Adriana is E. Antipholus’s wife and Luciana’s sister. She spends much of the play worrying that her husband loves another woman. Adriana is most notable for her observations about a woman’s role in marriage, her lamentations over her lost love, and her obdurate loyalty in the face of what she believes to be adultery.
As a wife, Adriana is not the stereotypical shrewish and nagging woman. In the Plautus play that Shakespeare drew on to write The Comedy of Errors, Adriana’s equivalent character is so known for her shrewishness that she doesn’t even get a name – that alone is enough to characterize her. This stereotypical wife – jealous, possessive, and naggy – was one that Shakespeare’s audience would’ve been used to, so Shakespeare’s decision to turn Adriana into a more fully fleshed out woman (with a name) is significant.
Adriana speaks often in the play, and serves as a balance to her idealistic sister about the very real travails of love and marriage. She worries that her husband has gone wandering in love from her, but she accedes that this might be her own fault. Here, she embodies all the very real concerns of a faithful wife – perhaps she is no longer attractive to her husband, and while he might be at fault for his roving, she still loves him, and would do anything in her power to keep him. She isn’t totally rolled over, though; she says awful things about her husband, but she admits they’re only inspired by her distress over losing him. Adriana definitely knows more about love’s darker side than her sister, Luciana, but it doesn’t detract at all from the depth of love for her husband. Even when she thinks E. Antipholus is both unfaithful and insane, she says she’d like to have him come home because it’s a wife’s duty to take care of her man.
Despite our sympathy, we recognize that Adriana is still shrewish to some extent. When the Abbess talks to Adriana about how she needs to reign in E. Antipholus, Adriana admits that she has taxed her husband’s ear unendingly about his faithlessness. The Abbess catches her here: any man that is so complained against is bound to be unhappy. Though Adriana seems to know a lot about love and marriage, she doesn’t actually know enough to not nag her husband. In general, though, she’s a faithful and loving (even if concerned) wife, and she is one of Shakespeare’s few characters who embodies the real trials of love in marriage. Most of Shakespeare’s comedies end with marriages, but Adriana is a more realistic portrayal of what actually happens after the marriage takes place. Adriana, even in this farcical play, can be seen as Shakespeare’s nod to a difficult reality.