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Themes

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.

Questions About Women and Femininity

  1. Does Shakespeare represent women fairly in this play? Are women merely objects that represent different stances on marriage, or are the women realistically portrayed? Is Shakespeare’s portrayal of women sympathetic to or accepting of women’s subservient societal roles?
  2. Do the women in The Comedy of Errors view marriage differently from Shakespeare’s other heroines? How are their views the same? Does Shakespeare side with one view of marriage in this play?
  3. S. Antipholus is constantly around women in the play, but we don’t see E. Antipholus on stage with women until he is confronted by the accusatory mob they’ve formed to deal with his alleged mental instability. How does their respective relationship to women define each of the Antipholi?
  4. The female characters of the play seem to differ wildly from each other, whether in social status or outlook. (Adriana is a wife; the Courtesan is, well, a courtesan; the Abbess is a holy woman; and Luciana is an idealistic, unmarried woman.) Is there any notion that they have some female solidarity in spite of their differences? What do we make of them traveling in a group at the end of the play?

Chew on This

Try on an opinion or two, start a debate, or play the devil’s advocate.

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.

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