PAGE FIVE -- 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. 
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The Courtesan as Seductive Goddess
      The primal fear of female fecundity leads male characters to accuse female characters of witchcraft and sorcery.  Observing the sexual invitation of Adriana to the wrong Antipholus, Syracuse Dromio suspects black magic: "They'll such our breath, or pinch us black and blue" (II.ii.194).  Monica Sjöö and Barbara Mor trace how similar contortions led early Christians to believe that "Diana the Moon was the Devil incarnate" and resulted in both the "smashing of Dianic cults in the Mediterranean, as well as later church persecutions of witches in Europe" (209).  Upon meeting the Courtesan, Syracuse Antipholus borrows language from the Book of Matthew to protect himself: "Satan, avoid! I charge thee, tempt me not!" (IV.iii.49).  Dromio warns that the Courtesan is "the devil's dam [mother]" (IV.iii.53) and incorporates scripture: "It is written, they appear to men like angels of light" (IV.iii.56-7).  This phrase alludes to an image from Paul in Second Corinthians: "Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light" (11:15).  Michael Goulder explains that Paul wrote Second Corinthians after leaving Ephesus, at the "nadir of his life" (489),  after the missionary effort experienced a burden "so heavy" that Paul's followers "even despaired of life" (2 Cor. 1:8). 
      Similarly, Antipholus and Dromio face the Courtesan in Act IV after the exhausting hysteria of errors upon errors.  The wary men use biblical authority to denounce perceived demons, just as Christian crusaders used accusations of devil-worship to condemn nonbelievers.  Likewise, in 400 A.D., a Christian destroyed an Ephesian statue of Diana, "boast[ing] that he had finally torn down the 'Demon Diana.'" (Sjöö and Mor 208).  By personifying the rampant sexuality of a multi-breasted goddess, the Courtesan both intimidates and seduces men.  Her open sensuality requires damnation in the strictly ordered world of patriarchy, to prevent mankind from returning to the "popular festivals of Artemis . . . celebrated on nights of the full moon, when worshipers would gather in the goddess' wood and give themselves over to her power in revels and anonymous matings."  (Monaghan 28).
     However in Comedy of Errors, the Courtesan focuses not on orgiastic sexuality but rather on the possession of material goods and the right to justice.  Like a ritual prostitute-priestess in ancient cults, she must preserve the wealth of the temple.  Shakespeare clearly states her intent: "Give me the ring of mine you had at dinner, / Or, for my diamond, the chain you promised, / And I'll be gone, sir, and not trouble you" (IV.iii.69-71).  The Courtesan requires a fair exchange for her treasures.  Just as Demetrius fears that the silversmiths' "line of business will be discredited" and that "the great goddess Diana will cease to command respect" (Act 19:27-30), female characters insist on fairness from the men because the Ephesian matriarchy stands in jeopardy.  In naming the courtesan's home the Porpentine, Shakespeare plays with a symbol associated with the goddess.  Tracing "the Great Goddess' epiphany in the form of a hedgehog," Gimbutas connects porcupines with magical nocturnal powers, superstitions about sexuality, terracotta figurines dedicated to goddesses, and votive offerings of spiked wooden balls called "uteri" (180).  Such tributes to the goddess indicate her power within the culture. 
 Confronting Dichotomies
        Although we might expect hostility between Adriana and the Courtesan, the women join instead with the exorcist Doctor Pinch to extract due homage from Antipholus.  The fast-paced comedy at the end of Act Four offers more than amusement.  Shakespeare illustrates the shifting dichotomy between good and evil, victim and accuser, sane and mad -- the blurring of distinctions through misperception -- which distinguishes both the play and the religious realm.  Francis Fergusson suspects that "the arabesques of absurdity in The Comedy of Errors might continue indefinitely, or at least to the limits of the author's ingenuity and the audience's complacency" (17).  The pace quickens, accusations fly, and errors multiply, as Shakespeare moves further and further away from the plausible.  Adriana accuses her spouse, "Dissembling villain, thou speak'st false . . ." (IV.iv.101).  "Dissembling harlot, thou art false in all," retaliates Antipholus of Ephesus (IV.iv.102).  Their verbal sparring parodies the confrontation between rival religions, accusing one another of diabolical deeds, falseness, and harlotry. 
Author: Elizabeth Howell Brunner
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