Act One, Scene One
Solinus the Duke of Ephesus enters, accompanied by a jailer and Egeon. Egeon is a merchant from Syracuse, a city which is a fierce rival of Ephesus. Recently both cities have passed laws which put any man from the rival city to death unless he is able to raise a ransom of one thousand marks, a sum which Egeon cannot afford.
The Duke begs Egeon to tell him why he chose to come to Ephesus, knowing that the punishment is death. Egeon tells him that years ago he and his wife went to Epidamnum. While there, his wife bore twin sons, so alike that they could only be distinguished by their names. Another woman in the same inn also had twins, whom Egeon purchased to be servants for his two sons.
After they left to return home, they were caught in a storm and forced to tie themselves to their ship. Just before they could be rescued, they hit a rock and the ship broke in two, separating Egeon from his wife Emilia, one of his sons and one of the servant twins. After a while the remaining twin inquired about his brother, and Egeon spent five years traveling the Greek islands searching for him before ending up in Ephesus.
The Duke tells him that he cannot remove the death penalty, but advises Egeon to beg and plead for the thousand marks from everyone he knows in Ephesus. The jailer takes Egeon into custody and everyone exits the stage.
Act One, Scene Two
Antipholus of Syracuse, his servant Dromio of Syracuse, and the Merchant of Ephesus enter the stage. The Merchant is a friend to Antipholus and warns him that he must pretend to be from a city other than Syracuse, since a merchant from there was arrested only that morning. Antipholus then sends Dromio off with some money to find them a hotel for the night. He and the Merchant agree to meet at five o'clock that evening.
Antipholus of Syracuse has arrived in Ephesus hoping to find his long lost brother. While waiting for a few moments, Dromio of Ephesus (his brother's servant) arrives and sees him. Antipholus demands to know what happened to the gold he gave Dromio for their hotel rooms. Dromio of Ephesus is quite confused and tells Antipholus to hurry home to dinner before his wife beats them both. Antipholus, convinced that Dromio has stolen his thousand marks, starts to beat him until Dromio runs away.