On account of inveterate hostilities between them, Ephesus and Syracuse have made it unlawful for a merchant of Ephesus from engaging in commerce in Syracuse and vice versa. It’s the reason the Duke of Ephesus Solinus must put Egeon to death: Egeon, a merchant of Syracuse, has allowed himself to be found and captured in Ephesus. Still, Solinus offers Egeon the opportunity to explain himself. What possessed Egeon to come to Ephesus and thereby condemn himself to death? Reluctantly, Egeon recounts his tale of woe.
Egeon was happily married and doing well in Syracuse when an urgent business matter compelled him to leave his wife and go to Epidamium. He hadn’t been away six months when his wife joined him there. While there his wife gave birth to twin sons. Coincidentally, an Epidamium woman of a low social status gave birth to twin sons as well. Feeling pity for the woman and her man, who could not possibly raise their twin sons on their meager means, Egeon bought the twin sons, intending them to be Egeon’s twin sons’ attendants.
At Egeon’s wife’s behest the family set sail for Syracuse only to find themselves in the middle of a deadly sea storm. Egeon had resigned himself to death, but on account of his wife who pined for their twin sons’ safety, Egeon did what he could to save all their lives: He tied both sets of twins to a mast which mast Egeon himself and his wife clung onto as it was borne along by the surges. Eventually, the storm broke and the sun came out, and as the mast floated towards Corinth, two ships were spotted sailing for the mast. However, before the ships could get to the mast, the mast struck a rock and split in half. Subsequently, one ship sailed for and saved the lives who clung onto one half of the mast, while the other ship sailed for and saved the lives who clung onto the other half of the mast. Alas, the ships went their separate ways and with them Egeon’s family.
When the younger twin son came of age, he persuaded his father Egeon to let him search the world for his older brother. Not long after his departure, Egeon himself wandered the world to seek his sons. Egeon had arrived in Ephesus, and despite the danger he was determined to continue seeking or die in the attempt.
Impressed by the story, Solinus temporarily commutes Egeon’s death sentence. He urges Egeon to seek what sympathy he can in Ephesus and to raise money for his ransom which is set at a thousand marks.
Citing a recently arrived merchant from Syracuse (Egeon) who has been condemned to die, the First Merchant of Ephesus advises Antipholus of Syracuse, who has arrived at Ephesus in search of his mother and twin brother, to pretend that he is a native of Epidamium in order avoid being condemned to death himself. The Merchant gives Antipholus a thousand marks, a sum of money that Antipholus had entrusted the Merchant with and which Antipholus now entrusts his servant Dromio of Syracuse with. Indeed, Antipholus of Syracuse orders Dromio of Syracuse to safely secure the thousand marks, to go to their quarters at the Centaur Inn, and to wait for Antipholus there. As Dromio leaves, Antipholus expresses his desire to familiarize himself with city and asks the Merchant to accompany him. However, citing a prior appointment, and promising to meet up with Antipholus later in the evening, the Merchant leaves Antipholus.
Presently, as Antipholus of Syracuse explores Ephesus, he encounters Dromio of Ephesus whom he confuses with his own servant, Dromio of Syracuse. Worried about the security of his money Antipholus asks Dromio for the money. But Dromio cites his ignorance of the money and only harps on the fact that Antipholus is late for dinner, that his wife’s angry at him for being late for dinner, and that she is taking her anger out on Dromio. Antipholus warns Dromio that he is not in a joking mood and again demands the money. When Dromio again asserts his ignorance of the thousand marks, Antipholus strikes Dromio who proceeds to run away. Subsequently, fearing that his servant may be trying to steal his money, Antipholus decides to go to the Centaur right away.