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.
Commerce and Exchange ThemeTracker
Commerce and Exchange Quotes in The Comedy of Errors
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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!’
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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!
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.