Study Guide

The Comedy of Errors Duty

By William Shakespeare

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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.

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