Study Guide

Antipholus of Ephesus in The Comedy of Errors

By William Shakespeare

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Antipholus of Ephesus

Antipholus of Ephesus is twin brother to Antipholus of Syracuse, son to Egeon and Aemilia, and generally a man about the town in Ephesus. E. Antipholus is more of a set-piece and plot device than a character in this play – we hear of him early on through Egeon and S. Antipholus, but we don’t actually meet E. Antipholus until the third act of the play. What we do know about E. Antipholus is that he has an entirely established life in Ephesus – he lives with his wife Adriana, his sister-in-law Luciana, and he seems to know everybody there is to know in the city. Indeed, all of the comforts offered to S. Antipholus that he finds so enchanting (literally) stem from the reputation his brother has worked to build. E. Antipholus is mainly important as a contrast to S. Antipholus. E. Antipholus, unlike his brother, pays no attention to his lost family because he is absorbed entirely by the new life he’s built. Where S. Antipholus is discontent, E. Antipholus would be content. Where S. Antipholus is lonely, E. Antipholus is surrounded by people. S. Antipholus is quick to have faith that he’s in an enchanted place, while the more reasonable E. Antipholus is quick to grow angry and condemn all of the madness happening in this usually familiar place.

Most importantly, where S. Antipholus is thoughtfully melancholy, E. Antipholus has no time for such reflection. (S. Antipholus has no fewer than six asides and soliloquies, while E. Antipholus has none.) Arguably, this isn’t because E. Antipholus is such a bad guy. After all, his entire world has just been turned upside down. We only see him in the play when his life is at the height of confusion – his wife is denying him, his friends are calling him a liar, and he’s been arrested to boot. No man would be in top form under these circumstances. Ephesus used to be a paradise for E. Antipholus, and the arrival of S. Antipholus (and the subsequent confusion) has transformed Ephesus into E. Antipholus’s own personal hell. S. Antipholus experiences all of the glamorous confusion of a traveler greeted by strangers clamoring to be familiars. E. Antipholus, by turn, is the one who pays for that confusion, experiencing denial, betrayal, and wrongful punishment. We don’t get to see much in the way of personal development from him in the play, as we’re too focused on S. Antipholus and the trouble S. Antipholus is inadvertently causing his brother. In the final scene though, we get a hint that now that the confusion has cleared, both S. Antipholus and E. Antipholus can return to some normalcy.

Antipholus of Ephesus in The Comedy of Errors Study Group

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