A hall in Duke Solinus’s Palace.
(Duke of Ephesus; Egeon; Jailer; Officers; Attendants)
Egeon, a merchant of Syracuse, had been condemned to death by the Duke of Ephesus for daring to appear in Ephesus. Egeon tells the story of how he was separated from his wife and one of their twin sons by a storm at sea. When the son who remained with him reached the age of 18, he became inquisitive and asked to be able to try and find his bother. For five years they have searched in vain. Affected by the tale, the Duke gives Egeon a day’s reprieve from execution to try to raise a 1000 marks to pay in fine rather than being killed. (158 lines)
Enter the Duke of Ephesus with Egeon the merchant of Syracuse, Jailer with Officers, and other Attendants.
Proceed, Solinus, to procure my fall,
And by the doom of death end woes and all.
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 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 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 condemn’d to die.
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 departedst from thy native home,
And for what cause thou cam’st to Ephesus.
A heavier task could not have been impos’d
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 Syracuse was I born, and wed
Unto a woman, happy but for me,
And by me, had not our hap been bad:
With her I liv’d in joy; our wealth increas’d
By prosperous voyages I often made
To Epidamium, 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 mean 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 Epidamium 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 embrac’d,
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,
Forc’d 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 fast’ned him unto a small spare mast,
Such as sea-faring 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 dispos’d, my wife and I,
Fixing our eyes on whom our care was fix’d,
Fast’ned 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,
Dispers’d those vapors 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.
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 encount’red 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 seiz’d on us,
And knowing whom it was their hap to save,
Gave healthful welcome to their shipwrack’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.
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,
At eighteen years became inquisitive
After his brother; and importun’d 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 labored of a love to see,
I hazarded the loss of whom I lov’d.
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 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 should sue as advocate for thee:
But though thou art adjudged to the death,
And passed sentence may not be recall’d
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 doom’d to die.
Jailer, take him to thy custody.
I will, my lord.
Hopeless and helpless doth Egeon wend,
But to procrastinate his liveless end.