The Comedy of Errors
(Page 217 –237)
There was a lot of bad blood between two city-states – Syracuse & Ephesus. The duke of Ephesus passed a law that virtually closed the gates of his dukedom to the traders from the rival Syracuse. The law stipulated that any trader from Syracuse apprehended inside Ephesus would be sent to the gallows for his transgression. However, he could pay a ransom amount of a thousand marks and get a reprieve.
Aegeon, an old trader from Syracuse fell victim to this draconian law. He was taken to custody and brought before the Duke of Ephesus. Aegeon was unable to pay the steep fine. So, hanging awaited him. Before ordering the execution, the Duke desired to know from Aegeon what made Aegeon to venture into Ephesus to face such fatal consequence.
The old merchant with death penalty on his head said that he was not afraid to die. The misery and sorrow he had endured in his lifetime had robbed him of all zest for life. Death would bring him the deliverance from such insufferable travails, he declared. Saying this, he proceeded to narrate his life history.
He said he was born into a merchant’s family in Syracuse. At the ripe age, he married and lived happily. On one occasion, he had to go to Epidamnum on some business work. As the work didn’t get over in time, he had to extend his stay there. He felt it necessary to send for his wife.
Soon on arrival, the lady gave birth to twins in the lodge where Aegeon was staying. The two male babies looked deceptively similar to each other. Quite strangely, around the same time, a maid servant in the lodge also gave birth to twins who, like the two babies of Aegeon, looked strikingly similar to each other. The maid and her husband were too poor to rear their two new-born sons. Aegeon bought the two sons assuming that they will attend upon his own two sons in coming years.
After some time, the wife pleaded with her merchant husband to return home. Aegeon reluctantly agreed. Arrangements were made for the departure of the family along with the two other ‘bought’ babies. Unaware that the time was in auspicious, the family set sail for their homeward journey aboard a ship. Only a short distance from the port, a violent storm raged. Soon it looked so gloomy for Aegeon’s ship as the howling winds shook the ship dangerously. Seeing the impending danger, the sailors on board the ship got into small life boats and fled abandoning the Aegeon family in the ship.
The storm blew with no respite. The four babies little understood the perils of the sea. Nonetheless, they cried in unison as they do normally. Their mother, however, was to nervous to restrain herself. She cried uncontrollably as the fear of the impending disaster gripped her. All this noise frayed Aegeon’s nerves.
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Aegeon pulled himself up and began to think of ways to confront the danger. He tied his youngest son to a mast. To the other end of the mast, he tied the other youngest of the ‘slave’ sons. Having secured the two young babies, Aegeon instructed his wife to tie the two elder sons to another mast. After this, the husband and the wife tied themselves to the masts so that they are not thrown off into the water by the violently shaking sea.
Hardly had the duo completed this act, the inevitable happened. The storm wrecked the ship at the middle. The vessel sank. Luckily, the wooden masks to which the Aegeon family were tied remained afloat preventing the two seniors and the four toddlers from drowning. The wife and the two children near her drifted away despite Aegeon’s efforts to hold them back. Some boatmen were nearby in their fishing crafts. They picked up Aegeon’s wife and the two toddlers to safety.
After sometime, Aegeon and the two toddlers in his custody wre sighted by a ship whose crew happened to know him. With great welcome and warmth, he was taken aboard their ship. He made his way back to Syracuse. But, tragedy began thereafter. Despite all his efforts to trace his wife and the two toddlers, he failed to trace them.
The father and his youngest son and the ‘slave’son grew up. The memory of the missing half of the family haunted them. When his son reached the age of eighteen, he proposed that he along with the slave boy should go on a mission to trace the mother and the two boys, one his own brother and the other, the slave.
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When Aegeon has abandoned all hopes of mobilizing the one thousand marks needed to save his life. At this time, it emerged that his two sons were in Ephesus. Their two slaves were living with them.
Because of their nearly perfect resemblance to one another, they were given a common name – Antipholous. In the same way, their salves, also looking identical, were given the name Dromio.
By a strange coincidence, the youngest son of Aegeon, known as Antipholous of Syracuse had arrived in Syracuse on the same day Aegeon, his own father had arrived to face arrest and subsequent death penalty. Luckily for Antipholous, one of his friends warned him of the new law barring traders from Syracuse and the possible death penalty for those who did not obey the law. The friend also narrated how an old trader from Syracuse had landed himself in dire trouble by sneaking in to Ephesus. Antipholous did not know that the man held captive was indeed his own father. As per his friend’s advice, he described himself as a trader of Epidamnum.
The older son was called Antipjolous of Ephesus to avoid mix-up between the two sons. He was an affluent businessman having made a lot of money from trading. He had lived in Ephesus for twenty years. If he knew that it was his father who was in such distress, he could have paid the ransom demand of 1000 marks without any difficulty. Because of the long time gap, he had only faint memories of his childhood and his father.
He also remembered that the fisherman who had rescued his mother, him and his slave had forcibly separated the mother from them. His intention was to sell the duo off as slaves. He did sell the two young boys to the Duke of Menaphon. He was a great warrior and was the uncle of the Duke of Ephesus.
On a visit to Ephesus, the Duke of Menaphon took the two boys as slaves to the his nephew – the Duke of Ephesus. The latter developed a liking for the young Antipholous and employed him in the army. Later, Antipholous proved to be a gallant officer and became a trusted favourite of the Duke of Ephesus. In o0ne battle he saved the Duke from certain death. The Duke was immensely pleased with Antipholous and had him married to Adriana, a rich lady of Ephesus.
[To be continued]