sister stays for you.

Now, as I am a Christian, answer me,
In what safe place you have bestow’d my money;
Or I shall break that merry sconce of yours,
That stands on tricks when I am undisposed:
Where is the thousand marks thou hadst of me?

Related Characters: Antipholus of Syracuse (speaker), Dromio of Ephesus (speaker)
Related Symbols: The Gold Necklace, Bail Money, and Diamond Ring
Page Number: 1.2.71-82
Explanation and Analysis:

Dromio of Ephesus has entered the stage immediately after Antipholus of Syracuse finished his soliloquy. Dromio of Ephesus mistakes this Antipholus for his master, Antipholus of Ephesus, and tells Antipholus of Syracuse that it's time to come home dinner. Antipholus of Syracuse is confused, thinking that the Dromio he is speaking with is Dromio of Syracuse, the servant he just sent to the Centaur Inn with money. Thus at the beginning of the quote, Antipholus asks the wrong Dromio where is the gold that he gave to his own Dromio. Dromio of Ephesus is confused, and responds as such, since Antipholus of Syracuse only gave money to Dromio of Syracuse. The two continue to mistake each other for their twins, one asking for his money, the other asking his master to come home for dinner.

This interaction is the first of many, many confusing scenes of mistaken identities. Note that the social hierarchy dominates the interaction. In the dialogue that follows the quote, Dromio puns on "marks," saying he has received physical marks from beatings as opposed to marks as currency. Throughout the play, both master Antipholuses beat their (and their twin's) Dromio. The masters constantly blame the servants for the misunderstandings, and this scene shows early on how the dynamic will work in the play.

Upon my life, by some device or other
The villain is o’erraught of all my money.
They say this town is full of cozenage;
As, nimble jugglers that deceive the eye,
Dark-working sorcerers that change the mind.
Soul-killing witches that deform the body,
Disguised cheaters, prating mountebanks,
And many such-like liberties of sin:
If it prove so, I will be gone the sooner.
I’ll to the Centaur, to go seek this slave:
I greatly fear my money is not safe.

Related Characters: Antipholus of Syracuse (speaker)
Related Symbols: The Gold Necklace, Bail Money, and Diamond Ring
Page Number: 1.2.98-108
Explanation and Analysis:

After Dromio runs off stage to avoid further beating, Antipholus of Syracuse offers this soliloquy. He first suggests that Dromio is a villain who has run away with Antipholus's money. Antipholus of Syracuse then goes on to say that he has heard that Ephesus is home to "dark-working sorcerers" and "soul-killing witches." The supernatural explanation for the misunderstanding is humorous, and at the same time eerie. The dark undertones of Aegeon's possible execution are still fresh, and sorcery is the only way that Antipholus of Syracuse, who believes his situation to be hopeless, can understand the interaction he's just had with Dromio of Ephesus.

Act 2, Scene 1 Quotes

A man is master of his liberty:
Time is their master; and when they see time,
They’ll go or come: if so, be patient, sister.

Why should their liberty than ours be more?

Because their business still lies out o’ door.

Related Characters: Adriana (speaker), Luciana (speaker)
Page Number: 2.1.7-11
Explanation and Analysis:

These lines are spoken at the house of Antipholus of Ephesus by his wife, Adriana, and her sister, Luciana. Adriana is upset since Antipholus of Ephesus and his servant Dromio of Ephesus have not returned yet for dinner (recall that Dromio of Ephesus accidentally told Antipholus of Syracuse to come home for dinner). Luciana tells Adriana to be patient, saying that "A man is master of his liberty." In other words, men are free, and can do what they want when they want, and spend their time how they please. Adriana protests, and suggests that the liberty and freedom of a woman should matter the same amount as that of a man, but her sister says men have business "out o' door," and are masters of women.

Thus we see another dynamic develop. As men are masters of their servants, so they are also masters over women. Adriana is not happy with her husband, since he is late, and is she unhappy with her subservient role in the marriage. Note that business and commerce is Luciana's primary reason for which men are the "masters."

Also note that the final lines of the interaction rhyme. In the dialogue that follows, Adriana and Luciana trade fast paced sentences, each speaking one line of iambic pentameter at a time. Trading single lines in this manner is a classic literary device called "Stichomythia."

When I desired him to come home to dinner,
He ask’d me for a thousand marks in gold:
‘’Tis dinner-time,’ quoth I; ‘My gold!’ quoth he:
‘Your meat doth burn,’ quoth I; ‘My gold!’ quoth he:
‘Will you come home?’ quoth I; ‘My gold!’ quoth he,
‘Where is the thousand marks I gave thee, villain?’
‘The pig,’ quoth I, ‘is burn’d;’ ‘My gold!’ quoth he:
‘My mistress, sir,’ quoth I; “Hang up thy mistress!
I know not thy mistress; out on thy mistress!’

Related Characters: Dromio of Ephesus (speaker)
Related Symbols: The Gold Necklace, Bail Money, and Diamond Ring
Page Number: 2.1.62-72
Explanation and Analysis:

After Luciana and Adriana continue to argue about men, power, and marriage—with Luciana arguing that men are masters of nature and their wives—Dromio of Ephesus enters. Remember that Dromio of Ephesus was sent by Adriana to summon Antipholus of Ephesus, but Dromio accidentally called on Antiopholus of Syracuse. Here Dromio of Ephesus tells his mistress Adriana about the confusing interaction he had with the man they believe to be her husband. Dromio humorously stages a mini-dialogue, giving both his voice and the responses from Antipholus of Syracuse. Thus on stage we see the first case of mistaken identity played out for a second time.

Dromio's impersonation of Antipholus consists mainly of one line: "My gold!" This emphasizes commerce and Antipholus's demand for his money, which will be transferred around and demanded again and again throughout the play. Finally, Antipholus speaks out against Dromio's "mistress," giving the impression that he is claiming not to know his own wife. This strange behavior makes Adriana believe that Antipholus of Ephesus is cheating on her (outlined below) and shows a potential for another family split, echoing the original division of Aegeon's family.

Dromio reports that he was beaten and that Antipholus spoke only of his gold, but Adriana sends him out to fetch Antipholus again, and also probably to receive more beatings.

Act 3, Scene 2 Quotes

And may it be that you have quite forgot
A husband’s office? Shall, Antipholus,
Even in the spring of love, thy love-springs rot?
Shall love, in building, grow so ruinous?
If you did wed my sister for her wealth,
Then for her wealth’s sake use her with more kindness:
Or if you like elsewhere, do it by stealth;
Muffle your false love with some show of blindness:
Let not my sister read it in your eye.

Related Characters: Luciana (speaker), Antipholus of Syracuse
Page Number: 3.2.1-11
Explanation and Analysis:

In this scene, Luciana and Antipholus of Syracuse are talking, while Luciana still believes him to be Antipholus of Ephesus. She chides him for forgetting his duties ("office") as a husband, first for falling out of love with his wife, and second for being so overt about it. She describes his love as rotting, and ruinous, suggesting that wealth was the only reason that Antipholus married Adriana in the first place. If this is the case, Luciana asserts, then Antipholus ought to be kind to her for the same reason: money. Luciana believes that if Antipholus loves someone else, he should hide it and use stealth, here using the figurative language of eyes and blindness to emphasize her point. As the dialogue continues, Antipholus of Syracuse will deny being married to Adriana, and go on profess his love to Luciana herself. Note also that Luciana speaks in rhymes (though not couplets).

Master Antipholus,—

Ay, that’s my name.

I know it well, sir:—lo, here is the chain.
I thought to have ta’en you at the Porpentine:
The chain unfinish’d made me stay thus long.

What is your will that I shall do with this?

What please yourself, sir: I have made it for you.

Made it for me, sir! I bespoke it not.

Related Characters: Antipholus of Syracuse (speaker), Angelo (speaker)
Related Symbols: The Gold Necklace, Bail Money, and Diamond Ring
Page Number: 3.2.182-189
Explanation and Analysis:

After Dromio leaves to find out when the next ship leaves, Angelo enters with the golden necklace that Antipholus of Ephesus promised Adriana. Angelo confuses Antipholus of Syracuse for his twin, and gives the chain to the wrong person. Antipholus denies requesting the chain, but eventually accepts it, confused by the interaction. This exchange begins the series of botched exchanges and trades with the wrong people that will continue throughout the play. Soon Antipholus of Ephesus will deny having received the necklace, since he truly has not, and frustration will build. This series of commercial mistakes will also involve a Merchant, who demands payment from Angelo. Angelo will demand money for the chain, but struggle to receive it having given it to the wrong person.

Act 4, Scene 1 Quotes

I answer you! What should I answer you?

The money that you owe me for the chain.

I owe you none till I receive the chain.

You know I gave it you half an hour since.

You gave me none: you wrong me much to say so.

You wrong me more, sir, in denying it:
Consider how it stands upon my credit.

Well, officer, arrest him at my suit.

Related Characters: Antipholus of Ephesus (speaker), Angelo (speaker), Merchant (speaker)
Related Symbols: The Gold Necklace, Bail Money, and Diamond Ring
Page Number: 4.1.62-69
Explanation and Analysis:

This scene begins with Angelo and a Merchant discussing the money that one owes the other. Angelo explains that he will pay the Merchant as soon as he receives payment for the Gold Necklace. When Antipholus of Ephesus enters, Angelo gives him the bill for the chain, saying he needs the money immediately so that he can pay the Merchant. Antipholus says that his money at home, and invites Angelo to come deliver the chain and receive payment there. This offer confuses Angelo, since he has already given the chain to Antipholus of Syracuse. The two men become confused and irate, leading up to the dialogue in the quote.

Angelo demands the money, but Antipholus of Ephesus demands the chain, denying that he ever received it. They both claim to be wronged by the other, and eventually the Merchant, wanting his money, intervenes by having an Officer arrest Antipholus. This commercial debate is ridiculous given the confusion of both parties, making the arrest of Antipholus of Ephesus one of the most comedic errors of the play.

What ship of Epidamnum stays for me?

A ship you sent me to, to hire waftage.

Thou drunken slave, I sent thee for a rope,
And told thee to what purpose and what end.

You sent me for a rope’s end as soon:
You sent me to the bay, sir, for a bark.

I will debate this matter at more leisure,
And teach your ears to list me with more heed.
To Adriana, villain, hie thee straight:
Give her this key, and tell her, in the desk
That’s cover’d o’er with Turkish tapestry
There is a purse of ducats; let her send it:
Tell her I am arrested in the street,
And that shall bail me: hie thee, slave, be gone!

Related Characters: Antipholus of Ephesus (speaker), Dromio of Syracuse (speaker)
Related Symbols: The Gold Necklace, Bail Money, and Diamond Ring
Page Number: 4.1.96-109
Explanation and Analysis:

As Antipholus of Ephesus is being arrested, Dromio of Syracuse returns with news about departing ships. He tells Antipholus, whom he mistakes for his master, that there is a ship of Epidamnum waiting in the harbor. Antipholus begins the dialogue in the quote by asking, confusedly, what ship is waiting for him. Dromio responds that it's the ship that he was sent to hire. But Antipholus of Ephesus has sent Dromio of Ephesus to buy a rope, and of course makes the servant the scapegoat for the error, blaming Dromio of Syracuse and yelling at him. He threatens his servant, implying that he will beat him until he knows how to listen better, than orders Dromio to go back to Adriana and get bail money from a desk. Thus another financial object, this time money itself, is interjected into the system of mistaken exchanges and errors.

Act 4, Scene 3 Quotes

Thou art, as you are all, a sorceress:
I conjure thee to leave me and be gone.

Give me the ring of mine you had at dinner,
Or, for my diamond, the chain you promised,
And I’ll be gone, sir, and not trouble you.

Related Characters: Antipholus of Syracuse (speaker), Courtesan (speaker)
Related Symbols: The Gold Necklace, Bail Money, and Diamond Ring
Page Number: 4.3.68-72
Explanation and Analysis:

Antipholus of Syracuse is convinced that devils, sorcerers, and witches inhabit Ephesus and are the cause of all of the confusion. A Courtesan enters the stage and calls Antipholus by name, causing him to shout at her and call her Satan. The Courtesan requests of Antipholus the chain, which he has, in exchange for a diamond ring. Apparently, Antipholus of Ephesus purchased the gold necklace with the intention of trading it with the Courtesan for the diamond ring. The exchanges have all gotten mixed up due to the countless errors and mistakes, so the Courtesan believes that Antipholus has stolen her ring. This detail is especially confusing, as Adriana mentioned that she was promised a chain, not a ring. After Antipholus and Dromio leave, the Courtesan concludes that they are insane, and goes to tell Adriana that her husband has stolen the ring.

Act 4, Scene 4 Quotes

Alas, I sent you money to redeem you,
By Dromio here, who came in haste for it.

Money by me! Heart and good-will you might;
But surely, master, not a rag of money.

Went’st not thou to her for a purse of ducats?

He came to me, and I deliver’d it.

And I am witness with her that she did.

God and the rope-maker bear me witness
That I was sent for nothing but a rope!

Related Characters: Antipholus of Ephesus (speaker), Dromio of Ephesus (speaker), Adriana (speaker), Luciana (speaker)
Related Symbols: The Gold Necklace, Bail Money, and Diamond Ring
Page Number: 4.4.88-96
Explanation and Analysis:

Dromio of Ephesus returns to the arrested Antipholus of Ephesus with the rope that was requested for Adriana. However, since that command, Antipholus has told Dromio of Syracuse to get the bail money. Thus when Dromio of Ephesus shows up with only a rope, Antipholus is furious. Adriana and Luciana then enter, along with the Courtesan. They think that Antipholus is mad, and argue about if Antipholus and Adriana ate dinner together or not. Here, Adriana says that she sent bail money with Dromio. She has, of course, sent it with the other Dromio, so Dromio of Ephesus begins to look insane, too, since he claims only to have been sent for a rope. The confusion in this scene is especially knotted and humorous since Antipholus of Ephesus has given commands to both Dromios. Every character is confused, so the mistakes and false identities continue in their absurdities.

In this scene Adriana pays Antipholus's bail and decides to shut him and Dromio up inside, but moments after their exit, Antipholus and Dromio of Syracuse enter the stage. At this sight, Adriana is convinced that Antipholus and Dromio of Ephesus have escaped. Now, even people are exchanged as commodities, and of course the exchange of persons is also confounded and filled with error. Antipholus and Dromio of Syracuse escape and get ready to leave Ephesus. 

Act 5, Scene 1 Quotes

You have done wrong to this my honest friend;
Who, but for staying on our controversy,
Had hoisted sail and put to sea to-day:
This chain you had of me; can you deny it?

I think I had; I never did deny it.

Yes, that you did, sir, and forswore it too.

Who heard me to deny it or forswear it?

These ears of mine, thou know’st, did hear thee.

Related Characters: Antipholus of Syracuse (speaker), Angelo (speaker), Merchant (speaker)
Related Symbols: The Gold Necklace, Bail Money, and Diamond Ring
Page Number: 5.1.19-26
Explanation and Analysis:
As Angelo and the Merchant discuss their financial situation, Antipholus and Dromio of Syracuse enter while Antipholus is wearing the gold necklace. Angelo and the Merchant ask why he denied receiving the chain if he is wearing it, mistaking him for Antipholus of Ephesus. Comedically, Antipholus doesn't deny receiving the chain, instead denying that he ever denied receiving it. The Merchant and Angelo claim to have heard Antipholus swear denial, which angers him. Honor is extremely important to Antipholus, and despite the humorous nature of the dozens of errors and coincidences, he is willing to duel to protect his word. Before a fight can begin, Adriana, Luciana, and the Courtesan enter and tell Angelo and the Merchant that Antipholus and Dromio are mad. The pair then flees to a nearby abbey.