Character Directory

Duke Solonus

The ruler of the city of Ephesus, where the play takes place. The Duke first appears in 1.1 to condemn Egeon, a wandering merchant from Syracuse who has arrived in Ephesus, unaware of the hostilities between that city and his own, and is sentenced to either death or an immense fine, which he cannot pay.  Egeon tells of his separated family and his search for them, and the Duke expresses pity for the old man but says he cannot exempt him from the law. 

The sources and use of power are subjects that were important to the playwright, and they are dealt with in a number of the plays. In this early work, the Duke, regrets that he cannot act on his pity, but explains that the law explicitly limits his range of action, while at the same time it is the implicit source of his authority. His crown and his dignity are equated with his oath, a matter of law. However, the Duke will bend as far as he feels he legally can, out of pity for the aged wanderer, and he gives Egeon a day in which to find someway to raise his ransom money. This day becomes the time in which the play proper takes place.  Neither the Duke nor Egeon reappears until the final scene, when the confusions and mistaken identities that are the chief material of the play have reached a climax. When he re-enters, at 5.1.131, he is still sympathetic to Egeon's plight, although the unfortunate victim is escorted by the Executioner and seems fated soon to die. The Duke is immediately swept up in the misunderstandings of the central plot, being requested to rule against the Abbess, Emilia, who has granted sanctuary in her Priory to Antipholus of Syracuse

When Antipholus of Ephesus appears, the true complexity of the situation becomes apparent. The Duke, the representative of secular law, is clearly baffled, so he sends for Emilia, who enters with the second Antipholus, bringing the twins together for the first time. Further, Emilia recognizes Egeon as her long-lost husband, and the resolution of the play's complexities begins. The intervention of Christian grace and mercy, represented by Emilia and the Priory, has tempered the insensitive cruelties of secular justice. However, the Duke is quite evidently pleased with the outcome, in keeping with his consistently sympathetic attitude. When Emilia proposes a 'gossip feast' or celebratory party, the Duke accepts with enthusiasm and leads the company off-stage to close the play.

Shakespeare may have taken the name Solinus (which appears only in I.I.I) from that of an ancient geographer, Gaius Julius Solinus, who described (c.200 A.D.) the seaports of the Mediterranean. His work was published in an English translation in 1587, a few years before The Comedy of Errors was probably written.

Egeon

Egeon (Aegeon) is the condemned man who proves to be the father of the long-separated twins Antipholus of Ephesus and Antipholus of Syracuse. Egeon's tale is presented only in the first and last scenes of the play, framing the principal plot. A wandering merchant from Syracuse, in Sicily, Egeon comes to Ephesus, on the Aegean coast of Asia Minor, not knowing that hostility has arisen between that city and his home. The penalty of death or a large ransom has been imposed by each city upon any citizen of the other who enters it. Egeon has thus been sentenced to pay a thousand marks of ransom or die.

In 1.1 his situation is revealed in his conversation with Solinus, the Duke of Ephesus. Egeon elaborates on the tragedy that has enveloped his life, beginning when he was separated from his wife and one of his infant twin sons in a shipwreck 23 years before, never to see them again. The other son, at the age of 18, had insisted on setting out to search for his lost brother. Egeon himself has unsuccessfully spent the last five years looking for news of either twin. The Duke, sympathetic though stem, offers Egeon the freedom of the city for the coming day so that he can beg or borrow the money to pay his ransom. These hours become the time of the action of the play.

Egeon does not reappear until well into the final scene of the play, but the audience cannot forget his desperate plight. Although the comic misadventures and errors that follow are chiefly farcical, they are colored by our somber recollection of Egeon's imminent fate.  In the final scene, Egeon is escorted on stage by the Duke, accompanied by the Executioner and seemingly doomed to die. The Duke reminds us of his plight (5.1.130-132) before being sidetracked into attempting to unravel the confusions of the main plot.  Amidst these complexities, Egeon, upon seeing Antipholus of Ephesus, believes him to be the other Antipholus, the son who left Syracuse five years earlier. He identifies himself to this Antipholus, only to be rejected, of course, for Antipholus of Ephesus does not know him. Egeon's stricken response is rendered in a moving passage (5.1.298-322); the Duke concludes that Egeon's 'age and dangers' have driven him mad.

As the confusion and errors are eventually resolved and the play reaches its conclusion, Egeon is a spectator, for the most part; the principals in this denouement are the two sets of twins and Emilia, Egeon's long-lost wife, whose recognition of her husband begins the resolution. Although he has good lines in both 1.1 and 5.1 and is an important figure, Egeon is not so much a fully developed character as he is a vehicle for a simple, secondary plot, an evocation of pathos intended to temper our view of the central wrangle of error and delusion.

Antipholus of Syracuse/

Antipholus of Ephesus

Antipholus of Ephesus; Antipholus of Syracuse are long-separated twins who are comically confused with each other and eventually reunited. The twins were parted, each with a different parent, in a shipwreck when they were infants. Twin servants, each called Dromio, were being brought up with the boys, and they too were separated in the wreck, one going with each master. In 1.1 the twins' father, Egeon, explains their history before they appear, so the audience knows of their relationship, though neither they nor any of the other characters do. In adulthood, the twins have both become merchants, each from a different city, but each bearing the same name. 

The two brothers are distinctly different characters.  Antipholus of Syracuse arrives in Ephesus, searching the world for his lost brother, for he cannot feel whole until he finds his family. In Ephesus, he is mistaken for his twin, a well-known local merchant, and various strangers startle him by knowing his name and assuming he knows them.  He finds himself dining in his brother's home, and his brother's wife, ADRIANA, believes him to be her husband. Antipholus of Syracuse is so completely mystified by his curious circumstances that he blindly accepts them. Misunderstanding and confusion continue to abound until Antipholus of Syracuse is driven to take refuge in a priory.   

Meanwhile, Antipholus of Ephesus has been subjected to similar difficulties, but his responses are characteristically more angry than bemused. For example, when locked out of his house by servants and wife (who believe him an imposter, for the other Antipholus is dining there), he proposes to force his way in with a crow-bar but is dissuaded from this course.  In the end, the brothers are reunited, as the Duke of Ephesus attempts to resolve the disorders that the confusion has created. The Dromios are brought back together again as well; Antipholus of Ephesus and Adriana are reconciled; Antipholus of Syracuse is free to woo Luciana; and the twins' parents, Egeon and Emilia, rediscover each other, too. The story of the twins presents in an early work a theme that was to be important in Shakespearean Comedy, the power of providential happenings to defeat potential evil through a general reconciliation. This theme provides the moral ground beneath the farcical atmosphere of The Comedy of Errors.

Dromio of Syracuse/

Dromio of Ephesus

Dromio of Ephesus and Dromio of Syracuse are twin servants to the twin masters Antipholus of Ephesus and Antipholus of Syracuse. The Dromios were separated from each other in infancy, each with a similarly separated master, in a shipwreck. They share with their masters the confusions and errors that mistaken identities lead to.  As comic buffoons, the Dromios receive numerous beatings as their masters' affairs become increasingly disordered, and they respond with quips and quibbles, in a tradition of stock humorous servants and slaves that extends back at least to the Roman drama from which Shakespeare took much of the material for the play. The Dromios also share with their masters the joyful reunion at the end of the play.  Shakespeare may have taken the name Dromio from the play Mother Bombie by John Lyly (published 1594), who may, in turn, have based it on the name Dromo, frequently used for slaves in the work of the Roman dramatist Terence.

Angelo

Angelo is a goldsmith and friend of Antipholus of Ephesus. Angelo makes the gold necklace that figures in the confusions and misunderstandings at the play's heart. His effort to have Antipholus arrested for debt, having failed to pay for the necklace, results in Antipholus of Syracuse retreating into the sanctuary of the Priory (5.1.37). This flight triggers the play's final resolution.

Balthazar

Balthasar is a merchant who is a friend of Antipholus of Ephesus.  Balthasar is present when, in 3.1, Antipholus is kept out of his own home by his wife and servants, who believe he is an imposter. Balthasar dissuades Antipholus from breaking down the door, on the grounds that such an action would damage his reputation in the neighborhood.

First Merchant/

Second Merchant

Either of two minor characters in The Comedy of Errors. Two Merchants appear in this play (they enter first in 2.2 and 4.1 respectively), and, while Shakespeare apparently made no distinction between them by name, they are plainly different people. The first to appear is familiar with the affairs of Ephesus, offering advice to the foreigner Antipholus of Syrcuse and warning him not to reveal himself as a Syracusan, lest he be sentenced to death. Having thus reminded the audience of Egeon’s desperate plight, this Merchant disappears from the play. He is generally distinguished in modem editions as 'First Merchant'.

The 'Second Merchant', however, seems to be a visitor himself, for he must inquire (5.1.4) about the reputation of Antipholus of Ephesus, a well-known local figure. Attempting to collect a debt owed Angelo by one Antipholus, the Merchant mistakenly challenges Antipholus of Syracuse to a duel, precipitating that twin's flight into the Priory, which ultimately leads to the resolution of the play.

Dr. Pinch

Pinch is a quack physician. Dr Pinch is consulted when Antipholus of Ephesus, as a result of the confusion and mistaken identities that are the chief business of the play is presumed to be insane. Antipholus later describes him as:'... one Pinch, a hungry lean-fac'd villain; / A mere anatomy, a mountebank, / A thread-bare juggler and a fortune-teller, /A needy-hollow-ey'd-sharp-looking wretch; / A living dead man. . . .' (5.1.238-242).  Pinch is not a physician in any modem sense; he is merely a man of some learning. He is identified as a schoolmaster' (in a stage direction in 4.4.38) and as a 'conjuror', or exorcist (4.4.45 and 5.1.243) Both references are to the fact that he can speak Latin which was commonly believed in Shakespeare's day to be the language of spirits and ghosts. Whatever his appearance or qualifications Dr Pinch's prescription for a case of lunacy ('They must be bound and laid in some dark room' [4 4 92]) was widespread in the 16th and 17th centuries. Although it now seems inhumane, both insanity and this particular treatment of it were common subjects of humor on the Elizabethan stage. The same regime is meted out to Malvolio, in Twelfth Night, for instance. If Pinch seems a brutal doctor to us, no less so seems his fiery filthy comeuppance (5.1.171-178), though we may be sure the original audience delighted in it, for such abuse was a comic staple. Shakespeare at least keeps it off-stage.

Aemilia

Emilia (Aemilia) is the stern and peremptory Abbess of the Priory who is revealed to be the long-lost wife of Egeon and mother of the twins Antipholus of Ephesus and Antipholus of Syracuse. She first appears in the final scene (at 5.1.37), after Antipholus and Dromio of Syracuse take refuge in her Priory, a place of legal sanctuary. She determines that Adriana has been jealous other husband and delivers a short, epigrammatic sermon on the evils of jealous womankind (5.1.69-86). Emilia further declares that the sanctuary of the Priory may not be violated by the return of the two refugees, and she exits briskly.

Later in the scene, having been sent for by the Duke of Ephesus to help resolve the confusions that have by now come to a head, Emilia returns with Antipholus of Syracuse, placing the twins on stage together for the first time (5.1.329). Ten lines later, she recognizes the condemned Egeon as her lost husband. She relates how kidnappers had stolen away the infants who had survived the shipwreck that separated the family years before. The Duke deduces that these infants are now the adults Antipholus and Dromio of Ephesus. After all is revealed, she invites the company to the Priory for a 'gossip's feast' of celebration (5.1.405), to which all depart, ending the play. The term 'gossip's feast' refers to a baptismal or christening party, underlining the importance of Emilia as a symbol of Christian mercy, softening the hard authority of the Duke's laws and embodying the resolution of the play's complexities.

Adriana

Adriana is the jealous but loving wife of Antipholus of Ephesus. Adriana first appears in 2.1, complaining that Antipholus is late for lunch. She argues with her sister, Luciana, about the proper obedience owed a husband, in a standard disputation on marital relations that was common in Shakespeare's day. While Luciana adopts the position that a man is rightly the master of his wife, Adriana asserts, 'There's none but asses will be bridled so' (2.1.14). Later in the scene, she bemoans her husband's attentions to other women, and jealousy is her characteristic trait throughout the play, finally triggering a humorous but acid sermon by the Abbess, Emilia, in the final scene (5.1.69-86).  The circumstances of confusion and error that create the atmosphere of the play also stimulate Adriana's jealous streak. In 2.2 she accosts Antipholus of Syracuse, thinking him to be her husband, and demands that he come home to eat. Bemused and baffled, he nevertheless goes with her, and there ensues (3.1) the central misidentification of the play; Adriana refuses to admit her real husband to their home, believing him to be an imposter. 

In 4.2 Luciana reports to Adriana a declaration of love from the man both believe to be Antipholus of Ephesus; both women thus believe that Adriana's husband is attempting to betray her by courting her own sister. Adriana rails against her husband but concludes: 'Ah, but I think him better than I say, . . . / My heart prays for him, though my tongue do curse' (4.2.25-28).  This note of wifely affection grows stronger as the play hurries to its resolution, for Adriana is truly fond of her husband, irascible and domineering though he may be. She tries to aid him, once she has concluded that he is temporarily insane; the confusions of the plot have led her (and others) to this error. She appears in the final scene just as Antipholus of Syracuse is about to fight a duel, and, thinking him her husband, she implores, 'Hold, hurt him not for God's sake; he is mad' (5.1.33). Antipholus and his servant flee into the Priory. Adriana follows her husband there and demands that the Abbess turn Antipholus over to her. The Abbess refuses, however, and Adriana has recourse to the Duke. His investigation triggers the final resolution of the play's confusions, although Adriana plays no great part in that process.

An interesting tradition has it that Adriana was written as a portrait of Anne Hathaway, but modern scholarship debunks this idea. Nevertheless, Adriana was clearly an important creation for Shakespeare, for she is a markedly more fully drawn and consequential figure than her predecessor in his source for the play.  She is an early example of a Shakespearean character type that recurs often in the plays (e.g., Katherina, in The Taming of the Shrew, and Beatrice, in Much Ado About Nothing)—an independent woman whose sharp words and sometimes forbidding manner conceal a tender heart. Adriana's dual nature would come to typify Shakespeare's greatest characters. The playwright insisted on presenting multiple points of view about a character or situation, offering his audience varying and often conflicting impressions, and thus re-creating on the stage the inconsistencies of actual life.

Luciana

Luciana is the sister-in-law of Antipholus of Ephesus and the beloved of Antipholus of Syracuse. Luciana first appears in an argument with her sister, Adriana, about marital relations, in a standard disputation of the day. Luciana says that a man is properly the master of his wife and urges: '0, know he is the bridle of your will' (2.1.13).  Luciana's demure pliancy is apparently attractive to Antipholus of Syracuse, for when he finds himself in his brother's house, not knowing himself to be mistaken for his twin, he meets Luciana, falls in love, and attempts to court the object of his affections. Luciana, believing him to be her brother-in-law, is naturally horrified by his advances and chastises him roundly (3.2.1-70). Moreover, she describes this exchange to Adriana, thereby furthering the confusion and misunderstanding at the heart of the play. Luciana's subsequent importance to the action is slight. Even when Antipholus of Syracuse observes at the play's conclusion that the re-establishment of his identity will permit him to court her in earnest, Luciana remains silent. 

Luciana represents a type, rather than a fully drawn human being. She is the modest and subservient female, whose stipulated position in Elizabethan society served to perpetuate an ideal notion of the family (and, by extension, society at large) as a secure and lasting hierarchy, decreed by God and tradition and undisturbed by change or individual assertion. (Such assertion was of course present among Elizabethan womanhood, as represented by Adriana.) The two sisters together constitute an early attempt by the playwright to achieve a complex portrait of contemporary femininity. While Luciana is thus an incomplete character, she foreshadows aspects of later, more successful Shakespearean heroines, such as Viola, in Twelfth Night, and Imogen, in Cymbeline.

Luce

Luce is a servant who, with Adriana, refuses Antipholus of Ephesus entrance to his own home in 3.1, believing him to be an imposter. Luce is often identified with Nell , who is referred to later in the play but never seen.

Courtezan

Courtesan is a 'professional entertainer' visited off-stage by Antipholus of Ephesus after he is mistakenly rejected by his wife, Adriana. The Courtesan appears later, in 4.3, to claim a necklace Antipholus promised her in exchange for her ring. She mistakenly approaches Antipholus of Syracuse, who rejects her as a sorceress or agent of the devil. She goes to Adriana and accuses her husband of lunacy and of theft of the ring, thus triggering the pursuit that results in Antipholus of Ephesus' treatment for insanity at the hands of Pinch.

Officer

Officer is an agent empowered to arrest debtors. In 4.1 a Merchant engages the Officer to arrest Angelo, who owes him money. Antipholus of Ephesus owes Angelo enough to cover his debt to the Merchant, so Angelo in turn pays the Officer to arrest Antipholus.  In 4.4 the Officer turns Antipholus over to Pinch. 

Messenger

Messenger brings Adriana a frantic account of the escape of Antipholus of Ephesus from the custody of Pinch and comically describes Antipholus' revenge on that pseudo physician. He is identified as a Servant. 

 

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