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Scene Summaries With Notes
Act I, Scene 1
The first scene, like the entire play, is set in Ephesus. It begins with a dialogue between Egeon and the Duke of Ephesus, wherein the story related by Egeon provokes the Duke's sympathy. Egeon begins by stating that death will be a comfort: "Proceed, Solinus, to procure my fall, And by the doom of death end woes and all." The Duke then explains the reasons for the impending death of Egeon, who is a merchant of Syracuse. Since Ephesus and Syracuse are "adverse towns," there is a law stating that a merchant from Syracuse found in Ephesus has to pay a fine of a thousand marks to save himself. If he cannot pay, he will be sentenced to death.
The Duke questions Egeon's reasons for coming to Ephesus, for he is well aware of the risk involved. Egeon answers by stating he is presently devoid of both money and family. He then begins to tell his sad story with great emotion. Egeon had been called to Epidamnum on business. When he learned he would be there for awhile, he called his wife Emilia to come and stay with him. In Epidamnum, his wife delivered identical twin boys. At the very same time, a poor woman at the inn where Egeon and Emilia were staying also delivered a set of male twins. Since the couple was extremely poor, Egeon agreed to raise the second set of twins to become servants to his own twin sons.
On turning 18, his son set sail with his slave, to seek his mother and brother. Egeon has not heard from him in seven years. After hearing nothing from his son for the first two years, Egeon left his native land to look for his family. He has traveled everywhere, searching for his son. Not willing to leave out a single possibility, Egeon has risked even Ephesus in his search.
Impressed by this story, the Duke, out of pity for Egeon, grants him until sunset to locate a friend who would be willing to pay his fine and save his life. To Egeon, it does not seem like much of a reprieve. In truth, it allows enough time for the comedy of errors to unravel and be solved.