Act 5 Scene 1
Angelo is telling the Second Merchant how Antipholus E. claimed never to have received the gold chain from him. The Second Merchant asks about his reputation, and Angelo says that Antipholus E. is well-loved and respected. At that moment, Antipholus S. and Dromio S. enter; Antipholus is wearing the gold chain around his neck. Angelo angrily tells Antipholus S. that he has wronged both him and the Second Merchant by denying that he received the chain. Antipholus S. protests that he never denied having it, and the quarrel escalates until they draw swords upon each other.
Adriana, Luciana and the Courtesan enter. Adriana begs Angelo and the Second Merchant not to hurt her husband, who should be excused because he is mad. She orders the men to disarm Antipholus S. and Dromio S, but they escape into a nearby priory. The Abbess comes out to find out what is happening. Adriana explains that her husband is mad and asks permission to go into the priory and fetch him. The Abbess asks if the cause was grief, or a sudden loss of wealth in a shipwreck, or perhaps an illicit love affair. Adriana admits that it might be a love affair. The Abbess tells her that she should have challenged her husband. When Adriana protests that she did, the Abbess says she did not do so strongly enough. Adriana points out that she nagged him incessantly about it. The Abbess quickly does a U-turn and concludes that it was Adriana's incessant jealous nagging that drove her husband mad. Luciana defends Adriana by saying her rebukes to Antipholus were mild, but the Abbess's words have struck a chord in Adriana, who feels guilty about her treatment of her husband.
The Abbess refuses to let them enter the priory, and says that she will keep Antipholus at the priory and treat him herself. Adriana protests, saying it is her job to look after her husband, but the Abbess will not give in. She dismisses Adriana and goes back into the priory. Adriana decides to ask Duke Solinus to intervene and restore her husband to her.
It is five o'clock. Duke Solinus enters with the Headsman, leading in Egeon to be executed. The Duke announces that if anybody should pay Egeon's ransom, he will not be executed. Adriana takes this opportunity to ask the Duke for justice against the Abbess. She tells him how her husband went mad, they tried to restrain him, he fled into the priory, and now the Abbess will not release him. The Duke recalls a promise that he made to Adriana when she married to help Antipholus E. on account of his good service in his wars. He agrees to mediate and sends for the Abbess.
They are interrupted by a Messenger, who reports that Antipholus E. and Dromio E. have broken free from Pinch's men, tied up Pinch, set fire to his beard and then thrown filthy water on him to put the fire out. The Messenger fears that they will kill Pinch unless someone intervenes. Adriana says he is lying, and points out that her husband and his servant are inside the priory. Then Antipholus E. runs in with his servant and demands that the Duke give him justice against Adriana for locking him out and thereby dishonoring him. Adriana denies the charge, saying that she dined with her husband, and Luciana backs her up. Antipholus E. gives his side of the story, accusing Angelo of wrongly claiming that he received the chain, and telling of his capture by Pinch. He also says that he has never been inside the priory.
The Duke is mystified, and can only explain the confusion by saying it must be the result of witchcraft. Alternatively, he suggests that perhaps they are all mad. The accusations continue and the Duke finally calls for the Abbess, who he hopes will make all clear.
Egeon sees Antipholus E. and greets him in the belief that he is Antipholus S., the son he has brought up. He suggests to the Duke that his son will pay his ransom. Antipholus E., of course, says he has never seen Egeon before in his life. Egeon thinks that grief must have so changed his appearance during the seven years of their separation that he is unrecognizable to his son. Antipholus E. says he never saw his father in his life. Egeon then wonders if Antipholus is ashamed to acknowledge him. But the Duke confirms that he has been Antipholus's patron for twenty years and during that time he has never seen Syracuse. He says that Egeon must be growing senile.
The Abbess enters with Antipholus S. and Dromio S. The other characters are amazed at seeing two Antipholuses and two Dromios. The Abbess greets Egeon. She tells him that she is his wife, Emilia, separated from him by the shipwreck, and that the two Antipholuses are their twin sons. She explains that she, Antipholus E. and Dromio E. were taken up from the wreck by men from Epidamnum. But then, some fishermen from Corinth took Antipholus E. and Dromio E. away from her, leaving her with the men from Epidamnum. She did not see them again until now, and in the meantime became the Abbess of the priory.
The rest of the confusion is sorted out. Antipholus S. tells Luciana that he means to make good on his loving promises to her. Angelo is paid for his gold chain, the ring is returned to the Courtesan, and Antipholus S. returns Antipholus E.'s purse of gold coins to him. Antipholus E. offers the money to the Duke to pay his father's ransom, but the Duke refuses to accept it, declaring that the old man is pardoned. Then, the Abbess invites the entire company into the Abbey for a celebratory feast. Dromio S. tells his brother that Nell (Dromio E.'s romantic interest) gave him dinner earlier; now, he says, this "fat friend" will be his sister, not his wife. The two Dromios are the last to file into the priory, "hand in hand", "like brother and brother" (lines 425-6).
In her adroit manipulation of Adriana's account of Antipholus's supposed madness, the Abbess, like Pinch, offers another opportunity for Shakespeare to satirize the quack diagnosis, in which anything that one says is taken in such a way as conveniently to confirm a diagnosis already made, and the purveyors of conventional wisdom who dispense such diagnoses. First, the Abbess suggests that Adriana was not tough enough on her husband's infidelities, and that this caused him to lose his reason, but when Adriana insists that she rebuked him night and day about it, the Abbess quickly changes tack and says that Adriana has obviously driven him mad with her jealous nagging. Anyone who has tried to extricate themselves from blame by someone who has decided that they are guilty in advance of hearing the evidence will sympathize with Adriana. Moreover, the Abbess's explanation is wrong, since Antipholus E. is not mad and his apparently erratic behavior is explained by the presence in Ephesus of the two sets of twins. However, Adriana takes the Abbess's rebuke to heart, which suggests that it rang true and that she will try to be gentler with her husband.
The theme of sorcery and witchcraft as an explanation for transformation is developed further, in that even the Duke, one of the more reasonable characters, falls victim to fears of the supernatural, saying, "I think you have all drunk of Circe's cup" (line 271). Circe was a sorceress in Greek mythology. She appears in Homer's Odyssey, where she turns Odysseus's men temporarily into pigs by giving them wine spiked with a magic potion. Continuing his witchcraft thread, when the two Antipholuses and the two Dromios appear together for the first time, he asks, "of these, which is the natural man, / And which the spirit? Who deciphers them?" (lines 333-4). The Duke is referring to the ancient Greek idea of the daemon, or attendant spirit, which was supposed to be allotted to a man at birth, and to accompany him throughout life.
The transformation theme is given a psychological twist by Egeon, when the man he believes to be the Antipholus he brought up denies knowing him (in fact, this is the other Antipholus). He thinks that his features must have been so changed by grief and time during the seven years of their separation that he is unrecognizable to his son.
The Abbess acts as a kind of deus ex machina (literally, 'god from the machine,' after the god that traditionally descended onto the stage at the end of a play to resolve all conflicts and give everyone their just deserts). She resolves the confusion that has accumulated throughout the play and that reaches its height in this last act. The Abbess's explanation defuses a tension that has been edging dangerously towards a witch-hunt, with even the Duke making accusations of witchcraft and sorcery. Supposed witches, it should be remembered, were still tortured and burnt in Shakespeare's time.
The Abbess's story does not bear reasoned scrutiny, as it begs such questions as how she could spend twenty years in Ephesus without being aware that her son, the prominent citizen Antipholus E., was also living there. But this play is a farce, full of unlikely elements, such as the two sets of twins being dressed identically even after their long separation. The comedic tradition of the final triumph of love and forgiveness also demands that the Duke suddenly waives the city law that previously inextricably bound him to fine or execute Egeon.
A curious feature of the play's finale is the absence of any expression of joy or love on the part of the Antipholuses at their reunion. Antipholus E.'s attention seems to be on his wife (he quickly jumps in with a denial that Antipholus S. is her husband, at line 371), and Antipholus S. thinks only of pursuing his suit to Luciana. It is unlikely that Shakespeare simply forgot, as the two Dromios are given a funny and touching exchange ("Methinks you are my glass, and not my brother: / I see by you I am a sweet-fac'd youth;" - lines 417-8). It is possible that Antipholus E. is still suspicious of an adulterous liaison between his brother and his wife; much is left open to interpretation. We are left with a final image of brotherly love in the form of the play's clowns, the two Dromios, walking hand-in-hand into the celebration feast.