Study Guide

The Comedy of Errors Duty

By William Shakespeare

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Duty in The Comedy of Errors is the stuff of wives, husbands, servants, citizens, parents, and children. Basically, everyone owes some duty to someone else, and each struggles to anticipate the others’ needs and do what’s expected. In the most explicit sense, the women and servants are subjected to the men, and it is their duty to serve the men’s needs. Beyond the duty of subordinates, marriage charges men with the duty to be faithful husbands. Egeon, the lost and despairing father, illustrates the duty men have toward their families. Egeon’s inability to protect and keep together his family is enough to make him feel like a worthless man. When characters feel they are not fulfilling their duty, self-doubt and shame result.

Questions About Duty

  1. E. Antipholus, though he doesn’t seem elated to have found his long lost twin, almost immediately offers up the ransom for his long lost father. Does E. Antipholus just see family as one of the many duties he has to take care of? Does he think of his duty as a labor of love, or just a job?
  2. Why do the Dromios put up with so much abuse? What do they see as their real duty to the Antipholi? Do they perform this duty because they’re bondsmen, or maybe out of love, or just because they don’t know anything else? Is the devotion of the Dromios realistic, especially given their treatment by the Antipholi?
  3. Does S. Antipholus have a duty to anyone but himself? Is he the play’s only character that operates entirely for his own ends, and not because of complicated relationships with others?
  4. Luciana counsels S. Antipholus to keep his love for her secret from his Adriana (his "wife"), instead of chiding him for having adulterous feelings. Still, she tells her sister about the incident. How do we explain this? Is Luciana torn between her perceived duty to not criticize men, and her familial duty to her sister?

Chew on This

Adriana doesn’t actually feel any duty to her husband. She rankles at being a subservient wife, and her decision to have him bound and gagged and locked in the basement "for his own good" is really just her way of getting back at him for what she presumes to be his unfaithful behavior.

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