Summary (Masterplots, Fourth Edition)
According to the laws of the lands of Ephesus and Syracuse, it is forbidden for a native of one land to journey to the other; the penalty for the crime is execution or the ransom of a thousand marks. Aegeon, a merchant of Syracuse who recently traveled to Ephesus, is to be put to death because he cannot raise the thousand marks. When Solinus, duke of Ephesus, hears Aegeon’s story, he gives the merchant one more day to raise the money.
It is a sad and strange tale Aegeon tells. Many years earlier, he journeyed to Epidamnum. Shortly after his wife joined him there she delivered identical twin boys. Strangely enough, at the same time and in the same house, another woman bore identical twin boys. Because that woman and her husband were so poor that they could not provide for their children, they gave them to Aegeon and his wife Aemilia, to be attendants to their two sons. On the way home to Syracuse, Aegeon and his family were shipwrecked. Aemilia and the two children with her were rescued by one ship, Aegeon and the other two by a different ship, and Aegeon did not see his wife and those two children again. When he reached eighteen years of age, Antipholus, the son reared by his father in Syracuse, grows eager to find his brother, so he and his attendant set out to find their twins. Aegeon comes to Ephesus to seek them.
Unknown to Aegeon, Antipholus and his attendant, Dromio, are just arrived in Ephesus. There a merchant of the city warns them...
(The entire section is 1186 words.)
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The play takes place in Ephesus, an ancient Greek city in Asia Minor. Ephesus has cut off all trade with the city of Syracuse because the Syracusan duke has treated Ephesian merchants badly, holding them for ransom. The duke of Ephesus has retaliated in kind, proclaiming that all Syracusan merchants apprehended in Ephesus will be killed if they cannot pay a ransom of one thousand marks. In the opening scene, Aegeon, a Syracusan merchant, has been apprehended under Ephesian law and is sentenced to death since he does not have the means to pay his own ransom. When he is asked how he has come to be in Ephesus, Aegeon recounts a sad tale: many years before, he had been married and had fathered twin boys, both named Antipholus. At the same moment as his own sons were born, a poor woman nearby had given birth to twin boys, both named Dromio. Since she did not have the means to raise those boys, Aegeon bought them as servants for his sons. When he and his wife were separated in a shipwreck, one of the infant Antipholuses and one of the infant Dromios were left in the care of his wife; the other infant Antipholus and infant Dromio were left in the care of Aegeon. When Antipholus of Syracuse turned eighteen, Aegeon allowed him to go in search of his lost mother and twin brother, taking his servant Dromio with him. The confusion begins when, shortly after, Antipholus of Syracuse arrives in Ephesus, unaware that both his father and brother are...
(The entire section is 1482 words.)