Isolation is the central tenet of The Comedy of Errors. It’s not something the characters talk about explicitly, but it’s the subtext that threads through most of the play and motivates the action. The most important forms of isolation presented are isolation from family and from knowledge of one’s self. Ending isolation is a motivating force for S. Antipholus and his father, Egeon. The main character, S. Antipholus, has been separated from his family, and seemingly, this isolation may be at the root his feelings of isolation from himself. He lacks self-knowledge and is constantly seeking something outside of himself to fill his inner void. On the other hand, Egeon is isolated from his family, which leads him to feelings of hopelessness. There’s also emotional isolation occurring between a married couple when the man seems to be cheating on his wife. The cause and consequence of the isolation differ in each case, but together these variations on the same theme ground the play. All characters who feel isolation expect that ending their solitude (physical or emotional) will lead to happiness. Indeed, overcoming isolation becomes the means to a happy (and comical) resolution of the play.
Questions About Isolation
How is S. Antipholus isolated? Is he more isolated from his lost family, or his notion of self? Is there anyone in the play to whom he relates as familiar? What role does S. Dromio play with regard to S. Antipholus’s isolation? Luciana? E. Antipholus?
Is Egeon a believable character? Is he isolated, or has he just been abandoned? What’s the difference?
Does E. Antipholus feel isolated? How do we describe his relationship to his wife Adriana, and his long-lost brother? Does it seem like anything is resolved for E. Antipholus once he’s reunited with his family at the end of the play? Why or why not?
The play is predicated upon the split of the six members of Egeon’s inner circle – how does each deal differently with his or her separation? Does the separation cause isolation for each of them? How else can their separation be interpreted?
Chew on This
Isolation is the central tenet of the play, as the play is moved along by each of the characters’ attempts to deal with their isolation.
The Abbess and Egeon deal with their isolation by sacrificing their lives – Aemilia gives up her family life to be devoted to God, and Egeon is literally willing to die after he gives up hope for his lost family. The isolation of the younger generation is nowhere near as grave because they’ve never experienced anything different.