The Comedy of Errors | Study Guide

William Shakespeare

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The Comedy of Errors | Act 2, Scene 1 | Summary

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Summary

The scene shifts to the home of Antipholus of Ephesus. Adriana, Antipholus of Ephesus's wife, is upset with her husband for taking so long in coming to dinner. She suspects he is cheating on her, and his frequent business lunches are just a cover for an affair. Luciana, Adriana's sister, tries to calm her down by arguing it is a wife's duty to obey her husband unquestioningly. This, Adriana protests, is nonsense; she chides her sister for being naive.

Dromio of Ephesus enters, bearing strange news. Instead of agreeing to come home to dinner, he reports, his master rambled on about a large sum of gold. Worse, he claimed to be a single man and to have no idea who Adriana is. Alarmed by this development, Adriana sends Dromio of Ephesus back to retrieve Antipholus at once. As soon as Dromio leaves, Adriana breaks down, believing her husband has abandoned her. Luciana urges her sister not to torture herself with "mad jealousy," but Adriana sees no reason to believe Antipholus of Ephesus is faithful. She resolves to "weep ... away" what remains of her life.

Analysis

Adriana and Luciana represent two very different attitudes toward early modern womanhood. Luciana has bought into the notion—widely promoted in Shakespeare's time—that a wife's duty is to obey her husband and take care of the household. In this line of thinking, matters outside the home are strictly the husband's prerogative. Adriana doesn't agree at all: she thinks a woman who will be "bridled" by her husband is an "ass," a simple-minded beast of burden.

Even if her husband is cheating, Adriana realizes, there is no socially acceptable solution but to stay home and try to be patient. There's no way of finding out the truth, or of avenging herself if it turns out he has been unfaithful. Thus, Adriana is left to ruminate on the mere possibility some other woman—perhaps someone younger and more carefree—has stolen her husband's affections. When he returns home, Dromio of Ephesus accidentally stirs up these anxieties by describing Antipholus as "horn mad": in Elizabethan times, horns were a proverbial symbol for a husband whose wife had been unfaithful. Antipholus of Syracuse, whom Dromio of Ephesus has mistaken for his master, also contributes to Adriana's unease: from her point of view, it looks like her own husband is refusing to recognize her in public.

In her attempt to calm Adriana down, Luciana appeals to examples from the animal kingdom, in which—so she claims—females always obey their mates. "The beasts, the fishes, and the wingèd fowls," Luciana argues, "are their males' subjects and at their controls." From this she concludes it is only natural for men to be "masters to their females, and their lords." Her speech is similar to a roughly contemporary monologue by Katherine, the "tamed" wife in The Taming of the Shrew, who instructs a group of newlywed women as to their duties toward their husbands. Luciana, however, is single, so in Adriana's book her marital advice does not carry much weight.

Luciana is not the only character who will hold Adriana to an impossible standard of wifely patience and obedience. Antipholus of Ephesus himself, later in the play, will become enraged at Adriana for locking him out of his home; it simply never occurs to him to ask for her side of the story. Then in Act 5 Adriana's mother-in-law Emilia will preach about the need to keep a tighter rein on her husband, without ever "upbraiding" him or "railing" against him. Adriana is trapped in a society that blames her for her husband's infidelity, then blames her again when she complains about it.

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