Study Guide

The Comedy of Errors Appearances

By William Shakespeare

Appearances

EGEON
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.

ADRIANA
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.

LUCIANA
Or, if you like elsewhere, do it by stealth —
   Muffle your false love with some show of
      blindness.
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.

ADRIANA
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.

COURTESAN
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.

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