Not know my voice! O time’s extremity,
Hast thou so crack’d and splitted my poor tongue
In seven short years, that here my only son
Knows not my feeble key of untun’d cares?
Though now this grained face of mine be hid
In sap-consuming winter’s drizzled snow,
And all the conduits of my blood froze up,
Yet hath my night of life some memory,
My wasting lamps some fading glimmer left,
My dull deaf ears a little use to hear:
All these old witnesses–I cannot err–
Tell me thou art my son Antipholus.
–Egeon, a merchant of Syracuse in Shakespeare’s The Comedy of Errors
Here we have a poignant moment in a play involving mistaken identity that is as chaotic and comical as a Marx Brothers movie.
Egeon has been searching for his twin sons, who were separated during a shipwreck that
deposited each son in a different location. But get this: not only were the wealthy sons separated,
but another set of twins of a servile nature were torn apart, so that there is an Antipholus of Ephesus with his servant Dromio of Ephesus on one hand and a Antipholus of Syracuse with his servant Dromio of Syracuse on the other. Much hilarity ensues when one set of twins mixes and matches with the other set. In the confusion, both Dromios receive multiple beatings from their masters, Antipholus of Ephesus’ wife gets pissed off, and in a particularly anti-feminist moment, Antipholus of Syracuse blames all the madness on the local witches.
But let’s get to the good stuff! Here is a decrepit old man who has spent years since the shipwreck separated from his sons and his wife (who conveniently makes an appearance at the end as an abbess), and his own flesh and blood does not know him. In short, his voice is off-key, his face has become weathered as if hidden in “sap-consuming winter’s drizzled snow,” his memory is going, he’s almost deaf, and his life is about to be snuffed out. Yet in spite of all of these depressing details, he knows his son in a sort of Oprah Winfrey one-thing-I-know-for-sure moment: “Tell me thou art my son Antipholus.” It is a moment of truth in a topsy-turvy world, where castaways reunite and lookalikes pair up. In the long winter of old age, after so many losses and so many years of wandering, father Egeon has a spark of recognition at the sight of a familiar face…and it is enough to melt our hearts.