Throughout history, perspectives on marriage have shifted extensively. At present, modern views on marriage have broken the pattern of a more traditional dynamic in which the man was portrayed as superior head of the household and the women was meant for cooking, bearing children, and submission to her husband. Married men and women are now treated as equal partners and loving companions. In Comedy of Errors, Shakespeare reveals his ideas regarding marriage through the play’s setting, the relational dynamic between Antipholus and Adriana, and the use of verse.
The first indication of Shakespeare’s marital ideals is the very location in which his play occurs: the city of Ephesus. Ephesus is the setting of The Book of Ephesians from the New Testament. In this part of the Bible, the Apostle Paul wrote his beliefs; he urges readers to treat each other as they would treat God. Paul clearly states that a man must respect and love his wife as Christ loves the church, by treating her as his own flesh (Smith). Shakespeare’s use of this Biblical setting suggests that he holds a more modern view on marriage than was typical at the time he was writing.
Shakespeare’s description of the relationship between Adriana and Antipholus of Ephesus also gives insight to his views on marriage. In the beginning of the play, the audience learns that Antipholus hasn’t been coming home on time or even at all. As a result, Adriana is upset and believes her husband is being unfaithful. She does not believe it is fair for her husband to act this way and asks, “Why should their liberty than ours be more?” (2.1.10). Throughout the play Adriana makes remarks like these which suggest that she is a progressive thinker and Shakespeare leads the audience to sympathize with her struggles. In doing so, he points to the fact that he too believes that women should be treated with a greater fairness in their relationships.
Additional hints of Shakespeare’s marital perspectives can be found in the stylistic elements of his writing. From beginning to end, Shakespeare writes in verse whenever Adriana, Lucina, or some other women are speaking in Comedy of Errors, such as the conversation between Adriana and Luciana in Act 2. Luciana says, “Why, headstrong liberty is lashed with woe.”(2.1.15) which is an example of verse. Historically, lines in verse were given to more respected characters which means for most authors during this time period, verse was reserved for men. But, for Shakespeare, females of significance were given this honor as well. This suggests that he viewed women as valuable partners, worthy of their husband’s respect.
While some 16th century plays match the marital tone of the time period in which they were written, others seem to reach ahead into the future. Overall, this play’s setting, the relationship between Antipholus and Adriana, and the use of verse demonstrate that Shakespeare was well beyond his time when it came to his beliefs about marriage. More often than not, his writing proposed that wives should be thought of as peers rather than property and challenged audience members to question traditional marital norms. There is no doubt that Shakespeare valued men and women as equal partners and believed in a modern view of marriage.
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