Study Guide

The Comedy of Errors Marriage

By William Shakespeare


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.

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