Summary and Analysis
Act II: Scene 1
Antipholus of E.'s wife, Adriana, debates with her sister Luciana on the proper conduct of authority in marriage. Luciana's conventional (Renaissance) wisdom that men "are masters to their females, and their lords!' meets with Adriana's skepticism: easy enough to talk about a man's rightful liberty when you are not married yourself, she says. Dromio breaks up the conversation with the complaint that his master has just given him a cuffing ("he's at two hands with me") and demanded the return of a "nonexistent" thousand marks. The servant's report of his master's words, I know no house, no wife, no mistress," sends Adriana into a fit of anger, causing her sister to comment, "How many fond fools serve mad jealousy!"
Even the secondary characters are unhappy when the plot gets under way. A constant theme in Shakespeare's comedies is the question of harmony between the sexes, here invoked in minor fashion in his first play. The idea of "mastery" and "liberty' in Comedy of Errors, whether it be husband/wife or master/servant is not so important in itself as it is as part of a general context of man's (and woman's) mastery over his (or her) own fate. Beginning with Nature's surrealist joke (identical twins), Comedy of Errors for the most part lightheartedly explores ways in which people are caught up in webs spun according to the laws of chance. This, of course, is one primal appeal of farce: natural repetition and duplication — when compounded to include individuals themselves — threatening even their senses of identity, can be frightening. The pain on stage can be very real. The following exchange from the next scene sums up the point:
Antipholus of S.: Dost thou not know?
Dromio of S.: Nothing sir, but that I am
beaten. . . . Was there ever any man thus
beaten out of season, When in the Why and
the Wherefore is neither rhyme nor reason?
(II, ii, 41–49)