Catch a cold Introduction
I'm Dromio of Syracuse. I'm a servant to Antipholus of Syracuse and a twin to Dromio of Ephesus. Yeah. It's a mess. But I'm always ready with a gleeful (ahem, naughty) joke to help ease the tension and confusion. And you know what I think?
Let him walk from whence he came, lest he
catch cold on's feet. (3.1.37)
Who Said It and Where
A long, long time ago, in a land, far, far away, Egeon, a merchant from Syracuse, was making a lot of dough. When his agent died, he went on a business trip with his pregnant wife, who gave birth to identical twin boys while they were away from home. At the same exact time, a poor woman in the same inn also gave birth to identical twin boys. The poor woman sold her boys to Egeon to be servants for his twins.
On their way home to Syracuse, a terrible storm overtook the ship that Egeon and his family were sailing in. During the storm, Egeon looked after one of his twin sons and one of the twin servants, as did his wife. During the storm, the boat was destroyed and the husband and wife, along with the boys, were separated. Egeon's wife and one set of boys were rescued by a Corinthian ship, and Egeon and the two boys with him were picked up by a ship bound for Epidaurus. Egeon never saw his wife or lost son again.
Touchingly—and later confusingly—he named his set of boys after their missing twin brothers. He raised the boys until they were 18, when his son (Antipholus) started getting inquisitive about his lost brother. Egeon's son set off with his servant (Dromio) to find their lost halves. Since then, Egeon has wandered around looking for them.
Now the boys Antipholus of Syracuse (we'll call him S. Antipholus for short) and Antipholus of Ephesus (you guessed it: E. Antipholus), and their servants, Dromio of Syracuse (S. Dromio) and Dromio of Ephesus (E. Dromio) are all roaming around the same town, accidentally running into each other without even realizing it. Hilarity ensues.
Near E. Antipholus's house, E. Antipholus meets with a goldsmith he has asked to make his wife a necklace. He notes that he's late for dinner, which means his wife will be "shrewish," so he asks Angelo to cover for him. Angelo has been instructed to say that E. Antipholus was with him to see about making the necklace, which Angelo should bring to the house the next day.
E. Antipholus then complains about E. Dromio, who he thinks is lying to his face. (Side bar: S. Antipholus met E. Dromio at the marketplace, and beat him when he couldn't produce the 1,000 marks that S. Antipholus had given to S. Dromio.) E. Antipholus insists he didn't beat E. Dromio, though E. Dromio has the marks from it. E. Dromio won't give in, so E. Antipholus calls him an ass.
The conversation turns to the Merchant Balthazar, who's looking rather serious. Balthazar and E. Antipholus then have a witty exchange about a dinner invitation E. Antipholus has extended to the Merchant. Balthazar says he's more pleased about the invitation than he is about the food, as meat is cheap. E. Antipholus quips that meat may be cheap, but words are even cheaper. Still, Balthazar is welcome at his house, and dinner will be delicious and make him think happy thoughts.
Anyway, the joke's on E. Antipholus, as dinner would be awesome, if he could get into his house… which we know he can't.
What ensues at the gates is a long, confused exchange. S. Dromio guards the gate of E. Antipholus's house from the inside (so he can't see who's outside the door, or else he'd recognize his and his master's identical twins). Since he was instructed to let nobody in, S. Dromio feels justified in having some fun with the guys outside.
E. Dromio and E. Antipholus wonder who on earth is guarding the gate and why he wouldn't let the owner of the house (and gate) in. When they ask who this mystery guard is, S. Dromio truthfully replies that his name is Dromio. This, of course, confuses E. Dromio, who decides his identity has been stolen.