The Comedy of Errors

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Scapegoats and Social Hierarchy 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.
Scapegoats and Social Hierarchy Theme Icon

Resorting to supernatural explanations is one way the play’s characters make sense of the strange things they experience during the play. Another way is through using scapegoats. With no easy explanation, characters become frustrated and take this anger out on other people whom they irrationally blame for their troubles. In particular, Antipholus of Ephesus and Antipholus of Syracuse place blame on their respective servants and Adriana. In the world of the play, women and servants occupy lower, less privileged roles in society. Thus, Adriana and the two Dromios are prime targets for scapegoating. Both Antipholus of Ephesus and Antipholus of Syracuse beat and abuse their Dromios, and Antipholus of Ephesus threatens physical violence against Adriana multiple times.

These instances reveal the strict, oppressive social and gender hierarchies in the world of the play, as both women and servants are subject to the whims of their husbands or masters. Shakespeare, however, mostly puts this kind of scapegoating on stage simply for laughs and slapstick humor. Nevertheless, the play also delights in moments when these scapegoat figures can get a slight bit of revenge on their social superiors. Adriana is able to lock her husband out of their home, and has him tied and bound by Pinch. And both Dromio of Ephesus and Dromio of Syracuse are witty and quick with words, often talking back to their masters with clever riddles and jokes. While the play is a rather light comedy and is mostly interested in the comic potential of scapegoats, it can also be seen as critiquing the practice, since all of the scapegoats of the play are really not to blame, and it is ultimately foolish and mistaken for each Antipholus to take out his anger on his unfortunate social inferiors.

Scapegoats and Social Hierarchy ThemeTracker

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Scapegoats and Social Hierarchy Quotes in The Comedy of Errors

Below you will find the important quotes in The Comedy of Errors related to the theme of Scapegoats and Social Hierarchy.
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.


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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

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 4, Scene 1 Quotes

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

Hath not else his eye
Stray’d his affection in unlawful love?
A sin prevailing much in youthful men,
Who give their eyes the liberty of gazing.
Which of these sorrows is he subject to?

To none of these, except it be the last;
Namely, some love that drew him oft from home.

You should for that have reprehended him.

Why, so I did.

Ay, but not rough enough.

As roughly as my modesty would let me.

Haply, in private.

And in assemblies too.
The consequence is, then, thy jealous fits
Have scared thy husband from the use of wits.

Related Characters: Adriana (speaker), Aemilia (speaker)
Page Number: 5.1.50-89
Explanation and Analysis:

After Antipholus and Dromio of Syracuse run into the abbey, the Abbess comes out to investigate. Here the Abbess (soon revealed to be Aemilia, Aegeon's wife) asks Adriana what is wrong with Antipholus. Before the quote begins, she asks if he has lost wealth or experienced the death of a friend, before asking if he has been unfaithful and "strayed his affection in unlawful love." Returning to the question of a married man's liberty, the Abbess remarks on the common sin of young men giving their eyes the liberty to gaze too much at other women. When Adriana admits that she believes Antipholus has been unfaithful, the Abbess says that Adriana should have scolded him more. When Adriana reveals through quick back and forth (they complete each other's lines of iambic pentameter) that she did reprehend her husband, and often, the Abbess ultimately decides that her jealous nagging was the cause of her husband's infidelity. Note here the play's continued placement of the subservient class (servants and, in this case, women) into the scapegoat role. As a man, Antipholus is supposedly master of nature, women, and his servants, but at the same time, the blame for his own actions and (presumed) infidelity falls on his wife, not himself. Ultimately, the Abbess refuses to let anyone into the abbey, saying that she will bring Antipholus and Dromio back from madness.