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The Comedy of Errors: Act 1 Scene 1
Scene I A hall in DUKE SOLINUS'S palace.
- [Enter DUKE SOLINUS, AEGEON, Gaoler, Officers, and other
- Proceed, Solinus, to procure my fall
- And by the doom of death end woes and all.
- DUKE SOLINUS
- Merchant of Syracuse, 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 threatening 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,
- To admit no traffic to our adverse towns Nay, more,
- If any born at Ephesus be seen
- At any 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, valued at the highest rate,
- Cannot amount unto a hundred marks;
- Therefore by law thou art condemned to die.
- Yet this my comfort: when your words are done,
- My woes end likewise with the evening sun.
- DUKE SOLINUS
- Well, Syracusian, say in brief the cause
- Why thou departed'st from thy native home
- And for what cause thou camest to Ephesus.
- A heavier task could not have been imposed
- 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 sorrows give me leave.
- In Syracusa was I born, and wed
- Unto a woman, happy but for me,
- And by me, had not our hap been bad.
- With her I lived in joy; our wealth increased
- 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 embraced,
- 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,
- Forced 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 disposed, 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,
- Was carried towards Corinth, as we thought.
- At length the sun, gazing upon the earth,
- Dispersed 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 SOLINUS
- Nay, forward, old man; do not break off so;
- For we may pity, though not pardon thee.
- 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 encounterd 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 seized on us;
- And, knowing whom it was their hap to save,
- Gave healthful welcome to their shipwreck'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 misfortunes was my life prolong'd,
- To tell sad stories of my own mishaps.
- DUKE SOLINUS
- 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.
- My youngest boy, and yet my eldest care,
- At eighteen years became inquisitive
- After his brother: and importuned me
- That his attendant--so 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 loved.
- 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 SOLINUS
- Hapless AEgeon, 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 would 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 I will 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.
- I will, my lord.
- Hopeless and helpless doth AEgeon wend,
- But to procrastinate his lifeless end.