PAGE FOUR -- 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
Challenging the Male God
      In the following scene, Adriana directs her grievances at a stand-in husband; Antipholus of Syracuse not only doubles for his Ephesian twin but also symbolizes the male god and the unfaithful followers.  Adriana's sarcastic denial of her identity, "I am not Adriana, nor thy wife," hints at the multiple roles each actor will play, at the repetition of mirrored identities (II.ii.113).  As Alexander Leggatt explains, "the characters seem at times to inhabit different worlds, different orders of experience" (3).  Making her passionate plea for reunion, Adriana refers to a "drop of water in the breaking gulf" to demonstrate "undividable" bonds (II.ii.123,127).  The Greek name Artemis means "high source of water," giving the analogy an additional spiritual context; man comes from woman and thus cannot separate fully.  Monica Sjöö and Barbara Mor describe, "All life is created out of the Mother and is one with her. Therefore no life can be taken without her permission. All lifeblood belongs to her and must be returned to the earth sacredly" (210).  Scholar Robert Ornstein observes that "Adriana regards the bond between husband and wife as intrinsic as that which links father to child" (29). 
      If she is viewed as a spokeswoman for Diana, then Adriana's jealousy would be directed against exclusion by the ultimate father-son pairing, the Holy Father and Jesus Christ.  Adriana's attack on Antipholus for spurning the marital bonds also conjures the long ancestral merging of gods and goddesses.  An obscure inscription found on a Hebrew artifact links Yahweh of Samaria to a female consort, Asherah, a precursor to Diana (Mercatante 75).  Although Shakespeare lived long before this archaeological discovery, certainly the bard may have wondered why Yahweh claimed to create alone.  If our deaths reveal the eternal truth of one unifying spirit or life-force, then the splintering of gods and goddesses misleads us.  And from a twentieth-century perspective, when one god "play(s) false," or even one television evangelist follows a sinful path, the whole pantheon of sects and denominations becomes suspect: "strumpeted by . . . contagion" (II.ii.143, 145). 
     In desperation, Adriana attempts reunification with her spouse by assuming a submissive position.  In a subscene often portrayed with great eroticism on stage, Adriana cries, "Come, I will fasten on this sleeve on thine: / Thou art an elm, my husband, I a vine" (II.ii.174-5).  The great mother goddess lowers herself, clinging, sacrificing pride for survival.  In this act of self-abasement, Adriana draws on Old Testament symbolism of the vine, planted by God to make "good roots" and allowed to "put out boughs all the way to the sea" (Psalms 80:8-12). Psalms of "supplication" offer a "poetic cry of distress" (Alter 248); the poet of Psalm 80 pleads with God to "tend" the vine (80:14) and to protect the vine from "them that set fire to it or cut it down" (80:16).  In her desperation, Adriana grants both Antipholus and God the primary position -- as tree or as planter -- in exchange for the protection of her status.  Given the long history of sacrilegious destruction of the Artemision shine, Adriana as Goddess also seeks protection of her shrine.  In this multi-layered play, male characters represent both male gods and male followers of the goddess.  Adriana warns Antipholus that he may be misled by intruders: "dross / Usurping ivy, briar, or idle moss" who "Infect thy sap and live on thy confusion" (II.ii.178-181).  Webster's New World Dictionary defines dross as "scum formed on the surface of molten metal," an allusion back to the reduced value of Demetrius' silver statues as a result of Paul's missionary efforts.  Just as bramble and moss overgrow ignored shrines, new gods forcefully overwhelm worshippers and distract attention from predecessor deities. 
Gender-Based Jealousy
      Overlapping jealousy, aggression, fear, and desire displayed by Adriana parallels the conflicting impulses of love and hate between deities.  The Greek word zelos refers to "passionate ardor in pursuit of something, encompassing both jealousy and zeal" (Barker 9).  The envy of a patriarchal god toward the fertility of a matriarchal goddess becomes first the zeal of missionaries like Saint Paul, then the jealousy of an ignored goddess, and finally the panic of desperate Adriana or the fear of Demetrius the silversmith.  Witnessing the forward march of Christianity and perhaps anticipating the mass crusades to follow, the goddess must merge -- subordinating her creative force to his destructive force.  The hundred breasts of Ephesian Diana both tempts as life force, as sexual profusion, yet also terrifies by sheer excess.  Her abundance both promises intimate connection and emphasizes genital difference.  As Katharine Eisaman Maus explains, jealousy "is predicated upon a consciousness of distance as well as a consciousness of intimacy" (570).  Awed by the fundamental mystery of how a woman gives birth, men can either worship this power or attack "the yawning mouth of the womb-tomb, abysmally prolific with children and with death, threatening castration" (Sjöö and Mor 184).  Under Roman rule, Diana became "Goddess of the witches" and "wore a necklace of testicles" (183).  Passions triggered by gender-based jealousy include both the desire to possess the other and the terror of being cannibalized in the process.
Author: Elizabeth Howell Brunner
Main Web Site: