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The Comedy of Errors

The Comedy of Errors Translation Act 1, Scene 1

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Enter the DUKE, EGEON, JAILER, and other attendants

EGEON

Proceed, Solinus, to procure my fall,And by the doom of death end woes and all.

EGEON

Go on, Solinus, sentence me to death.
That will put me out of my misery. 

DUKE

Merchant of Syracuse, plead no more. I am not partial to infringe our laws. The enmity and discord which of late Sprung from the rancorous outrage of your duke To merchants, our well-dealing countrymen, Who, wanting guilders to redeem their lives, Have seal’d his rigorous statutes with their bloods, Excludes all pity from our threatening looks. For, since the mortal and intestine jars 'Twixt thy seditious countrymen and us, It hath in solemn synods been decreed Both by the Syracusians and ourselves, To admit no traffic to our adverse towns. Nay, more, if any born at Ephesus Be seen at any Syracusian marts and fairs; 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 levièd 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 condemned to die.

DUKE

Merchant of Syracuse, stop pleading. I'm not in the mood to violate our laws.  All this recent hostility and chaos is your resentful duke's fault. When our honest merchants don't have the money to pay their ransoms, he's been using his own strict laws to execute our honest merchants. So, we're not going to show any pity. Ever since the fatal civil wars between your unruly countrymen and our people, it's been decreed in parliaments both by the people of Syracuse and by us that no one will be allowed to enter the opposing town. And, what's more, if anyone born in Ephesus is seen in any markets or fairs in Syracuse, or if anyone born in Syracuse comes to the bay of Ephesus, he dies. In addition, the Duke takes possession of his goods unless a thousand marks are paid to lift the sentence and pay the ransom. Even at the highest rate, you can't be worth a hundred marks. So, by law, you are condemned to die

EGEON

Yet this my comfort: when your words are done,My woes end likewise with the evening sun.

EGEON

Still, I do have one comfort: when you stop speaking, my miseries will be gone like the setting sun. 

DUKE

Well, Syracusian, say in brief the causeWhy thou dep-artedst from thy native homeAnd for what cause thou camest to Ephesus.

DUKE

Well, Syracusian, quickly say what led you to leave your native home and why you came to Ephesus. 

EGEON

A heavier task could not have been imposed Than I to speak my griefs unspeakable; Yet, that the world may witness that my end Was wrought by nature, not by vile offense, I’ll utter what my sorrow gives me leave. In Syracusa was I born, and wed Unto a woman happy but for me, And by me, had not our hap been bad. With her I lived in joy. Our wealth increased By prosperous voyages I often made To Epidamnum, till my factor’s death And the great care of goods at random left Drew me from kind embracements of my spouse; From whom my absence was not six months old Before herself— almost at fainting under The pleasing punishment that women bear— Had made provision for her following me And soon and safe arrivèd where I was. 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 distinguished but by names. That very hour, and in the selfsame inn, A meaner woman was deliverèd Of such a burden, male twins, both alike. Those, for their parents were exceeding poor, I bought and brought up to attend my sons. My wife, not meanly proud of two such boys, Made daily motions for our home return. Unwilling, I agreed. Alas, too soon We came aboard. A league from Epidamnum had we sailed Before the always-wind-obeying deep Gave any tragic instance of our harm; But longer did we not retain much hope; For what obscured light the heavens did grant Did but convey unto our fearful minds A doubtful warrant of immediate death, Which though myself would gladly have embraced, Yet the incessant weepings of my wife, Weeping before for what she saw must come, And piteous plainings of the pretty babes, That mourned for fashion, ignorant what to fear, Forced me to seek delays for them and me. And this it was, for other means was none: The sailors sought for safety by our boat And left the ship, then sinking-ripe, to us. My wife, more careful for the latter-born, Had fastened him unto a small spare mast, Such as seafaring men provide for storms. To him one of the other twins was bound, Whilst I had been like heedful of the other. The children thus disposed, my wife and I, Fixing our eyes on whom our care was fixed, Fastened ourselves at either end the mast And, floating straight, obedient to the stream, Was carried towards Corinth, as we thought. At length the sun, gazing upon the earth, Dispersed those vapors that offended us, And by the benefit of his wished light The seas waxed calm, and we discoverèd Two ships from far, making amain to us, Of Corinth that, of Epidaurus this. But ere they came,— O, let me say no more! Gather the sequel by that went before.

EGEON

There couldn't be a more severe punishment than making me speak my unspeakable sorrows. However, so that everyone knows that the end of my life was due to natural love for my son, not due to vile crime, I'll say as much as my pain allows me. I was born in Syracuse and I married a woman who I would have made happy if we hadn't had bad fortune. We lived together in joy. We got wealthier since I was frequently making prosperous trips to Epidamnum, but, when my agent died, I had to leave my wife's kind embraces to deal with all the goods left over. I hadn't been gone six months before my wife, almost fainting because of her pregnancy, had made plans to follow me and soon safely joined me. She hadn't been there long before she became the happy mother of two wonderful sons, and, strangely, they were so similar that they couldn't be told apart except by their names. The same hour, in the same inn, a poorer woman gave birth to male identical twins. The parents were extremely poor, so I bought those twins to be my sons' servants. My wife, who was extremely proud of our kids, tried to convince me every day that we should go home. Reluctantly, I agreed. Unfortunately, we set sail too soon. We'd sailed a league from Epidamnum before the waters, which always obey the wind, gave some sign of danger. Hope quickly faded because the stormy sky made us believe we were all doomed to die immediately. I would have gladly embraced death, but when I heard my wife's incessant weeping when she saw what was coming, and her compassionate laments for our beautiful babies who were sobbing in imitation of their mother although they didn't understand why they should be afraid, I looked for ways to delay our deaths. This was the only means I could come up with: the sailors took our boat to seek safety and left the sinking ship to us. My wife, taking more care of the younger twin, tied him to a small, extra mast, one of the ones sailors have ready in case of storms. One of the other twins was tied to him, while I was similarly watching over the other. Having taken care of the kids in this way, my wife and I, always watching the children, tied ourselves to either end of the mast and, floating straight, following the current, were carried towards what we thought was Corinth. Finally, the sun, looking down on the earth, cleared up the stormy winds that were assaulting us, and, thanks to the lucky sunlight, the seas calmed down, and we saw two faraway ships coming towards us, one from Corinth, one from Epidaurus. But before they cameoh, don't make me go on! Predict what comes next from what I've already told you. 

DUKE

Nay, forward, old man. Do not break off so,For we may pity though not pardon thee.

DUKE

No, go on, old man. Don't stop here, for we might just pity you and not pardon you.

EGEON

O, had the gods done so, I had not now Worthily termed them merciless to us. For, ere the ships could meet by twice five leagues, We were encountered 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. Her part, poor soul, seeming as burdenèd With lesser weight, but not with lesser woe, Was carried with more speed before the wind, And in our sight they three were taken up By fishermen of Corinth, as we thought. At length, another ship had seized on us And, knowing whom it was their hap to save, Gave healthful welcome to their shipwracked guests, And would have reft the fishers of their prey Had not their bark been very slow of sail; And therefore homeward did they bend their course. Thus have you heard me severed from my bliss; That by misfortunes was my life prolonged To tell sad stories of my own mishaps.

EGEON

Oh, if the gods had pitied us, I wouldn't have to call them merciless now. For, before the ships could get within ten leagues of each other, we ran into a huge rock which violently crashed into our ship, splitting it in the middle; so you see, in this unjust splitting, fortune had given each of us equal delights and sorrows. My wife's half of the ship, poor woman, seemingly weighing less but not carrying less woe, was carried more quickly by the wind, and we saw the three of them taken up by fishermen of Corinth (or so we assumed). Eventually, another ship got to our half, and, knowing who they'd had the good fortune to save, gave us a big welcome. They would have robbed the Corinthian fishermen of their catches if their ship hadn't been so slow. Then they steered the ship for home. So, now you've heard how I was severed from my happiness and that misfortunes have kept me alive to tell sad stories of my own tragedies. 

DUKE

And for the sake of them thou sorrowest for,Do me the favour to dilate at fullWhat hath befall'n of them and thee till now.

DUKE

And for the sake of those you cry for, do me the favor of telling us in detail what happened to them and you up till now. 

EGEON

My youngest boy, and yet my eldest care, At eighteen years became inquisitive After his brother, and importuned me That his attendant— so his case was like, Reft of his brother, but retained his name— Might bear him company in the quest of him, Whom whilst I laboured of a love to see, I hazarded the loss of whom I loved. Five summers have I spent in farthest Greece, Roaming clean through the bounds of Asia, And, coasting homeward, came to Ephesus, Hopeless to find, yet loath to leave unsought Or that or any place that harbors men. But here must end the story of my life; And happy were I in my timely death Could all my travels warrant me they live.

EGEON

My last-born boy, who's also my first source of worry, started wondering about his brother when he was eighteen, and begged me that he and his servant (who had lost his brother, too, but kept his brother's name) could go in search of him. While I also desperately wanted to see him, I risked the loss of the son I loved. I've spent five summers in the far corners of Greece, roaming to the ends of Asia, and, traveling homeward, I came to Ephesus, knowing I should have no hope that I'd find my son here but unwilling not to search this or any place where men live. But my life story must end here, and I'd be happy to die now if all my travels could reassure me that my sons were still alive. 

DUKE

Hapless Egeon, whom the fates have marked To bear the extremity of dire mishap, Now, trust me, were it not against our laws, Against my crown, my oath, my dignity, Which princes, would they, may not disannul, My soul would sue as advocate for thee. But though thou art adjudgèd to the death, And passèd sentence may not be recalled But to our honour’s great disparagement, Yet will I favor thee in what I can. Therefore, merchant, I’ll limit thee this day To seek thy life by beneficial help. Try all the friends thou hast in Ephesus; Beg thou, or borrow, to make up the sum, And live. If no, then thou art doom’d to die.— Jailer, take him to thy custody.

DUKE

Unlucky Egeon, you've been marked by the fates to endure the worst of misfortunes. Now, trust me, were it not illegal and against my duty as king, my vow, and my dignity, which princes can't violate even when they want to, I'd advocate on your behalf. But even though you're sentenced to death, and I can't take back the sentence without disgracing my honor, I'll do what I can to help you. Therefore, merchant, I'll give you just one day—today—to try to get help to save your life. Try all the friends you have in Ephesus. Beg or borrow to get the money you need, and, if you succeed, you'll live. If you fail, then you're doomed to die. Jailer, take him away. 

JAILER

I will, my lord.

JAILER

I will, my lord. 

EGEON

Hopeless and helpless doth Egeon wend,But to procrastinate his lifeless end.

EGEON

I wander hopeless and helpless,
Only postponing my lifeless death. 

Exeunt

The comedy of errors
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Dan rubins
About the Translator: Dan Rubins

Dan Rubins is currently completing his MA in Shakespeare Studies from King's College London/Shakespeare's Globe and will be pursuing an MA in Elementary Inclusive Education from Teachers College, Columbia University. He holds a BA in English from Yale University. His Masters dissertation focuses on announcements of death in early modern drama, and other research areas of interest include Shakespeare in transformative contexts (prisons, schools, etc.) and rhyme in Shakespeare's dramatic texts. In addition to teaching and learning, he also writes theatre reviews (often of Shakespeare productions), composes musical theatre (frequently with Shakespearean inspirations), and sings in choirs (occasionally in Shakespearean choral settings).