PAGE THREE -- 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
Adriana and the Divine Power Struggle
      While Shakespeare teases us with the metamorphosing goddess, Adriana best recalls the status of Ephesian Diana during the era of Paul's missionary travels. Adriana struggles for recognition from a neglectful husband, just as the female deity fought against the Christian conversion of her followers.  Blaze Bonazza summarizes the playwright's transformation of Adriana from "the totally unattractive Mulier of Plautus" into a well-rounded character, a "jealous, possessive woman genuinely in love with her husband, capable of reformation, and worthy of reconciliation" (42).  This critical assessment of a reformable wife parallels the efforts of a long line of invaders to reshape and incorporate the primitive goddess within a new religious paradigm.  In the same way that Diana is alternately condemned as a witch and transformed into the Virgin Mary, responses to Adriana range from "twit" muttered by my seminar classmate and "stupidity" proclaimed by E.M.W. Tillyard (qtd. in Missire) to Susan Bertish's dignified representation of Adriana as a "commanding figure" and "justly aggrieved wife" in the 1984 BBC production (Roberts 4).  Adriana represents sexual and fertile womanhood in the prime of life, but concerned about the loss of her charms due to the aging process and possessive of the male consorts attracted during an earlier period.  Such a description could also be applied to goddess Diana: a symbol of fertility firmly established within a cult of worshippers but concerned about losing dominance. 
      We first meet Adriana in Act II as she checks the clock, worries about her husband's tardiness, and meditates on issues of gender politics.  When sister Luciana advices patience because "A man is master of his liberty" (II.i.7), Adriana retorts, "Why should their liberty than ours be more?" (II.i.10).  Immediately, Adriana becomes a feminist heroine, voicing the fundamental question of the women's movement.  Her words both assert the right of womankind to full freedom and the obligation of men to be accountable.  As Harold Brooks observes, "Adriana's envy of a husband's status contravenes principles of order that for Shakespeare and orthodox Elizabethans extended throughout the whole cosmos" (66).  While marriage restricts Adriana's ability to act at will, patriarchal religion restricts the power of the goddess.  Within the setting of Ephesus and against the background of Paul's conversion campaign, liberty also means the freedom of religious expression, which in turn implies the choice between an ancient maternal goddess native to this territory and the usurping paternal gods shoved forward during both the Hellenistic and Christian periods. 
     The theme of liberty leads to a discussion of restrictions on power, using metaphors from the animal kingdom.  Luciana warns Adriana that Antipholus as husband will rightfully "bridle" her will (II.i.13).  Yet Adriana scorns any foolish woman who submits this easily: "There's none but asses will be bridled so" (II.i.14).  Shakespeare's metaphor alludes to the ancient tradition of victorious gods and kings riding on asses; Zechariah's prophecy that the Messiah would reclaim Jerusalem, "mounted on . . . the young of a she-ass" and extend "his rule . . . from sea to sea" (9:9-10) came true when Jesus arrived by humble donkey for his Triumphal Entry (Achtemeier 76).  Since the success of a new religion requires usurping the powers of a previous sect, Christ rides figuratively on the back of a matriarchal deity.  Adriana refuses to be placed in such a subordinate position. 
    Luciana continues her reasoning with another reference to wildlife: "The beasts, the fishes, and the winged fowls / Are their males' subjects, and at their controls" because the male, inherently "more divine," serves as "the master of all these" (II.i.18-20).  The choice of the word divine emphasizes the true topic of debate: not the roles of wife and husband, but the roles of gods and goddesses.  Diana traditionally rules "the greenwood" and serves as "mistress of the animals" (Monaghan 27).  In the Ephesian temple, the goddess' marble skirt was decorated "with bands of animals and birds"(Achtemeier 66).  The temple was surrounded by woods of "rare trees" and possibly "deer parks" (MacMullen 35).  Psychologists Jennifer and Roger Woolger describe how Artemis "becomes a rather charming adolescent goddess of the hunt" in Homeric mythology, losing her "primordial" and "all-encompassing power" (28).  Luciana portrays this young co-opted goddess, naively believing the Greek legends and mouthing patriarchal platitudes in the guise of rationalism.  But Adriana, as the older and wiser incarnation, remembers that in the battle between the sexes, the matriarchal tradition of unity with nature predates claims for male prerogative.   In a confusing passage in 1 Corinthians, Paul writes that he "fought with beasts at Ephesus" (15:32), offering another layer of meaning since Artemis is sometimes called the "Lady of the Beasts." Divine authority over the animal kingdom parallels gender rule over the household. 
      Adriana's concerns over the maintenance of her beauty contains similar references to divine competition.  The question "Hath homely age th' alluring beauty took / From my poor cheek?" (II.i. 89-90) can also refer to Diana's Temple, known as the Artemision, reduced to one remaining column by Shakespeare's age.  Adriana justifiably accuses that "he hath wasted it" and challenges "What ruins are in me that can be found, / By him not ruined?" (II.i.90, 96-7).   Male invaders throughout history denigrated the shrine and the famous statues.  Followers of the apostle Paul are equally guilty: archaeologists found "a fifth-century inscription mentioning the replacement of a statue of the goddess by a cross" (Achtemeier 66).  When Adriana worries over "Barren my wit?"  (II.i.91), she alludes to the preemption of female fertility by the Judeo-Christian God who creates without a partner.  Marija Gimbutas describes the pre-agricultural "Goddess of Regeneration" as "giver of life and all that promotes fertility" (152).  Even Hellenic Diana remained the "Goddess of Childbirth," a divine "midwife" helping pregnant women (Sjoo and Mor 208).  The fertility of the goddess' wit or intellect fades when her legendary powers lose currency, when followers like "unruly deer" --  a reference to the stags so often pictured at the side of huntress Diana --  "doth homage otherwhere" (II.i.100, 104).  In the same way that a woman thrives under the attentions of a lover, the goddess requires loyal admirers in order to retain her appeal through the generations.
Author: Elizabeth Howell Brunner
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