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.|
|Vulnerable to Misplaced Belief|
| Both the Ephesians and the visitors
resort to insults when the situational comedy defies rational explanation.
As Steven Shelburne identifies, characters consistently adopt "the wrong
paradigms to explain their strange experiences" (146). Shelburne
connects the overlapping errors to misguided belief: "They err repeatedly
because they believe the wrong things or because they fail to believe the
right ones" (147). In the same way, humankind bounces between the
false gods and the newer not-yet-discredited gods. A fundamental drive to believe leaves us vulnerable to misplaced beliefs; we become trapped: simultaneously reluctant to forsake any existing belief system, no matter how irrational, while also desperate for the most recently offered spiritual framework, no matter how absurd. Beneath this, we face lingering suspicions that belief itself is foolish. Many of us compromise with a vague alternative: part generic spirituality and part scientific rationalism, somewhere between self-determination and a helpless dependence on fate.
|Emilia as Goddess of the Waning Moon|
|Despite our unresolvable perplexity about the afterlife, our corporal bodies expect more immediate resolution: a theatrical production should last no longer than the endurance of the human bladder. As Marchette Chute points out, Shakespeare once again strays from realism to enforce a conclusion: "It would have been quite impossible to find a lady abbess in the real city of Ephesus ..." (17). Harold Brooks connects Apollonius of Tyre (Shakespeare's source for Pericles) in which Apollonius "discovers his wife in the Priestess of Diana's temple" with the Abbey of Ephesus, which most likely also represents the famous shrine (65). In fact, Harry Levin describes a 19th century American production of The Comedy of Errors that included Amazonian ballerinas and "a procession for the tutelary goddess, Diana" (181).|
|Emilia embodies Goddess Diana as the waning moon, as the crone, with her ancient wisdom subdued by the onslaught of patriarchy. Shelburne argues that only the abbess can "disentangle the confusion that others have created for themselves" because "she alone is spiritually prepared for the moment of recognition" (147). More accurately perhaps, only Emilia stands ready to recognize alternate truths. After decades of dwelling within her own sadness and regret over lost progeny, the abbess places the merging of two before the pride of one. She reprimands her younger incarnation, bold Adriana, for aggressiveness: "thy jealous fits/ Hath scared thy husband from the use of wits" (V.i.85-6). The abbess advocates tolerance, compromise, and patience.|
|Author: Elizabeth Howell Brunner
Main Web Site: www.calpoly.edu/~ebrunner