The word money occurs 26 times in this play, more than any of Shakespeare’s other plays, though The Comedy of Errors is his shortest. Ephesus is a bustling city of merchants, and commerce is central to what goes on there – money underpins many of the actions, but it serves as more than a plot device. Usually, money is thought of as a liberating object, but in this play, money functions as an object and aim of bondage. By the end of the play, both Egeon and his son, E. Antipholus, are jailed for the sake of money. Justice is less important than ransom, or at least that’s how it seems until the miracle of the separated twins comes out. The men win their liberation not by money, but through truth.
Still, the play does tell us a lot by how money and justice are balanced in this world: the play’s resolution (where justice triumphs over money) comes in one final scene, whereas money has been the star of the show for the entire rest of the play. Money seems to symbolize something about the harsh reality of the world – that is, at the end of the day, business is business. It can break apart families (like Egeon and Aemilia’s so long ago), turn friends against each other (like Angelo the goldsmith against E. Antipholus), and it can also mean the difference between life and death (like it does for Egeon). The resolution at the end of the play (which transcends money by forgiving Egeon’s ransom) is a paltry slip of a thing compared to that much longer lasting message, that whether we like it or not, it’s a material world, full of material people.