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William Shakespeare (1564–1616). The Oxford Shakespeare. 1914.

Act I. Scene I.

The Comedy of Errors

A Hall in the DUKE’S Palace.

Enter DUKE, ÆGEON, Gaoler, Officers, and other Attendants.

Æge.Proceed, Solinus, to procure my fall,

And by the doom of death end woes and all.

Duke.Merchant of Syracusa, plead no more.

I am not partial to infringe our laws:

The enmity and discord which of late

Sprung from the rancorous outrage of your duke

To merchants, our well-dealing countrymen,

Who, wanting guilders to redeem their lives,

Have seal’d his rigorous statutes with their bloods,

Excludes all pity from our threat’ning looks.

For, since the mortal and intestine jars

’Twixt thy seditious countrymen and us,

It hath in solemn synods been decreed,

Both by the Syracusians and ourselves,

T’ admit no traffic to our adverse towns:

Nay, more, if any, born at Ephesus

Be seen at Syracusian marts and fairs;

Again, if any Syracusian born

Come to the bay of Ephesus, he dies,

His goods confiscate to the duke’s dispose;

Unless a thousand marks be levied,

To quit the penalty and to ransom him.

Thy substance, valu’d at the highest rate,

Cannot amount unto a hundred marks;

Therefore, by law thou art condemn’d to die.

Æge.Yet this my comfort: when your words are done,

My woes end likewise with the evening sun.

Duke.Well, Syracusian; say, in brief the cause

Why thou departedst from thy native home,

And for what cause thou cam’st to Ephesus.

Æge.A heavier task could not have been impos’d

Than I to speak my griefs unspeakable;

Yet, that the world may witness that my end

Was wrought by nature, not by vile offence,

I’ll utter what my sorrow gives me leave.

In Syracusa was I born, and wed

Unto a woman, happy but for me,

And by me too, had not our hap been bad.

With her I liv’d in joy: our wealth increas’d

By prosperous voyages I often made

To Epidamnum; till my factor’s death,

And the great care of goods at random left,

Drew me from kind embracements of my spouse:

From whom my absence was not six months old,

Before herself,—almost at fainting under

The pleasing punishment that women bear,—

Had made provision for her following me,

And soon and safe arrived where I was.

There had she not been long but she became

A joyful mother of two goodly sons;

And, which was strange, the one so like the other,

As could not be distinguish’d but by names.

That very hour, and in the self-same inn,

A meaner woman was delivered

Of such a burden, male twins, both alike.

Those,—for their parents were exceeding poor,—

I bought, and brought up to attend my sons.

My wife, not meanly proud of two such boys,

Made daily motions for our home return:

Unwilling I agreed; alas! too soon

We came aboard.

A league from Epidamnum had we sail’d,

Before the always-wind-obeying deep

Gave any tragic instance of our harm:

But longer did we not retain much hope;

For what obscured light the heavens did grant

Did but convey unto our fearful minds

A doubtful warrant of immediate death;

Which, though myself would gladly have embrac’d,

Yet the incessant weepings of my wife,

Weeping before for what she saw must come,

And piteous plainings of the pretty babes,

That mourn’d for fashion, ignorant what to fear,

Forc’d me to seek delays for them and me.

And this it was, for other means was none:

The sailors sought for safety by our boat,

And left the ship, then sinking-ripe, to us:

My wife, more careful for the latter-born,

Had fasten’d him unto a small spare mast,

Such as seafaring men provide for storms;

To him one of the other twins was bound,

Whilst I had been like heedful of the other.

The children thus dispos’d, my wife and I,

Fixing our eyes on whom our care was fix’d,

Fasten’d ourselves at either end the mast;

And floating straight, obedient to the stream,

Were carried towards Corinth, as we thought.

At length the sun, gazing upon the earth,

Dispers’d those vapours that offended us,

And, by the benefit of his wished light

The seas wax’d calm, and we discovered

Two ships from far making amain to us;

Of Corinth that, of Epidaurus this:

But ere they came,—O! let me say no more;

Gather the sequel by that went before.

Duke.Nay, forward, old man; do not break off so;

For we may pity, though not pardon thee.

Æge.O! had the gods done so, I had not now

Worthily term’d them merciless to us!

For, ere the ships could meet by twice five leagues,

We were encounter’d by a mighty rock;

Which being violently borne upon,

Our helpful ship was splitted in the midst;

So that, in this unjust divorce of us

Fortune had left to both of us alike

What to delight in, what to sorrow for.

Her part, poor soul! seeming as burdened

With lesser weight, but not with lesser woe,

Was carried with more speed before the wind,

And in our sight they three were taken up

By fishermen-of Corinth, as we thought.

At length, another ship had soiz’d on us;

And, knowing whom it was their hap to save,

Gave healthful welcome to their ship-wrack’d guests;

And would have reft the fishers of their prey,

Had not their bark been very slow of sail;

And therefore homeward did they bend their course.

Thus have you heard me sever’d from my bliss,

That by misfortune was my life prolong’d,

To tell sad stories of my own mishaps.

Duke.And, for the sake of them thou sorrowest for,

Do me the favour to dilate at full

What hath befall’n of them and thee till now.

Æge.My youngest boy, and yet my eldest care,

At eighteen years became inquisitive

After his brother; and importun’d me

That his attendant—for his case was like,

Reft of his brother, but retain’d his name—

Might bear him company in the quest of him;

Whom whilst I labour’d of a love to see,

I hazarded the loss of whom I lov’d.

Five summers have I spent in furthest Greece,

Roaming clean through the bounds of Asia,

And, coasting homeward, came to Ephesus,

Hopeless to find, yet loath to leave unsought

Or that or any place that harbours men.

But here must end the story of my life;

And happy were I in my timely death,

Could all my travels warrant me they live.

Duke.Hapless Ægeon, whom the fates have mark’d

To bear the extremity of dire mishap!

Now, trust me, were it not against our laws,

Against my crown, my oath, my dignity,

Which princes, would they, may not disannul,

My soul should sue as advocate for thee.

But though thou art adjudged to the death

And passed sentence may not be recall’d

But to our honour’s great disparagement,

Yet will I favour thee in what I can:

Therefore, merchant, I’ll limit thee this day

To seek thy life by beneficial help.

Try all the friends thou hast in Ephesus;

Beg thou, or borrow, to make up the sum,

And live; if no, then thou art doom’d to die.

Gaoler, take him to thy custody.

Gaol.I will, my lord.

Æge.Hopeless and helpless doth Ægeon wend,

But to procrastinate his lifeless end.[Exeunt.