The Comedy of Errors

Pdf fan Tap here to download this LitChart! (PDF)
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.
Mistakes and Coincidences Theme Icon

Shakespeare’s play is called The Comedy of Errors for a reason: the play is filled to the brim with humorous mistakes and errors, from mistaken identities to mixed-up objects to misinterpreted puns. Characters continually make mistakes and grow more and more confused as the play progresses. While such mistakes can be seen as negative things in the lives of the play’s characters, they are also in some sense beneficial to the play. It is precisely error that allows for the comedy and plot of the play, which can be seen as a continually escalating series of errors followed by one final scene of revelation and resolution. This happy ending is the defining feature of comedy as a genre. But the play can’t jump directly to this resolution. It must take a wandering path from beginning to happy conclusion (in Latin, error literally means “a wandering”). There have to be obstacles for the characters, a plot that meanders as characters go off-course and make mistakes. These mistakes make the comedy interesting and amusing, and create the very problems that the ending can then solve.

In addition to characters’ mistakes, simple coincidences are also a significant force in the plot. The play relies on the (almost implausible) coincidences of Aemilia having become an abbess in the city where her lost son settles, and of all the characters finding themselves in Ephesus on the same day and running into each other at just the right time to save Aegeon’s life. All these coincidences continually baffle the characters of the play, who can find no adequate explanation for what they see as strange, inexplicable events and behavior. So, they often turn to the supernatural. Antipholus and Dromio of Syracuse think that Ephesus is inhabited by witches and sorcerers in order to explain how everyone seems to know them. Adriana thinks that her husband is possessed, and gets Pinch to try to perform an exorcism on him. And the Duke, when he sees both pairs of twins, thinks that one pair are spirit versions of the real Antipholus and Dromio. All this talk of the supernatural, though, ends up being just one more error. The play reveals that we often use the supernatural as a catch-all explanation for what we don’t understand, even though such things are more often just the result of bizarre coincidences and simple human error.

Get the entire The Comedy of Errors LitChart as a printable PDF.
The comedy of errors.pdf.medium

Mistakes and Coincidences ThemeTracker

The ThemeTracker below shows where, and to what degree, the theme of Mistakes and Coincidences appears in each scene of The Comedy of Errors. Click or tap on any chapter to read its Summary & Analysis.
How often theme appears:
Scene length:

Mistakes and Coincidences Quotes in The Comedy of Errors

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

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.


Unlock explanations and citation info for this and every other The Comedy of Errors quote.

Plus so much more...

Get LitCharts A+
Already a LitCharts A+ member? Sign in!

For, ere the ships could meet by twice five leagues,
We were encounter’d by a mighty rock;
Which being violently borne upon,
Our helpful ship was splitted in the midst;
So that, in this unjust divorce of us,
Fortune had left to both of us alike
What to delight in, what to sorrow for.

Related Characters: Aegeon (speaker)
Page Number: 1.1.10-106
Explanation and Analysis:

Aegeon says that with his wife, his sons, and his sons' servants, he boarded a ship from Epidamnum home to Syracuse. But, as he describes in the quote, before the ship could get far from Epidamnum, the ship began to sink. Aegeon and his wife tied themselves and their boys to the masts, floating and hoping to be saved, but the boat then crashed into "mighty rock." This crash caused the ship to slit in half, 'divorcing' the family. The family was rescued in two groups by separate boats traveling in different directions. Aegeon remarks on Fortune's role in this familial schism, suggesting that it left each trio equally thankful (for living) and sorrowful (for losing the other half of the family).

A key detail that enables the confusion and countless cases of mistaken identities in the play is that, in the chaos of the storm, each parent was uncertain which children they were with. Even Aegeon and his wife were unable to tell the babies apart without their names, and, in another huge coincidence, each parent believed they had the children with the same names. Thus Aegeon's son is named Antipholus of Syracuse and his servant is Dromio of Syracuse. The mother also believed she had Antipholus and Dromio, so the pair who live in Ephesus are Antipholus of Ephesus and Dromio of Ephesus. Without this coincidence, many of the mistaken identities would have been cleared up instantly, and the play would have resolved itself almost immediately. Fate, chance, and coincidence are the ruling forces of Aegeon's life and the play itself.

After hearing this sad story, the Duke decides he will give Aegeon an extra 24 hours to come up with the 1000 marks, or else he will still have to be executed.

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.

Act 2, Scene 1 Quotes

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 2, Scene 2 Quotes

Fie, brother! How the world is changed with you!
When were you wont to use my sister thus?
She sent for you by Dromio home to dinner.

By Dromio?

By me?

By thee; and this thou didst return from him,
That he did buffet thee, and, in his blows,
Denied my house for his, me for his wife.

Did you converse, sir, with this gentlewoman?
What is the course and drift of your compact?
I, Sir? I never saw her till this time.

Villain, thou liest; for even her very words
Didst thou deliver to me on the mart.

I never spake with her in all my life.

How can she thus, then, call us by our names,
Unless it be by inspiration.

Related Characters: Antipholus of Syracuse (speaker), Dromio of Syracuse (speaker), Adriana (speaker), Luciana (speaker)
Page Number: 2.2.163-178
Explanation and Analysis:

Antipholus of Syracuse and Dromio of Syracuse are extremely confused by Adriana's long tirade, and so Antipholus explains that he has just landed in Ephesus. Luciana begins the dialogue in the quote by commenting how changed Antipholus seems, continuing to confuse him for his twin, Antipholus of Ephesus. Luciana asks him why he is treating her sister this way, pretending he doesn't know her when Dromio was sent to bring Antipholus home for dinner. Thus the comedic response of Antipholus and Dromio in turn: "By Dromio?" "By me?"

Adriana confirms that she sent Dromio and that he returned from Antipholus having been beaten and denied. Dromio of Syracuse respond in confusion, since he has never before met Adriana, but Antipholus calls him a liar, having interacted with (beaten) Dromio of Ephesus. Antipholus concludes by asking how else could Adriana know Dromio's name, unless by divine inspiration or witchcraft. This scene continues the building sequence of coincidences and mistaken identities. Like with most of the issues, the servants (Dromios) take the blame for the miscommunications and problems. Antipholus of Syracuse is uncertain what to do and if he is dreaming or not, and he ultimately decides to follow Adriana and pretend to be her husband in order to find out more information.

Act 3, Scene 1 Quotes

Are you, there, wife? You might have come before.

Your wife, sir knave! Go get you from the door.

Related Characters: Antipholus of Ephesus (speaker), Adriana (speaker)
Page Number: 3.1.96-97
Explanation and Analysis:

Antipholus of Syracuse is pretending to be Adriana's husband, and is inside the house. Dromio of Syracuse is guarding the door so that the family can enjoy dinner. Dromio of Ephesus has finally found the right Antipholus, and the two have finally come home for dinner. But when Dromio of Ephesus knocks on the door, Dromio of Syracuse denies him entrance from the other side. This marks the first time that twins have interacted on stage. The moment is filled with dramatic irony (meaning we know something the characters don't), since if they could only see each other during the scene they'd recognize that they were twins. When Dromio of Syracuse announces his name from behind the door, Dromio of Ephesus believes that his identity has been stolen.

In this quote, Antipholus of Ephesus calls up to his wife Adriana, asking if she's there and why she hasn't come before. But since Adriana believes her husband is inside, she dismisses Antipholus of Ephesus for a "knave" (a depraved or foolish person), and sends him away. Here, Adriana does exactly what she chided Antipholus of Syracuse for doing: denying to know her spouse. Antipholus of Ephesus responds violently, wanting to break down the door, but is advised not to. Much of the drama and humor of this scene is derived from how close the twins get to meeting without actually recognizing each other. As the play continues, the delay of such a recognition becomes more and more absurd.

Act 3, Scene 2 Quotes

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.

I see two husbands, or mine eyes deceive me.

One of these men is Genius to the other;
And so of these, which is the natural man,
And which the spirit? Who deciphers them?

Related Characters: Duke Solinus (speaker), Adriana (speaker)
Page Number: 5.1.342-345
Explanation and Analysis:

Finally, the Abbess Brings Antipholus and Dromio of Syracuse onto stage, and both sets of twins are in the same place at once. After the Abbess's announcement, Adriana speaks this quote as the first line from the stunned crowd. She cannot tell if her eyes deceive her or not since, she is so confused by what she sees. Likewise, the Duke resorts to a supernatural explanation, suggesting that one image must be the real Antipholus and the other must be Antipholus's spirit ("Genius"). Note that his call to "decipher them" is an extremely textual image, calling attention to the deciphering that readers (and playgoers) must do in trying to keep track of all of the exchanges and errors.

With everyone on stage at once, the comedy can close; all it's problems are resolved. The Abbess reveals herself to be Aemilia, Aegeon's wife, and the entire family is reunited. As the mistaken identities are cleared up, the broken circuit of exchange is restored, and the gold necklace, bail money, and diamond ring all end up in the right places. Antipholus of Syracuse tells Luciana he is still interested in pursing her, and the Duke, so moved by the events, waives the 1000 mark fee and spares Aegeon's life. True identities are restored along with order, functioning commerce, and the original family whose split instigated the play.