The wife of Antipholus of Ephesus, Adriana first appears mourning her husband’s absence from dinner and wondering whether he has lost his romantic appreciation for her. Luciana counsels her to be patient and allow E. Antipholus as much liberty as he wants, but Adriana insists that she cannot always make her own desires and needs be of secondary importance. When the two sisters find S. Antipholus in the marketplace, Adriana pleads and manages to persuade her husband’s twin to ‘‘come home’’ for dinner. Adriana is later told by Luciana that S. Antipholus was professing his love for Luciana. While despairing, Adriana nonetheless sends bail money through S. Dromio to her true husband (which he never receives). After being visited by the Courtesan, Adriana brings Doctor Pinch to cure her husband of his seeming insanity, and when he is taken home, she goes off seeking to pay her husband’s debt. After more confusion at the Priory, Adriana is told by the Abbess, Emilia, that she needs to nag her husband less if she wishes to have a harmonious relationship with him.
Although the plot of The Comedy of Errors revolves around the actions of the brothers Antipholus, Adriana is perhaps the play’s most profound and intriguing persona. Where the emotional affectations of the other characters remain fairly static throughout (S. Antipholus is nearly always confused, E. Antipholus is usually angry, etc.), Adriana vacillates between reminiscing fondly over the love she and her husband used to share, growing sad over his frequent absences, and getting angry at his supposed infidelities. In that she seems to be demanding no more than equality between herself and her husband— indeed, she asks her sister, ‘‘Why should their liberty than ours be more?’’—Adriana can be viewed as a prototypical feminist. When Luciana counsels her to be patient and obliging toward her husband, Adriana passionately resists, essentially declaring that she refuses to be submissive toward any man, including her husband. In that E. Antipholus not only intentionally seeks out an untruthful explanation for his lateness on this day, but also frequents the Courtesan enough to make his wife jealous, Adriana seems wholly justified in trying to assert herself in the relationship. To some audience members and readers, the Abbess’s lecture of Adriana in the fifth act may seem unnecessarily reproachful.
Nevertheless, Adriana certainly has minor flaws that contribute at least to her own happiness, if not to her husband’s waywardness. While Luciana’s general outlook on marriage seems to be oppressively conservative, she also tries to persuade her sister to be more independent: in particular, she denounces Adriana’s ‘‘self-harming jealousy.’’ And Adriana certainly allows her jealousy to carry her away, to the point of believing that her husband must be cheating on her. The play does not clearly indicate whether the husband has ever been unfaithful, how often he is late for dinner, or how often he wrongs Adriana in other ways; as such, Adriana’s despair may seem extreme. In turn, when she believes her husband is in love with Luciana, she thoroughly curses him—then concedes that she was saying things she did not truly think or feel. Thus, the genuineness of her emotional reactions at other times may be called into doubt. Another question left unclear by the play is how often Adriana has such jealous outbursts, particularly in the presence of her husband. Overall, while Adriana certainly reacts strongly to the extreme circumstance brought about by the unknown presence of her husband’s twin, the reader cannot necessarily conclude that she behaves this way under ordinary circumstances, and opinions regarding Adriana’s larger role in her marriage may justifiably vary widely.
Shakespeare for Students:Critical Interpretations of Shakespeare’s Plays & Poetry, Second Edition, Volume 1, authored by Anne Marie Hacht & Cynthia Burnstein, published by Thomson-Gale, 2007