By Charles Matthews

Saturday, June 4, 2011

3. The Comedy of Errors, by William Shakespeare, pp. 19-39

The Comedy of Errors (Arden Shakespeare: Second Series)
Act II

Scene I 

Adriana is fretting to her sister, Luciana, because Antipholus hasn't come home for dinner yet, and it's two o'clock. (The last we heard it was about noon.)  Luciana tells her not to fret: Maybe he was held up on business, and after all, he's a man, and "A man is master of his liberty." This doesn't satisfy Adriana at all, of course, and she takes a defiantly feminist position: "Why should their liberty than ours be more?" The two sisters then launch into a back-and-forth session of stichomythia, in which each gets a line of verse that the other answers with a rhyme. 

Luciana then gets the first extended speech defending her view of a marriage in which the wife submits to the husband. As the notes remind us, the position she takes has the biblical authority of St. Paul's epistle to the Ephesians, echoed in the very setting of the play in Ephesus. She argues that "headstrong liberty is lash'd with woe," and that the subjection of wives has its source in natural law: "The beasts, the fishes, and the winged fowls / Are their males' subjects, and at their controls." (The Elizabethan pronunciation of "fowls" seems to rhyme with "controls," as it does with "souls" a few lines later.) 

The sisters set to with another bout of stichomythia after Adriana reports that this attitude is what keeps Luciana from marrying, and that if she were married she'd change her mind. And she launches into her extended replay to Luciana's praise of submission, arguing that Luciana counsels a kind of patience that Luciana herself doesn't have to bear:
A wretched soul bruis'd with adversity,
We bid be quiet when we hear it cry;
But were we burden'd 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-begg'd patience in thee will be left.
Luciana puts an end to the debate by noting the arrival of Dromio. Adriana begins to question him about Antipholus's tardiness, and Dromio tells her about the quarrel he has just had with Antipholus of Syracuse, making him think that his master (i.e., Antipholus of Ephesus) has gone mad. Adriana angrily sends him out to fetch her husband, and abuses the reluctant Dromio until he leaves. 

Adriana is convinced that she has lost her beauty and that Antipholus has found someone else. He has promised to bring her a "chain," i.e., a necklace, and she hopes that it will prove a token of his love. Luciana can only remark that Adriana's jealousy is getting hold of her. 

Scene II

Antipholus of Syracuse has been to the Centaur inn and found that Dromio has delivered the money with which he entrusted him, so he's feeling somewhat better. Dromio of Syracuse now enters, and is puzzled when Antipholus begins taunting him with the conversation he had earlier had with Dromio of Ephesus: 
How now, sir, is your merry humour alter'd?
As you love strokes, so jest with me again.
You know no Centaur? you receiv'd no gold?
Your mistress sent to have me home to dinner?
My house was at the Phoenix? Was thou mad
That thus so madly thou didst answer me?
Dromio-S. obviously has no idea what his master is talking about. His denials enrage Antipholus-S., who begins to beat him. Antipholus thinks Dromio has grown too familiar in his joking, but then they fall into a kind of vaudeville routine based on puns about basting meat and baldness, which continues for a while until Adriana and Luciana appear. 

Of course, Adriana thinks Antipholus-S. is her husband, and when he quite naturally recoils from being addressed as "my husband" by a woman he's never seen before, she laments their estrangement. She also expresses herself in terms that Antipholus-S. used in Act I, Scene II, when he compared his search for his brother as like trying to find a drop of water in the ocean: 
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. 
Antipholus protests that he been in Ephesus only two hours, and can't possibly be the husband she is seeking. Luciana interjects that her sister sent Dromio to fetch him, which puzzles Dromio-S. "I never saw her till this time," he protests, to which Antipholus-S. replies, "Villain, thou liest, for even her very words / Didst thou deliver to me on the mart." And if she's never seen them, he asks, how does she know their names?

Adriana now thinks it wise to play the submissive wife, despite her earlier rejection of the notion: "Thou art an elm, my husband, I a vine, / Whose weakness married to thy stronger state, / Makes me with thy strength to communicate." And Antipholus-S. decides that he's been bewitched and had better play along with it until he can break the spell:
To me she speaks, she moves me for her theme;
What, was I married to her in my dream?
Or sleep I now, and think I hear all this?
What error drives out eyes and ears amiss?
Until I know this sure uncertainty,
I'll entertain the offer'd fallacy. 
Dromio-S. is even more certain that some supernatural force is at work: "O for my beads; I cross me for a sinner. / This is the fairy land; O spite of spites, / We talk with goblins, elves and sprites." He asks Antipholus if he has been "transformed," and Antipholus replies, "I think thou art in mind, and so am I." But Dromio is convinced first that he's been turned into an ape, but when Luciana says, "If thou art chang'd to aught, 'tis to an ass," he agrees: "'Tis true, she rides me, and I long for grass." And so they go off to dinner with Adriana and Luciana.

A 1978 TV version by the Royal Shakespeare Company featured Roger Rees as Antipholus of Syracuse, Michael Williams as Dromio of Syracuse, Judi Dench as Adriana, Francesca Annis as Luciana, and Susan Dury as Luce:

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