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Restoring Goddess Diana: 
Subtexts of Jealousy in Shakespeare's The Comedy of Errors
Written by Elizabeth Howell Brunner at Cal Poly, 1997, for English 431: Shakespeare Seminar, taught by Professor Steven Marx.  Posted online December 1999. 
Intro | Page Two | Page Three | Page Four | Page Five | Page Six | Page Seven | Works Cited
Introduction
     In a moment of foolhardy adventure, I married a smiling Turkish factory owner while on vacation in Istanbul.  How delicious to escape the post-college boredom of underemployment through trip after trip to the land of oversweetened baklava, precarious camel rides, and men who spy fertility within oversized women. America's war with Sadaam Hussein interrupted my plans for Turkish bliss and soon this foreign man, smelling of lemon oil, stepped off a plane in Los Angeles, planning to be my husband.  The honeymoon period lasted long enough to sample every Middle Eastern restaurant in Southern California, but ultimately his Mediterranean temper led to overwhelming jealousy.  Mehmet stalked me to the library, suspecting illicit affairs rather than a desire to read; he wrote marginal animosities throughout my journal, flung my favorite novels against the wall, and yelled "You love books more than me."  He expected the sacrifice of all exterior passions for the single role of wife. 
      This brief experiment with both marriage and jealousy -- at an absurd, comic level -- provides the backdrop for my fascination with Shakespeare's Adriana.  Perhaps the earliest and certainly the shortest of Shakespeare's plays, The Comedy of Errors could be dismissed as pure farce, but such scholars as Patricia Parker redeem the text through painstaking detective work, recovering allusions, echoes, and encoding.  Attempting the same recovery of subtext, I argue that the five female characters -- Adriana, Luciana, the kitchen maid, the courtesan, and abbess Emilia --  represent incarnations of Goddess Diana of Ephesus and that references to the jealous conflict between patriarchal gods and the matriarchal goddesses provide a subtheme throughout the play. 
Biblical Allusions
     The connections between The Comedy of Errors, the missionary travels of St. Paul, Christian themes of redemption, and Shakespeare's deliberate decision to move a plot borrowed from Plautus to the historical city of Ephesus have been carefully explored by scholars.  In 1965, T.W. Baldwin explained that Shakespeare, like most Renaissance schoolboys, probably studied the Book of Acts in depth and tracked Paul's movements on a textbook map (116).  For T.G. Bishop, writing over thirty years later, the link depends more on style than geography; he argues that Shakespeare borrows from the Pauline text a "figurative substrate of images and associations in which incarnation is the principal trope for all kinds of unification" and in which language becomes "sacrament-like" (87).  Patricia Parker's influential article, "Shakespeare and the Bible: The Comedy of Errors," discusses the Renaissance tradition of "assimilation," normally used to preference the Bible, but modified by Shakespeare so that "appropriations and analogies" allow "the language of different discourses and different contexts" to demonstrate both "the complex negotiations" and the "disjunctive incompatibility" between various allusions (67).  Towards the end of her article, Parker challenges critics "to recognize the complex workings of such networks" of allusions through careful decoding and then to interpret the goal and impact of these allusional frameworks (67). 
Author: Elizabeth Howell Brunner
Email: liz@grantproposal.com
Main Web Site: www.calpoly.edu/~ebrunner