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.
Mistakes and Coincidences ThemeTracker
Mistakes and Coincidences Quotes in The Comedy of Errors
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.
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.
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?
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!’
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 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.
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.
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?