Study Guide

The Comedy of Errors Quotes

  • Isolation

    Thus have you heard me severed from my bliss,
    That by misfortunes was my life prolonged
    To tell sad stories of my own mishaps. (1.1.118)

    In stating that he is "severed from his bliss," Egeon asserts that he is isolated, and in that isolation, his suffering is so great that his life seems to exist only to tell his sad story. (It’s no wonder he embraces death.)

    Till that, I'll view the manners of the town,
    Peruse the traders, gaze upon the buildings,
    And then return and sleep within mine inn,
    For with long travel I am stiff and weary.
    Get thee away. (1.2.12-16)

    S. Antipholus seems to be alone, but either he doesn’t mind solitude or he’s gotten quite used to it. He approaches the city with some voyeurism – it’s as if he’s more comfortable observing from an outsider’s than actually trying to get raucously involved in the town (as his brother is more inclined to do).

    He that commends me to mine own content
    Commends me to the thing I cannot get.
    I to the world am like a drop of water
    That in the ocean seeks another drop,
    Who, falling there to find his fellow forth,
    Unseen, inquisitive, confounds himself.
    So I, to find a mother and a brother,
    In quest of them, unhappy, lose myself. (1.2.33-40)

    S. Antipholus is not only isolated from his mother and brother; his quest for them has taken him from his home and what little family he did have in his father. It’s clear, though, as S. Antipholus talks of losing himself, he also feels cut off from who he actually is. We wonder whether this quest for others is really his attempt to find himself, because he lacks self-knowledge, and (counter-intuitively) is trying to find that through others.

    If everyone knows us, and we know none,
    'Tis time, I think, to trudge, pack and be gone. (3.2.169-170)

    S. Antipholus is surrounded by people that seem to know him, yet this situation is far from solving his problem of isolation. He actually feels more estranged from himself. Considering he doesn’t know any of these people, he feels like he doesn’t know the person they know (who should be him).

  • Suffering

    Proceed, Solinus, to procure my fall,
    And by the doom of death end woes and all. (1.1.1-2)

    Egeon’s sadness sets the opening tone for the play. Whatever is going on in his life, his suffering is so bad that death is a better alternative. (Which seems contrary to a play called The Comedy of Errors, unless this hopelessness is another error…)

    Patience unmoved! No marvel though she pause;
    They can be meek that have no other cause.
    A wretched soul bruised with adversity
    We bid be quiet when we hear it cry,
    But were we burdened with like weight of pain,
    As much or more we should ourselves complain. (2.1.32-37)

    Adriana reveals here that she’s being more than whiny – she seems to really be suffering. Because the suffering is not physical pain, she is expected to be silent and bear it. Though Adriana herself seems to see little difference between physical and emotional pain, she seems to recognize that society dictates that emotional pain is less valid, and thus women should bear emotional wounds in silence.

    Am I so round with you, as you with me,
    That like a football you do spurn me thus?
    You spurn me hence, and he will spurn me hither.
    If I last in this service, you must case me in leather. (2.1.87-90)

    E. Dromio seems to accept beatings and suffering as part of his duty to E. Antipholus and Adriana. Though he makes light of his suffering, he never rails against it, nor does he inspire his masters to reflect on their cruelty. The nature of his suffering seems farcical and playful, rather than physically violent and seriously messed up.

    Since that my beauty cannot please his eye,
    I'll weep what's left away, and weeping die. (2.1.119-120)

    Adriana has just spent ample time railing against her husband. Ultimately, though, it seems her despair comes from her own preoccupations, rather than anger at her husband. She suffers because she lacks her husband’s love, and similar to Egeon, she raises sentiments of dying as a result of oppressive suffering.

  • Family

    My wife, more careful for the latter-born,
    Had fast'ned him unto a small spare mast,
    Such as sea-faring men provide for storms.
    To him one of the other twins was bound,
    Whilst I had been like heedful of the other.
    The children thus dispos'd, my wife and I,
    Fixing our eyes on whom our care was fixed,
    Fast'ned ourselves at either end the mast (1.1.78-85)

    There’s no way Egeon’s wife could have anticipated their separation, but still she chooses to separate the twins by time of birth, rather than put each boy with his brother. There are two ways to look at this: either her concern for the younger boys (both her son and servant) trumped her concern over her actual family, or that she looked at the younger Dromio as part of her family, too, and was as careful with him as she would be of her son. It’s a bit of evidence that the Dromios are equalized with the sons of Egeon, and are some of the only family each other have.

    My youngest boy, and yet my eldest care,
    At eighteen years became inquisitive
    After his brother, and importuned me
    That his attendant—so his case was like,
    Reft of his brother, but retain'd his name—
    Might bear him company in the quest of him,
    Whom whilst I labored of a love to see,
    I hazarded the loss of whom I loved. (1.1.124-131)

    Family appears to be an important value to Egeon’s son, considering he goes off in search of his brother. However, there’s no discussion of the fact that Egeon’s son abandons the family he knows (his father) to chase after the family he doesn’t know. This is the first hint that Egeon’s son’s quest might be about more than family. His quest seems to include some search for himself, which can only be made complete by finding his other half. Egeon notes, interestingly, that he, too, was willing to sacrifice what the little family he had left; for love of his son, he let the young man leave him and pursue his quest.

    Why call you me 'love'? Call my sister so.
    Thy sister's sister.
    That's my sister.
    It is thyself, mine own self's better part, (3.2.62-66)

    This is a really interesting reflection on marriage and family. Luciana identifies with her sister, Adriana, as family, but S. Antipholus notes that by accepting him as a husband, Luciana would be becoming part of him (and thus part of his family). The question is whether one must betray one’s familial love for the possibility of romantic love – giving up one family for the creation of another.

    EGEON. 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 untuned cares?
    Though now this grainèd 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. (5.1.318-329)

    This is a really beautiful passage. Egeon, in the midst of all of this madness, is able to pierce through the chaos with an earnest plea about the meaning of family. His grievous loss puts all of the hullabaloo into perspective. To add gravity to the situation, Egeon is on his way to his own execution over a son he would die for. He thinks he’s now found that son, only to be faced with the fact that this son apparently doesn’t recognize him. For Egeon, the love of his family is worth living and dying over. The beauty of Egeon’s words and the depth of his feelings elevate this part of the play above the goofy plotline.

    I never saw my father in my life.
    But seven years since, in Syracuse, boy,
    Thou know'st we parted. But perhaps, my son,
    Thou sham'st to acknowledge me in misery. (5.1.330-333)

    Heartbreaking. Egeon has been pushed so far that he doesn’t even think of the possibility that this is his long lost son – after so much grief, such a happy possibility hardly seems a possibility at all. Rather, Egeon worries that for his son, love of family comes second to maintaining one’s reputation.

    Egeon, art thou not, or else his ghost?
    O, my old master.—Who hath bound him here? (5.1.348-349)

    S. Dromio seems more thrilled than Egeon’s own son to find him again. Is the bond between master and servant stronger in this play than the bond between blood relations? It’s also worth noting here that the Antipholi don’t seem terribly excited (or, at least, don’t explicitly address feeling excited) in the text. In contrast, the Dromios immediately start affectionately joking with each other. What’s up with that?

    Your goods that lay at host, sir, in the Centaur.
    S. ANTIPHOLUS [to E. Antipholus]
    He speaks to me.—I am your master, Dromio.
    Come, go with us. We'll look to that anon.
    Embrace thy brother there. Rejoice with him. (5.1.423-426)

    Though the two Antipholi give no apparent show of joy at meeting each other, S. Antipholus makes clear that he knows this is a joyous occasion. Again, the Dromio boys serve as the softer, sweeter version of a brotherly relationship.

  • Appearances

    A heavier task could not have been imposed
    Than I to speak my griefs unspeakable;
    Yet, that the world may witness that my end
    Was wrought by nature, not by vile offence,
    I'll utter what my sorrow gives me leave. (1.1.31-35)

    Though Egeon gratefully accepts his death sentence, he still wants to clarify the reason he’s in Ephesus. It’s important that he die without appearing a common criminal, guilty of a "vile offence" like simple trespassing. He’d like it to be known that the nature and depth of his suffering has been his undoing. Though he accepts his fate, he won’t lose the appearance of his honor.

    His company must do his minions grace,
    Whilst I at home starve for a merry look.
    Hath homely age th' alluring beauty took
    From my poor cheek? Then he hath wasted it.
    Are my discourses dull? Barren my wit?
    If voluble and sharp discourse be marred,
    Unkindness blunts it more than marble hard.
    Do their gay vestments his affections bait?
    That's not my fault; he's master of my state.
    What ruins are in me that can be found
    By him not ruin'd? Then is he the ground
    Of my defeatures. My decayed fair
    A sunny look of his would soon repair.
    But, too unruly deer, he breaks the pale
    And feeds from home. Poor I am but his stale. (2.1.92-106)

    Adriana is concerned that her physical appearance has waned – she’s not as beautiful as she once was, and it seems this alone might constitute E. Antipholus’s rationale for seeking female affection elsewhere. Still, while Adriana blames time for her changed appearance, she also charges her husband with fault. She believes that her beauty and wit have been wasted by him in their marriage, so any flaws in her appearance seems to be his lot to endure. Also, this quote emphasizes the importance of a woman’s beauty with regard to her worth in marriage.

    ANTIPHOLUS OF SYRACUSE. Am I in earth, in heaven, or in hell?
    Sleeping or waking, mad or well-advised?
    Known unto these, and to myself disguised!
    I'll say as they say, and persever so,
    And in this mist at all adventures go. (2.2.225-229)

    S. Antipholus knows this place is not as normal as it appears to be – the reality of what he perceives is utterly distant from what he sees and hears before him. Rather than investigate this weird situation, S. Antipholus decides that he’ll keep up the appearance that seems to work for these strangers, even if it means he’s disguised from himself. (Or, might we suggest, perhaps he’s been so alien from his own self that he has no trouble keeping up another’s appearance.)

    BALTHAZAR. Have patience, sir. O, let it not be so.
    Herein you war against your reputation,
    And draw within the compass of suspect
    Th' unviolated honor of your wife.
    Once this-your long experience of her wisdom,
    Her sober virtue, years, and modesty,
    Plead on her part some cause to you unknown.
    And doubt not, sir, but she will well excuse
    Why at this time the doors are made against you.
    Be ruled by me: depart in patience,
    And let us to the Tiger all to dinner,
    And, about evening, come yourself alone
    To know the reason of this strange restraint.
    If by strong hand you offer to break in
    Now in the stirring passage of the day,
    A vulgar comment will be made of it;
    And that supposed by the common rout
    Against your yet ungalled estimation
    That may with foul intrusion enter in
    And dwell upon your grave when you are dead;
    For slander lives upon succession,
    For ever housed where it gets possession. (3.1.134-155)

    Balthazar notes that even if E. Antipholus were right for breaking down his own door, it’s better to keep up appearances in the neighborhood than do what would make sense. Though breaking down the door would clear up the matter immediately, E. Antipholus would be risking his good reputation. Apparently, maintaining appearances is worth more to E. Antipholus than seeking truth.

    Or, if you like elsewhere, do it by stealth —
       Muffle your false love with some show of
    Let not my sister read it in your eye;
       Be not thy tongue thy own shame's orator;
    Look sweet, speak fair, become disloyalty;
       Apparel vice like virtue's harbinger.
    Bear a fair presence, though your heart be tainted.
       Teach sin the carriage of a holy saint.
    Be secret-false. What need she be acquainted?
       What simple thief brags of his own attaint?
    'Tis double wrong to truant with your bed
       And let her read it in thy looks at board.
    Shame hath a bastard fame, well managèd;
       Ill deeds is doubled with an evil word. (3.2.8-22)

    Luciana doesn’t condemn the man she thinks is her brother-in-law for his faithlessness. Instead, she says it’d be better if he kept up appearances about loving Adriana. Even if he’s being totally two-faced and lying on top of that, at the very least, Antipholus should keep Adriana happy by making her think that her husband still loves her. According to Luciana here, appearances in marriage are more important than honesty.

    Ah, Luciana, did he tempt thee so?
       Might'st thou perceive austerely in his eye
    That he did plead in earnest, yea or no?
       Looked he or red or pale, or sad or merrily?
    What observation mad'st thou in this case
       Of his heart's meteors tilting in his face? (4.2.1-6)

    This is an interesting reaction for Adriana to have upon hearing about how her "husband" is jonesing for her sister. She doesn’t immediately fly into a rage – instead, she wishes to know how he appeared. It’s actually quite perfect, as Luciana told S. Antipholus that all he had to do was appear to still be in love with Adriana, regardless of whether he was. As it turns out, Luciana was right – Adriana is willing to ignore what her husband said, and instead uses his appearance (easily falsifiable, obviously) to judge whether he’s actually serious.

    The reason that I gather he is mad,
    Besides this present instance of his rage,
    Is a mad tale he told today at dinner
    Of his own doors being shut against his entrance.
    Belike his wife, acquainted with his fits,
    On purpose shut the doors against his way.
    My way is now to hie home to his house
    And tell his wife that, being lunatic,
    He rush'd into my house and took perforce
    My ring away. This course I fittest choose,
    For forty ducats is too much to lose. (4.3.88-98)

    This is a rather brazen move on the Courtesan’s part. She’s willing to show up to Adriana’s house and announce that Antipholus has stolen her ring, but she’ll keep up the appearance of E. Antipholus’s faithfulness to his wife. She very carefully lies about having dined with him and relates that he ran into her house in a rage.

  • Identity

    There had she not been long but she became
    A joyful mother of two goodly sons,
    And, which was strange, the one so like the other
    As could not be disdnguished but by names. (1.1.49-52)

    This is a little foreshadowing – the boys are different only in name (which is tricky, because if they can’t tell you their true names, how are you supposed to tell them apart?). Anyway, much of the play’s misunderstanding will come about because the two pairs of twins share names. This contributes to the notion that their senses of identity are incomplete without their counterparts.

    But here must end the story of my life;
    And happy were I in my timely death
    Could all my travels warrant me they live. (1.1.137-139)

    Egeon’s life is worthless without his family – he’d be happy to greet death if it meant his children lived. It seems that his family’s happiness and survival are central to his own identity and self-worth. Without knowing they’re OK, he might as well not live.

    Farewell till then. I will go lose myself,
    And wander up and down to view the city. (1.2.30-31)

    S. Antipholus talks about losing himself in the city – it’s taken lightly as a figurative phrase, but it is literally what will and does happen. His identity will be lost from him as soon as he enters into the world of his brother.

    He that commends me to mine own content
    Commends me to the thing I cannot get.
    I to the world am like a drop of water
    That in the ocean seeks another drop,
    Who, falling there to find his fellow forth,
    Unseen, inquisitive, confounds himself.
    So I, to find a mother and a brother,
    In quest of them, unhappy, lose myself. (1.2.33-40)

    Identity doesn’t exist in a vacuum, it’s tied up in what we think of others, what others think of us, and is only partly satisfied by what we think of ourselves. It’s clear that rather than trying to assert an identity, S. Antipholus is seeking an identity outside of himself.

    His company must do his minions grace,
    Whilst I at home starve for a merry look.
    Hath homely age th' alluring beauty took
    From my poor cheek? Then he hath wasted it.
    Are my discourses dull? Barren my wit?
    If voluble and sharp discourse be marred,
    Unkindness blunts it more than marble hard.
    Do their gay vestments his affections bait?
    That's not my fault; he's master of my state.
    What ruins are in me that can be found
    By him not ruined? Then is he the ground
    Of my defeatures. (2.1.92-103)

    Adriana’s identity is tied to E. Antipholus’s perception of her. Her worth as a wife and as a person is directly affected by how much he values her. If he no longer loves her, it’s a tragic blow to her sense of self. Her deep worry seems to suggest that in Adriana’s own eyes, her only worth is as a wife to E. Antipholus (not as an individual with value independent of her relationships to others).

    How ill agrees it with your gravity
    To counterfeit thus grossly with your slave,
    Abetting him to thwart me in my mood. (2.2.179-181)

    It’s interesting that Adriana calls Dromio a "slave." S. Antipholus has done it before, but Adriana’s upset that S. Antipholus seems to be conspiring with his "slave" against her. She seems to be rankling at the fact that Antipholus’s duty to her doesn’t trump what she sees as goofing off with their servant. Essentially, her identity is cast by the terms of her relationship to E. Antipholus.

    I am transformèd, master, am not I?
    I think thou art in mind, and so am I. (2.2.207-208)

    Adriana seems so sure of the identities of both S. Dromio and S. Antipholus that they have decided to go along with her. This strange woman seems to know them better than they know themselves, and a false identity seems to be better than no identity at all.

    O villain, thou hast stolen both mine office and my
    The one ne'er got me credit, the other mickle
       blame. (3.1.64-67)

    It’s funny that E. Dromio accuses S. Dromio of stealing his identity, as actually they both share the same identity (as bondsmen to one of the two Antipholi). More importantly, they both suffer from the same ailments under the Antipholi – neither receives much credit, and both get much blame and beating. While the Antipholi are mistaken for each other (and are treated very differently as a result), the Dromios receive basically the same treatment whether they are seen as an S. or an E. Dromio.

    Teach me, dear creature, how to think and speak.
    Lay open to my earthy gross conceit,
    Smothered in errors, feeble, shallow, weak,
    The folded meaning of your words' deceit.
    Against my soul's pure truth why labor you
    To make it wander in an unknown field?
    Are you a god? Would you create me new?
    Transform me, then, and to your power I'll yield.
    But if that I am I, then well I know
    Your weeping sister is no wife of mine,
    Nor to her bed no homage do I owe.
    Far more, far more, to you do I decline. (3.2.35-46)

    S. Antipholus, for the first time, speaks joyously of his lack of identity, perhaps because he sees in Luciana some way to remedy it. He’s willing to give himself over and ask this woman to redefine him. Apparently, she may be able to accomplish this with her divine power, or more realistically, her love. Moreover, it’s interesting that S. Antipholus does assert that he knows himself enough to be sure that he’s not Adriana’s husband. There are different levels of self-knowledge, and while S. Antipholus has some cursory knowledge of himself, what he lacks is deep understanding, and he looks to Luciana to accord that to him.

    Faith, stay here this night. They
    will surely do us no harm; you saw they speak us
    fair, give us gold. Methinks they are such a gentle
    nation that, but for the mountain of mad flesh that
    claims marriage of me, could find in my heart to
    stay here still, and turn witch. (4.4.162-167)

    It seems S. Dromio would happily "go native," even if it means forgetting himself. S. Antipholus, by contrast, would rather not be one of these crazy enchanted people, even if it means passing up the opportunity to have a definite identity (as a crazy enchanted person).

    Nay, then, thus:
    We came into the world like brother and brother,
    And now let's go hand in hand, not one before
       another. (5.1.438-441)

    The Dromios seem to set the stage for what will happen after the play; having identified their other halves, they have a lot to learn about each other. It seems that though the confusion isn’t over, the fun and discoveries have only just begun.

  • The Supernatural

    Upon my life, by some device or other
    The villain is o'erraught of all my money.
    They say this town is full of cozenage,
    As, nimble jugglers that deceive the eye,
    Dark-working sorcerers that change the mind,
    Soul-killing witches that deform the body,
    Disguisèd cheaters, prating mountebanks,
    And many suchlike liberties of sin. (1.2.98-105)

    This experience with E. Dromio is S. Antipholus’s first hint that something is amiss in Ephesus. S. Antipholus’ immediate conclusion is that sorcery and witchcraft are to blame. Does this seem like a reasonable conclusion, or is it merely a plot device?

    How can she thus, then, call us by our names—
    Unless it be by inspiration? (2.2.177-178)

    Again, S. Antipholus is quick to chalk up the strangeness of Adriana knowing he and Dromio’s name to "inspiration" (meaning divination or clairvoyance). This is rather surprising, considering that S. Antipholus did come to Ephesus to look for a twin brother, and, if that were the case, shouldn’t his first assumption be that Adriana is married to his twin? Regardless, S. Antipholus seems to have accepted that he’s come to a magical place. With that premise, nothing that follows seems particularly strange and S. Antipholus has no reason to look for logical answers to the strange situations that befall him.

    To me she speaks; she moves me for her theme.
    What, was I married to her in my dream?
    Or sleep I now and think I hear all this?
    What error drives our eyes and ears amiss?
    Until I know this sure uncertainty
    I'll entertain the offered fallacy. (2.2.192-197)

    S. Antipholus is certain he is dreaming, or was dreaming when he married this woman. This dream-state is an echo of all the supernatural stuff he assumes is afoot in Ephesus. Again S. Antipholus seems to use the supernatural as an excuse to avoid looking at a more complex reality.

    O, for my beads! I cross me for sinner.
    This is the fairy land. O spite of spites!
    We talk with goblins, owls, and sprites.
    If we obey them not, this will ensue:
    They'll suck our breath, or pinch us black and blue. (2.2.199-203)

    Like his master, S. Dromio clearly believes in supernatural forces, but is less comfortable succumbing to sorcery. Rather than let all of this seeming witchcraft roll over him (like S. Antipholus does), S. Dromio cries out and appeals to his rosary (which, if this is set in the pre-Christian era, is one of the play’s many playful anachronisms). How is it that S. Dromio and S. Antipholus believe that sorcery is the cause of their problems in Ephesus but E. Dromio and E. Antipholus never resort to this sort of strange reasoning?

       O, Sir, I did not look so low. To
       conclude: this drudge or diviner laid claim to me,
       called me Dromio, swore I was assured to her, told
       me what privy marks I had about me, as, the mark
       of my shoulder, the mole in my neck, the great wart
       on my left arm, that I, amazed, ran from her as a
    And, I think, if my breast had not been made of
       faith, and my heart of steel,
    She had transform'd me to a curtal dog, and made
       me turn i' th' wheel. (3.2.153-163)

    S. Dromio’s romantic connection with Nell serves as a foil to S. Antipholus’s connection with Luciana. Both feel they’re being bewitched, but while S. Antipholus describes his enchantment in the romantic terms of mermaids and songs, S. Dromio’s enchantment is darker, and involves dogs. It’s a reminder that the supernatural is all about perspective – one man’s evil bewitching is another man’s lovely enchantment.

    There's not a man I meet but doth salute me
    As if I were their well-acquainted friend,
    And every one doth call me by my name.
    Some tender money to me; some invite me:
    Some other give me thanks for kindnesses;
    Some offer me commodities to buy.
    Even now a tailor call'd me in his shop
    And showed me silks that he had bought for me,
    And therewithal took measure of my body.
    Sure, these are but imaginary wiles,
    And Lapland sorcerers inhabit here. (4.3.1-11)

    S. Antipholus shows some strength of spirit by choosing not to bask in the good treatment he’s been getting in Ephesus. Though he’s being treated kindly, it doesn’t sit well with him that people really seem to think he is who he’s not. Even if the seeming magic at hand has good consequences, it’s still not real, so he chooses to reject it.

    Good Doctor Pinch, you are a conjurer:
    Establish him in his true sense again,
    And I will please you what you will demand.
    Alas, how fiery and how sharp he looks!
    Mark how he trembles in his ecstasy.
    PINCH [to E. Antipholus]
    Give me your hand, and let me feel your pulse.
    E. ANTIPHOLUS [striking Pinch]
    There is my hand, and let it feel your ear.
    I charge thee, Satan, hous'd within this man,
    To yield possession to my holy prayers,
    And to thy state of darkness hie thee straight.
    I conjure thee by all the saints in heaven. (4.4.51-61)

    This is all rather hilarious. Throughout the entire play, the supernatural has seemed a dark and mysterious force in Ephesus, but actually, when this guy who’s supposed to be a conjurer shows up, he’s clearly viewed as an innocuous old quack. Adriana seems as foolish as S. Antipholus to believe in all of this stuff, and though Pinch takes himself very seriously, that’s all the more reason we don’t take him seriously. In case it wasn’t clear before, Pinch’s character shows us that relying on explanations like magic is ludicrous. Also, this is where E. Antipholus finally smacks around somebody that deserves it.

    Be patient; for I will not let him stir
    Till I have us'd the approvèd means I have,
    With wholesome syrups, drugs, and holy prayers,
    To make of him a formal man again.
    It is a branch and parcel of mine oath,
    A charitable duty of my order.
    Therefore depart, and leave him here with me. (5.1.106-112)

    Again we see there are many sides to the supernatural – the Abbess equates her holy prayers with her wholesome syrups. This whole healing of madness is all a matter of perspective, whether done by a witch doctor, a wife, or a holy woman.

  • Women and Femininity

    Why should their liberty than ours be more?
    Because their business still lies out o' door. (2.1.10-11)

    Luciana accepts that a woman’s place is inside the home, but Adriana doesn’t concur that men should have more freedom in their actions than women. Luciana seems more submissive and accepting of what she sees as feminine duty than Adriana. They provide two different perspectives on male/female relations, and thus are two different kinds of women.

    Why, headstrong liberty is lashed with woe.
    There's nothing situate under heaven's eye
    But hath his bound, in earth, in sea, in sky.
    The beasts, the fishes, and the wingèd fowls
    Are their males' subjects, and at their controls.
    Man, more divine, the master of all these,
    Lord of the wide world and wild wat'ry seas,
    Endued with intellectual sense and souls,
    Of more preeminence than fish and fowls,
    Are masters to their females, and their lords.
    Then let your will attend on their accords. (2.1.15-25)

    Luciana subjugates women under men in the "great chain of being," and seems to have rationalized that this is the way it is in the whole animal kingdom. It seems she defines women as necessarily subject to men’s whims, but she doesn’t give us a hint of whether she thinks this situation is just or not. From her talk, we’re not even sure if she considers the ethics of this situation, or merely accepts it as reality.

    Why, mistress, sure my master is horn mad.
    Horn mad, thou villain?
    I mean not cuckold mad.
    But sure he is stark mad. (2.1.58-61)

    Adriana rankles when she thinks Dromio’s suggesting that she’s cuckolding her husband. When E. Dromio says "horn-mad," he’s referring to the rage of a horned beast of the field, basically saying his master is being crazy like an animal. Adriana thinks his "horn-mad" is a reference to a cuckold’s horns, which were a symbol of a long-suffering husband. It’s interesting that all of Adriana’s actions and complaints point towards her being shrewish, but she has a strongly negative reaction even to the suggestion that this might be the case.

    Ay, ay, Antipholus, look strange and frown.
    Some other mistress hath thy sweet aspects.
    I am not Adriana, nor thy wife.
    The time was once when thou unurged wouldst vow
    That never words were music to thine ear,
    That never object pleasing in thine eye,
    That never touch well welcome to thy hand,
    That never meat sweet-savored in thy taste,
    Unless I spake, or looked, or touched, or carved to
       thee. (2.2.120-129)

    This is an interesting description in light of the earlier conversation between Adriana and Luciana about men being their own masters. It seems Adriana enjoyed being in the driver’s seat, dictating E. Antipholus’s preferences. When she criticizes him at first, it’s not for his faithlessness, but because she’s not receiving the undivided attention she’d grown accustomed to. It’s not only as E. Antipholus’s wife that she expects this attention, but because that’s how she thinks a beloved woman is treated. (Marriage seems subordinate to the special role she crafted for herself as a woman in the relationship with E. Antipholus.)

    Come, I will fasten on this sleeve of thine.
    Thou art an elm, my husband, I a vine,
    Whose weakness, married to thy stronger state,
    Makes me with thy strength to communicate. (2.2.184-187)

    Adriana is showing that while she seems to be being shrewish, she’s just subordinating herself to her husband again. These lines echo what Ovid wrote in the Metamorphoses, "…if that the vine which runs upon the elm had [not] the tree to lean unto, it should upon the ground lie flat" (xiv. 665-666, trans. by Arthur Golding, 1567). This interpretation allows us to think of Adriana not as a vine choking an elm, but rather as a vine who leans upon the elm for support. Psalm 128:3 is also alluded to here, as it reads: "Thy wife shall be as a fruitful vine by the sides of thine house." The idea is that Adriana’s husband should not only not be constrained by her, he should prosper by her company.

    I know a wench of excellent discourse,
    Pretty and witty, wild and yet, too, gentle.
    There will we dine. This woman that I mean,
    My wife—but, I protest, without desert—
    Hath oftentimes upbraided me withal;
    To her will we to dinner. [to Angelo] Get you home
    And fetch the chain; by this, I know, 'tis made.
    Bring it, I pray you, to the Porpentine,
    For there's the house. That chain will I bestow—
    Be it for nothing but to spite my wife—
    Upon mine hostess there; (3.1.158-168)

    That E. Antipholus intends to give this chain necklace to the Courtesan (to spite his wife) allows for an easy contrast between the Courtesan and Adriana. E. Antipholus lists off all the great traits of the Courtesan, but he has yet to praise his wife. (We haven’t heard many good things from Adriana about her man either.) The wife – as the object of marriage – is set up in contrast to the Courtesan – the object of no-strings-attached companionship and sex. These are two different kinds of women that get different kinds of attention, and are judged by different standards.

    Alas, poor women, make us but believe,
       Being compact of credit, that you love us.
    Though others have the arm, show us the sleeve;
       We in your motion turn, and you may move us.
    Then, gentle brother, get you in again.
       Comfort my sister, cheer her, call her wife.
    'Tis holy sport to be a little vain
       When the sweet breath of flattery conquers strife. (3.2.23-30)

    Luciana admits women are easily deceived, but in the same breath reveals that women enjoy being gullible. In her immediately preceding speech, Luciana had said it’s better to trick women and keep them happy than to tell them the unhappy truth. In the quote here, it seems Luciana might be asserting that women participate in men’s deceptive games by willingly "believing" the deception. At least in Luciana’s opinion, women would rather have flattery (even if it’s deceitful) than hear the awful truth.

    What claim lays she to thee?
    Marry, sir, such claim as you
    would lay to your horse, and she would have me as
    a beast; not that I being a beast she would have me,
    but that she, being a very beastly creature, lays
    claim to me. (3.2.90-95)

    Here’s an unusual instance where there’s no gloss over the fact that in love, women claim as much ownership over men as men tend to claim over women. Adriana has tried to justify her possessiveness of E. Antipholus as the feelings of a good wife, but there’s a hint that her feelings aren’t really that different than Nell’s ownership claims over her man.

    Satan, avoid! I charge thee, tempt me not.
    Master, is this Mistress Satan?
    It is the devil.
    Nay, she is worse, she is the
    devil's dam, and here she comes in the habit of a
    light wench. And thereof comes that the wenches
    say 'God damn me'; that's as much to say 'God
    make me a light wench.' It is written they appear
    to men like angels of light. Light is an effect of fire,
    and fire will burn; ergo, light wenches will burn.
    Come not near her. (4.3.49-59)

    S. Antipholus is quick to see the supernatural (as usual), but S. Dromio seems to recognize that the real danger of this woman is that she’s a woman. Lately, it seems women have been bringing nothing but trouble to S. Dromio. It’s interesting that he teases that woman is the "devil’s dam" (or the devil’s mother), which is even worse than her being the devil. Whether her evil is supernatural or practical is immaterial – she’s evil. If she’s a supernatural devil, she’ll burn in hell. If the Courtesan is a natural devil (i.e., a prostitute), she’ll burn just as well.

    To none of these, except it be the last,
    Namely, some love that drew him oft from home.
    You should for that have reprehended him.
    Why, so I did.
    Ay, but not rough enough.
    As roughly as my modesty would let me.
    Haply in private.
    And in assemblies too.
    Ay, but not enough.
    It was the copy of our conference.
    In bed, he slept not for my urging it;
    At board, he fed not for my urging it.
    Alone, it was the subject of my theme;
    In company, I often glancèd it.
    Still did I tell him it was vile and bad.
    And thereof came it that the man was mad.
    The venom clamors of a jealous woman
    Poisons more deadly than a mad dog's tooth.
    It seems his sleeps were hind'red by thy railing,
    And thereof comes it that his head is light.
    Thou say'st his meat was sauced with thy
    Unquiet meals make ill digestions.
    Thereof the raging fire of fever bred,
    And what's a fever but a fit of madness?
    Thou say'st his sports were hind'red by thy brawls.
    Sweet recreation barr'd, what doth ensue
    But moody and dull melancholy,
    Kinsman to grim and comfortless despair,
    And at her heels a huge infectious troop
    Of pale distemperatures and foes to life?
    In food, in sport, and life-preserving rest,
    To be disturb'd would mad or man or beast.
    The consequence is, then, thy jealous fits
    Hath scar'd thy husband from the use of wits. (5.1.55-89)

    This is very tricky business on the Abbess’s part. She lures Adriana into incriminating herself as a shrew, and then insists shrewish women get what they deserve. Like Luciana, the Abbess values a man’s comfort over a woman’s suspicions. Also, there’s no talk of the pact between husband and wife; just the glib notion that men are men, and should be left alone by women to do as they please.

  • Marriage

    This servitude makes you to keep unwed.
    Not this, but troubles of the marriage bed.
    But, were you wedded, you would bear some sway.
    Ere I learn love, I'll practice to obey. (2.1.26-29)

    Luciana isn’t annoyed by men’s actions in marriage, but she just sees obedience and subjugation as the reality of marriage. What Adriana’s struggling through now – a seemingly cheating husband – would be too much for Luciana to bear patiently. Since she has decided a wife must bear everything patiently, she’ll wait to be married. This is all reminiscent of St. Paul’s Epistle to the Ephesians, which has the following to say on the subject of marriage, "Wives, submit yourselves unto your husbands" (5:22), "For the husband is the wife’s head" (5:23). The sisters seem to be on either side of St. Paul’s assessment; one wishes to submit, and isn’t yet ready to (Luciana), while the other doesn’t accept that she should submit at all (Adriana).

    How if your husband start some other where?
    Till he come home again, I would forbear.
    Patience unmoved! no marvel though she pause:
    They can be meek that have no other cause.
    A wretched soul, bruised with adversity
    We bid be quiet when we hear it cry,
    But were we burd'ned with like weight of pain,
    As much, or more, we should ourselves complain.
    So thou, that hast no unkind mate to grieve thee,
    With urging helpless patience would relieve me;
    But if thou live to see like right bereft,
    This fool-begged patience in thee will be left. (2.1.30-41)

    Luciana says if her husband were to wander from home (to another woman), she’d just have to bear it patiently until her husband came home again. Adriana immediately declares that Luciana’s idealized view of marriage results from her complete inexperience. While Adriana doesn’t disagree with Luciana in the abstract, the practical realities of marriage have left Adriana thinking very differently.

    How comes it now, my husband, O, how comes it
    That thou art then estrangèd from thyself?
    Thyself I call it, being strange to me,
    That, undividable, incorporate,
    Am better than thy dear self's better part.
    Ah, do not tear away thyself from me!
    For know, my love, as easy mayst thou fall
    A drop of water in the breaking gulf,
    And take unmingled thence that drop again
    Without addition or diminishing,
    As take from me thyself, and not me too.
    How dearly would it touch thee to the quick,
    Should'st thou but hear I were licentious,
    And that this body, consecrate to thee,
    By ruffian lust should be contaminate!
    Wouldst thou not spit at me and spurn at me,
    And hurl the name of husband in my face,
    And tear the stain'd skin off my harlot-brow,
    And from my false hand cut the wedding-ring,
    And break it with a deep-divorcing vow?
    I know thou canst, and therefore see thou do it.
    I am possessed with an adulterate blot;
    My blood is mingled with the crime of lust;
    For if we two be one, and thou play false,
    I do digest the poison of thy flesh,
    Being strumpeted by thy contagion.
    Keep then fair league and truce with thy true bed,
    I live distained, thou undishonored. (2.2.130-157)

    This is a fascinating chain of logic on marriage. Earlier, Luciana presented the simplistic argument that married women should patiently bear their husbands’ offenses because women are subordinate to men. In this quote, Adriana invokes St. Paul’s Epistle to the Ephesians masterfully: she doesn’t deny that women are subordinate to men, but instead suggests that because a man and woman become one in marriage, when a man harms his wife, he does harm against himself. Indeed, St. Paul writes, "So ought men to love their own wives, as their own bodies, he that loveth his wife, loveth himself. For no man ever yet hated his own flesh, but nourisheth it and cherisheth it" (5:28-9). Based on this logic, though Adriana seems shrewish, she just wants her husband to do right by her such that he is in turn honoring himself. But, we can’t tell if this is Adriana’s real motivation or just tricky rationalization to justify her anger at her husband.

    LUCIANA. And may it be that you have quite forgot
    A husband's office? Shall, Antipholus,
    Even in the spring of love, thy love-springs rot? (3.2.1-3)

    Luciana points out that it’s not only women who are restricted by marriage – men have obligations in marriage, too. Marriage demands concessions from both genders.

    While I go to the goldsmith's house, go thou
    And buy a rope's end. That will I bestow
    Among my wife and her confederates
    For locking me out of my doors by day. (4.1.15-18)

    Up to this point, we might have felt like Adriana was being particularly shrewish or possessive of her husband. Actually, though, E. Antipholus’s intention to beat his wife with a rope once he gets home reveals that the pair is pretty equally matched in their marital shrewness. Even if they don’t intend to actually hurt or hate each other, they’re both capable of some pretty nasty sentiments.

    I will attend my husband, be his nurse,
    Diet his sickness, for it is my office,
    And will have no attorney but myself;
    And therefore let me have him home with me. (5.1.102-105)

    Adriana is hell-bent on being a good wife, regardless of whether her husband is unfaithful or insane. We wonder if she’s been shamed into this position of having to prove her salt as a good and obedient woman.

  • Duty

    A doubtful warrant of immediate death,
    Which though myself would gladly have embraced,
    Yet the incessant weepings of my wife,
    Weeping before for what she saw must come,
    And piteous plainings of the pretty babes,
    That mourned for fashion, ignorant what to fear,
    Forced me to seek delays for them and me. (1.1.69-74)

    Egeon shows that he puts duty to his family above his own needs and intuitions. He says he was ready to die, except for the complaints of his wife, and the consequent weeping of all of the children. He also shows that he accepts responsibility for his family – his duty to them as a husband and father is to figure out how to make things work.

    A trusty villain, sir, that very oft,
    When I am dull with care and melancholy,
    Lightens my humor with his merry jests. (1.2.19-21)

    It seems the relationship between S. Antipholus and S. Dromio extends beyond that of master/attendant. The two take delight in each other, and it seems S. Dromio’s even able to get his melancholy master into better spirits sometimes. This is more than duty – it’s friendship.

    Perhaps some merchant hath invited him,
    And from the mart he's somewhere gone to dinner.
    Good sister, let us dine, and never fret.
    A man is master of his liberty;
    Time is their master, and when they see time
    They'll go or come. If so, be patient, sister. (2.1.4-9)

    Luciana seems to assert that a woman’s duty is to be patient, and they should be glad to do their duty to their men. (This is controversial, given Adriana’s position as the potential victim of her husband’s adultery.)

    So thou, that hast no unkind mate to grieve thee,
    With urging helpless patience would relieve me;
    But if thou live to see like right bereft,
    This fool-begged patience in thee will be left.
    Well, I will marry one day, but to try. (2.1.38-42)

    Luciana’s response to Adriana’s strident challenge seems to reveal that Luciana views marriage as some kind of necessity; she’ll try the holy union even if she might fail at being a good wife, or, worse, getting hurt. This quote shows how her duty to marry is an ought in women’s lives. (This stance is also in contrast to Shakespeare’s more headstrong, anti-marriage heroines, like Beatrice from Mucho Ado About Nothing.)

    Because that I familiarly sometimes
    Do use you for my fool and chat with you,
    Your sauciness will jest upon my love
    And make a common of my serious hours.
    When the sun shines let foolish gnats make sport,
    But creep in crannies when he hides his beams.
    If you will jest with me, know my aspect,
    And fashion your demeanor to my looks,
    Or I will beat this method in your sconce. (2.2.26-34)

    S. Antipholus reiterates that S. Dromio is his servant, regardless of the warm relationship they have together. The insinuation is that S. Dromio should tend to his duty before he tends to the tenuous friendship between the men. It seems the master/servant relationship is well-defined between the two, all the while their friendship is delicate and dependent upon S. Dromio’s performance as a servant. By beating and lecturing S. Dromio, S. Antipholus proves that he won’t hesitate to remind S. Dromio of his place.

    She that doth call me husband, even my soul
    Doth for a wife abhor. But her fair sister,
    Possessed with such a gentle sovereign grace,
    Of such enchanting presence and discourse,
    Hath almost made me traitor to myself.
    But lest myself be guilty to self wrong,
    I'll stop mine ears against the mermaid's song. (3.2.175-181)

    S. Antipholus has decided his first duty should be to himself, even if he doesn’t exactly have a perfect notion of his own identity. He trades his love for Luciana for safety against the threat of "self-wrong."

    To Adriana. That is where we dined,
    Where Dowsabel did claim me for her husband.
    She is too big, I hope, for me to compass.
    Thither I must, although against my will,
    For servants must their masters' minds fulfill. (4.1.111-115)

    S. Dromio seems to ignore all of the craziness going on by focusing on his duty. Even the Ephesian madness doesn’t make any sense, he’s just going to do as he’s told, because it’s his duty. Just as S. Antipholus hides behind cheap explanations of sorcery to excuse himself from finding the complex truth of the matter, S. Dromio hides behind duty.

    I have served him from
    the hour of my nativity to this instant, and have
    nothing at his hands for my service but blows.
    When I am cold he heats me with beating; when I
    am warm he cools me with beating. I am waked
    with it when I sleep, raised with it when I sit,
    driven out of doors with it when I go from home,
    welcomed home with it when I return. Nay, I bear it
    on my shoulders as beggar wont her brat, and I
    think when he hath lamed me, I shall beg with it
    from door to door. (4.4.33-43)

    E. Dromio, like S. Dromio, recognizes that he’s longsuffering. Though he chafes under it, it’s all he’s known since the moment he was born. It’s his duty to care for and endure his master. Still, it seems like E. Antipholus’s relationship with E. Dromio is less friendly and warm than S. Antipholus’s relationship with S. Dromio, which is revealing about either brother.

    LUCIANA. She never reprehended him but mildly
    When he demeaned himself rough, rude, and
    Why bear you these rebukes and answer not?
    ADRIANA. She did betray me to my own reproof.— (5.1.90-94)

    This is really interesting – though Luciana has been counseling her sister to relax, she’s the one who stands up against the Abbess on Adriana’s behalf. In contrast, Adriana shuts her mouth, lays down, and takes it. Even before this lecture, she’s kind of known that it was her wifely duty to be quiet and un-nagging (no matter how much she was wronged). The Abbess serves as a reminder to Adriana of her duty.

  • Rules and Order

    Merchant of Syracuse, plead no more.
    I am not partial to infringe our laws.
    The enmity and discord which of late
    Sprung from the rancorous outrage of your duke
    To merchants, our well-dealing countrymen,
    Who, wanting guilders to redeem their lives,
    Have sealed his rigorous statutes with their bloods,
    Excludes all pity from our threat'ning looks.
    For, since the mortal and intestine jars
    'Twixt thy seditious countrymen and us,
    It hath in solemn synods been decreed,
    Both by the Syracusians and ourselves,
    To admit no traffic to our adverse towns.
    Nay, more, if any born at Ephesus
    Be seen at any Syracusian marts and fairs;
    Again, if any Syracusian born
    Come to the bay of Ephesus-he dies,
    His goods confiscate to the Duke's dispose,
    Unless a thousand marks be levièd,
    To quit the penalty and to ransom him.
    Thy substance, valued at the highest rate,
    Cannot amount unto a hundred marks;
    Therefore by law thou art condemned to die. (1.1.3-25)

    The play commences with a display of the harshness of law and order. In complete contrast to the order and clarity of this law-bound introduction, the action in the play that follows is rather farcical. But actually, the decree that Syracusian merchants are condemned to death is a little arbitrary (or at least as arbitrary as the Syracusian Duke demanding the death of Ephesian merchants). This kind of whimsy is inherent in the law in Ephesus, so we glimpse the fact that law is not the be-all and end-all in the play. Some greater force than law and order ultimately will prevail.

    Now, trust me, were it not against our laws,
    Against my crown, my oath, my dignity,
    Which princes, would they, may not disannul,
    My soul should sue as advocate for thee. (1.1.142-145)

    The Duke seems to admit that justice and the law are not exactly commensurate. It’s clear that what’s right in Egeon’s situation is not following the law, but the law is what the Duke will choose anyway, regardless of whether it’s just. Why does he do that?

    Therefore, merchant, I'll limit thee this day
    To seek thy help by beneficial help.
    Try all the friends thou hast in Ephesus;
    Beg thou, or borrow, to make up the sum,
    And live. If no, then thou art doomed to die.— (1.1.150-154)

    This is pretty ridiculous – any just law shouldn’t have a price tag to out-buy it. It’s clear that the law isn’t inherently just – it might have more to do with keeping order (or retaliating against Syracuse) than any real moral principle.

    You'll cry for this, minion, if beat the door down.
                                                  [He beats the door down.]
    What needs all that, and a pair of stocks in the
       town? (3.1.91-93)

    Luce, the kitchen maid, appeals to law and order (in the form of the town stocks). She thinks law and order will solve whatever trouble is currently being stirred up by the seemingly crazy men outside. Again, it’s evidence that law and order fall short of being able to deliver justice and right all wrongs.

    Consent to pay thee that I never had?—
    Arrest me, foolish fellow, if thou dar'st.
    ANGELO [to Officer]
    Here is thy fee. Arrest him, officer. [Giving money.]
    I would not spare my brother in this case
    If he should scorn me so apparently.
    OFFICER [to E. Antipholus]
    I do arrest you, sir. You hear the suit.
    I do obey thee till I give thee bail.
    [to Angelo] But, sirrah, you shall buy this sport as
    As all the metal in your shop will answer.
    Sir, sir, I shall have law in Ephesus,
    To your notorious shame, I doubt it not. (4.1.75-86)

    E. Antipholus, though he’s in a rage, submits to the law. Even though justice is not being served by the law, Angelo’s invocation of law and order is strong enough to pull E. Antipholus into line. E. Antipholus also seems OK submitting to the officer. This is probably because E. Antipholus is confident that he can use the channels of the law (like bail) to get what he sees is justice. It’s clear that law in Ephesus doesn’t serve justice – it can be manipulated to other ends.

    Complain unto the Duke of this indignity.
    Come, go. I will fall prostrate at his feet
    And never rise until my tears and prayers
    Have won his Grace to come in person hither
    And take perforce my husband from the Abbess. (5.1.117-121)

    Though all evidence points to the incompetence and inefficacy of Ephesian law, the women turn to it to get E. Antipholus back. The law (and the Duke’s good sense) is once again held up as the factor that might lead to the play’s ultimate resolution.

    Why, what an intricate impeach is this!
    I think you all have drunk of Circe's cup. (5.1.277-278)

    The Duke, who is supposed to be the arbiter of law and order, and able to make sense out of confusion, declares that this situation is all madness. He alludes to the sorceress Circe of The Odyssey who transforms all the men to pigs by making them drink from her cup. "Their [the pig men’s] minds were unchanged, but their body’s, voices and heads were all swinish" (The Odyssey, Book X). All who drink Circe’s potion think everyone else is crazy, but that they themselves are perfectly sane. That does sound like the situation afoot in Ephesus. Even the law can’t sort this one out. It seems all is lost.

    One of these men is genius to the other.
    And so of these, which is the natural man
    And which the spirit? Who deciphers them? (5.1.343-345)

    Once again, law and order fail to save the day. The Duke, who should be the most sensible man in the city, decides that the root of the problem resides in the supernatural. He has no explanation to order the strange and sudden appearance of two sets of twins, and so he defaults into the same explanation of the supernatural everyone else used for the whole play. The Duke decides one man is "genius to the other," meaning something of an attendant spirit that was identical to a person, and believed to follow that person around though their life. No other explanation seems to fit their notion of order in Ephesus.