Tales From Shakespeare
The Comedy Of Errors
The states of Syracuse and Ephesus being at variance, there was a cruel law made at
Ephesus, ordaining that if any merchant of Syracuse was seen in the city of Ephesus he
was to be put to death, unless he could pay a thousand marks for the ransom of his life.
Aegeon, an old merchant of Syracuse, was discovered in the streets of Ephesus, and
brought before the duke, either to pay this heavy fine or receive sentence of death.
Aegeon had no money to pay the fine, and the duke, before he pronounced the sentence
of death upon him, desired him to relate the history of his life, and to tell for what cause
he had ventured to come to the city of Ephesus, which it was death for any Syracusan
merchant to enter.
Aegeon said that he did not fear to die, for sorrow had made him weary of his life, but
that a heavier task could not have been imposed upon him than to relate the events of his
unfortunate life. He then began his own history, in the following words:
"I was born at Syracuse, and brought up to the profession of a merchant. I married a lady,
with whom I lived very happily, but, being obliged to go to Epidamnum, I was detained
there by my business six months, and then, finding I should be obliged to stay some time
longer, I sent for my wife, who, as soon as she arrived, was brought to bed of two sons,
and what was very strange, they were both so exactly alike that it was impossible to
distinguish the one from the other. At the same time that my wife was brought to bed of
these twin boys a poor woman in the inn where my wife lodged was brought to bed of
two sons, and these twins were as much like each other as my two sons were. The parents
of these children being exceeding poor, I bought the two boys and brought them up to
attend upon my sons.
"My sons were very fine children, and my wife was not a little proud of two such boys;
and she daily wishing to return home, I unwillingly agreed, and in an evil hour we got on
shipboard, for we had not sailed above a league from Epidamnum before a dreadful storm
arose, which continued with such violence that the sailors, seeing no chance of saving the
ship, crowded into the boat to save their own lives, leaving us alone in the ship, which we
every moment expected would be destroyed by the fury of the storm.
"The incessant weeping of my wife and the piteous complaints of the pretty babes, who,
not knowing what to fear, wept for fashion, because they saw their mother weep, filled
me with terror for them, though I did not for myself fear death; and all my thoughts were
bent to contrive means for their safety. I tied my youngest son to the end of a small spire
mast, such as seafaring men provide against storms; at the other end I bound the youngest
of the twin slaves, and at the same time I directed my wife how to fasten the other
children in like manner to another mast. She thus having the care of the eldest two
children, and I of the younger two, we bound ourselves separately to these masts with the