Women are very present in The Comedy of Errors as vocal forces. Though they have a lot of opinions and many speaking lines, it seems their main reason for existing in the play is to talk about and react to men. Adriana, the play’s most vocal female character, is a strong woman, but she’s undermined by her husband’s faithlessness, which causes her self-doubt. The other women of the play, most notably Luciana, the Courtesan, the Abbess, and even the kitchen maid, Nell, are significant only insofar as they lack the companionship of men. Luciana must learn how to deal with men; the Courtesan and Nell are undervalued by men; and even the Abbess was forced to confine herself to a nunnery when she lost her man. These women don’t seem to know what to do without men, but they don’t know what to do with them, either. While the women are independent characters, they seem relatively incomplete without men to occupy them.
The women in this play derive their import from the men they’re associated with.
Shakespeare’s treatment of Adriana’s suffering is unprecedented and almost revolutionary in this play. He’s more progressive than expected, given the contemporary theatrical convention of shrewish wives. He’s careful to give Adriana real concerns and real flaws, which is actually flattering to women, as it reflects how they are just as complicated as their male counterparts.