1.1 A Enter the Duke of Ephesus, with [Egeon] the mer- chant of Syracuse, Jailer, and other attendants.
Proceed, Solinus, to procure my fall,
And by the doom of death end woes and all.
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 sealed 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,
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 levièd
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. 32unspeakable indescribable. (But with a punning oxymoron on the literal sense: Egeon will speak that which cannot be spoken.)
34by nature i.e., by natural affection; here, a father’s love
35gives me leave allows me.
37–8 happy . . . bad happy only in having me, and happy indeed through me if we had not suffered misfortune.
41Epidamnum (So spelled in Plautus’s The Menaechmi); Epidamnus, a port on the coast of modern Albania. factor’s agent’s
42care of anxiety about
52As that they
54mean of low birth egeon
Yet this my comfort: when your words are done,
My woes end likewise with the evening sun.
Well, Syracusian, say in brief the cause
Why thou departed’st from thy native home
And for what cause thou cam’st 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 offense,
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, 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 arrivèd 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 distinguished but by names.
That very hour and in the selfsame inn
A mean woman was deliverèd
Of such a burden male, twins both alike.
Those, for their parents were exceeding poor,
I bought and brought up to attend my sons. 58not meanly to no small degree
59motions proposals, entreaties
62league a measure of distance, about three miles
64instance proof, sign
73for fashion in imitation
74delays i.e., delays from death
77sinking-ripe ready to sink
78careful anxious. latter-born (Compare line 124, however, from which we learn that the younger or “latter-born” was saved with the father.)
84whom those on whom, or, him on whom
86straight at once
92making amain proceeding at full speed
93Epidaurus a Greek town southwest of Athens and Corinth; or possibly Dubrovnik, on the Adriatic coast 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 sailed
Before the always-wind-obeying deep
Gave any tragic instance of our harm.
But longer did we not retain much hope;
For what obscurèd 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 mourned 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 fastened 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 fixed,
Fastened 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 vapors that offended us,
And by the benefit of his wishèd light
The seas waxed calm, and we discoverèd
Two ships from far, making amain to us,
Of Corinth that, of Epidaurus this. 95that that which
98had . . . so i.e., had the gods shown pity
103helpful ship i.e., the mast
107as as if
116bark sailing vessel
122dilate at full relate at length
But ere they came—Oh, let me say no more!
Gather the sequel by that went before.
Nay, forward, old man. Do not break off so,
For we may pity, though not pardon thee.
Oh, had the gods done so, I had not now
Worthily termed them merciless to us!
For, ere the ships could meet by twice five leagues,
We were encountered by a mighty rock,
Which being so 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 burdenèd
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 shipwrecked 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 severed from my bliss,
That by misfortunes was my life prolonged,
To tell sad stories of my own mishaps.
And, for the sake of them thou sorrowest for,
Do me the favor to dilate at full
What have befall’n of them and thee till now.
My youngest boy, and yet my eldest care, 127so . . . like in a similar situation
128Reft . . . name (Evidently Egeon, presuming that the lost son and servant are dead, has given their names to the surviving twin brothers.)
130–1 Whom . . . loved i.e., while I labored lovingly to find the lost twin, I ran the risk of losing my younger son, whom I loved no less.
133clean entirely. bounds boundaries, territories
134coasting traveling along the coast
138timely speedy, opportune
139travels “travails,” or hardships, as well as travels. warrant assure
141mishap (Punning on Hapless in line 140.)
143dignity high office
144would they even if they wished. disannul annul, cancel
146the death i.e., death by judicial sentence
150limit allow, appoint
At eighteen years became inquisitive
After his brother, and importuned me
That his attendant—so his case was like,
Reft of his brother, but retained his name—
Might bear him company in the quest of him,
Whom whilst I labored of a love to see,
I hazarded the loss of whom I loved.
Five summers have I spent in farthest 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 harbors 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.
Hapless Egeon, whom the fates have marked
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 adjudgèd to the death,
And passèd sentence may not be recalled
But to our honor’s great disparagement,
Yet will I favor thee in what I can.
Therefore, merchant, I’ll limit thee this day
To seek thy health 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 doomed to die.—
Jailer, take him to thy custody.
I will, my lord.
1.2Location: The street.
1give out say
9Centaur the name of an inn, identified by its sign over the door. In mythology, a centaur is half horse, half man. host lodge
11dinnertime i.e., noon
18mean (1) opportunity (2) money.
19villain servant. (Said good-humoredly.)
21humor mood, disposition
Hopeless and helpless doth Egeon wend,
But to procrastinate his lifeless end.Exeunt.
Copyright © 1988 by William Shakespeare. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.