“The Comedy of Errors” Plato states that: “The measure of a man is what he does with his power. ” But is this true? Or does it depend on a person’s money and possessions? Perhaps it is the family they were born into, or even their gender. And how can reputation affect your class standing? In “The Comedy of Errors” William Shakespeare explores the interplay of these various possibilities that can determine a person’s class. Shakespeare shows us that a persons family can determine their social status.
As well as affect how they are treated.
Taking for example the twin Dromios, they came from an extremely poor family. “A mean woman was delivered / Of such a burden, male twins, both alike. ” (?.?. 54) Because their mother was so poor they were adopted by Egeon, however as opposed to becoming his children they became servants for his biological children (also twins) with each twin receiving his own minion. Throughout the Dromios lives they remained servants, even when they were split apart they stayed with their master.
Being servants for different masters meant that they were treated differently.
Dromio of Ephesus was beaten and kept uneducated “I have some marks of yours upon my pate, / Some of my mistress’ marks upon my shoulders, ( I.?. 83) While Dromio of Syracuse was given an education and treated like a brother as opposed to a servant, Antipholus of Syracuse demonstrates: A trusty villain, sir, that very oft, When I am dull with care and melancholy, Lightens my humor with is merry jests.
(I. II. 19) If they had had wealthy parents with much more power then they would never have become servants and would most likely have servants of their own.
Another and perhaps more common way to define a person’s social status is by their wealth, that is their money and possesions. Even though in our modern society wealth has little to do with your social status, in William Shakespeare’s time the more money you had the more power you had. For example Adriana and her husband Antipholus of Ephesus, clearly their money and possessions greatly benefited them in life. All this wealth leads them to have a very good reputation.
However if their reputation gets tarnished they will lose their money and in consequence their power: If by strong hand you offer to break in Now in the stirring passage of the day, A vulgar comment will be made of it; And that supposed by the common rout Against your yet ungalled estimation. (III. I. 47) Looking at this quote it is clear that if Antipholus goes through with his threat, his reputation will be tarnished. Therefore he decides against it. “ You have prevailed. I will depart in quiet / And, in despite of mirth, mean to be merry. (III. I. 156) An additional example is Solinus the duke of Ephesus. When he is ready to execute Egeon he uses the power he has to grant him one day of freedom. Duke: Now trust me, were it not against our laws, Against my crown, my oath, my dignity, My soul should sue as advocate for thee. But thou art adjudged to the death, Yet will I favor thee in what I can. therefore, merchant, I’ll limit thee this day. By giving Egeon a day of freedom the duke boosts his reputation in Ephesus as a sympathetic and selfless leader.
All the while knowing that there is no way Egeon will accomplish his goal. The third and perhaps most prominent way of defining a person’s social standing is their gender. A factor that is still entrenched in our modern society. In “The Comedy of Errors” there are many obligations women have to fill that men do not. For example as Egeon is telling the duke his tragic story he mentions that although his wife was not in love with him and did not want to marry him, they clearly ended up married. “In Syracusa was I born and wed / Unto a woman happy but for me. (I. I. 37) This quote demonstrates that as a woman one of her obligations was to get married, even if it was to someone she did not love. This also makes evident the fact women were not free to make their own decisions. Furthermore women were often considered lesser beings than men, they were not allowed as much freedom as their spouse was. “ Good sister, let us dine and never fret. / A man is master of his own liberty. ” (II. I. 6) This quote highlights that fact that men were free to come and go as they pleased whereas women were not.
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