Recently I attended a very entertaining Shakespeare play, The Comedy of Errors, performed in Toronto’s High Park. I had not read the play since “Hum 7” (Humanities 7,) a general survey theatre course, in my university days BI (before internet.)
When I reread the play prior to the performance, I was not that interested in the two major characters – two sets of identical brothers, both sets separated at a very early age from each other and from their parents.
What was more interesting to me was the Bard’s complex and modern view of women, marriage and a woman’s place in society – especially as embodied by the fascinating Adriana, the wife of Antipholus from Ephesus (as opposed to Antipholus from Syracuse.)
Adriana is married to a military hero, a successful and apparently wealthy businessman, prominent in Ephesian society, who also has the support of the Solinus, the Duke of Ephesus, the most powerful man in the country of Ephesus.
Accordingly, Adriana lives in a very large house with several male and female servants to attend to her every whim, a sort of Downton Abbey, 16th-century style.
But all is not hunky dory in the House of Antipholus. In this case, money, political power and social prominence do not buy marital bliss or even happiness.
Adriana’s husband also seems to be a philanderer – a rake who enjoys the company of a courtesan who owns the local tavern. Shades of Bill and Hillary Clinton or, closer to home, a former federal NDP leader.
This state of affairs (literally) makes Adriana positively ballistic – and rightfully so.
Adriana is depicted as a very strong, independent, intelligent, passionate and proud woman. Think Elizabeth Bennet of Pride and Prejudice or Lady Mary of Downton Abbey. And the above-noted Hillary. And come to think of it, our very own Olivia Chow.
In speaking to her more compliant, unwed sister, Luciana Adriana criticizes the double standard in her society in which men have much more freedom than women to fool around: “Why should their liberty than ours be more?”
Adriana clearly loves her husband, but is also very angry with his playing around. And she is frustrated that her society apparently condones her husband’s behavior, and frowns on Adriana’s public display of anger and disappointment with her husband’s behavior. On the other hand, Adriana astutely observes that her husband and society would condemn her if she too, took a lover.
In one of the most powerful speeches in the play, Adriana anticipates her husband’s violent reaction, if the roles were reversed.
“How dearly would it touch you to the quick,
Shouldst thou but hear I were licentious?…
Wouldst thou not spit at me, and spurn at me,
And hurl the name of husband in my face,
And tear the stain’d skin off my harlot brow,
And from my false hand, cut the wedding-ring,
And break it with a deep-divorcing vow?”
It seems what is true in 16th century England, is still true to this day.
Recall that Bubba “Horn Dog” Clinton had a plethora of beautiful bimbos at his beck and call while Arkansas governor.
And I doubt Monica Lewinsky was the first and last female who serviced Clinton at his pleasure in the White House Oval Office.
Still Clinton survived as a two term President, retained his marriage, and is still revered as a great President, internationally respected as a very wealthy and powerful speaker and philanthropist.
Could you imagine if the lovely Hillary, while First Lady, was caught between the sheets doing the horizontal tango, with her hot male bodyguard?
There would have been Hill to pay. I think Bill would have dropped Hillary like a hot tamale.
There would have not been second or third act for the disgraced Hillary.
Recall when Maggie Trudeau, Justin’s flaky hippie mom, was publicly exposed (literally and figuratively) doing the Rolling Stones at the famous Toronto bar, the El Mocambo, Trudeau Sr. – to use the bard’s words – permanently terminated the marriage and “tore the stained skin off of that licentious harlot’s brow, and from her false hand, cut the wedding-ring and broke it with a deep divorcing vow.”
So how does Shakespeare explain the double standard afflicting women in 16th century England?
According to Luciana, Adriana’s unwed younger sister in Comedy of Errors, men are superior and can get away with lots of crap, because it is the natural order of things.
“The beasts, the fishes, and the winged fowls
Are their males’ subjects and at their controls;
Man, more divine, the master of all these,
Lord of the wide world and wild wat’ry seas,
Indued with intellectual sense and souls,
Of more pre-eminence than fish and fowls,
Are masters to their females, and the lords.”
So let us fast forward to the present time.
Mankind is still the master of “beasts, fishes and winged fowl,” but then again so is womankind.
And science, biology, history, experience and Donald Trump have shown us that man is no more divine than woman, and clearly no more imbued with intellectual sense and soul. In fact, it is arguable that many of us poor schmucks are imbued with a lot less intelligence and common sense.
Hence, we men have no legitimate claim to being masters of our females.
Luciana thought men were also superior because, unlike women, tied to the house and home and relegated to household chores, “men’s business still lies out o’door.”
But that clearly no longer applies in today’s modern society.
Modern women are no longer tied to hearth and home.
Women these days are much more financially independent. The majority are career women. Captains of industry, lawyers, doctors, accountants, consultants, teachers, social workers, civil servants, business people, white and blue collar workers and let us not forget- high-powered and powerful politicians.
Adriana thought her cheating, roguish husband was:
“Deformed, crooked, old and sere,
Vicious, ungentle, foolish, blunt, unkind”
But notwithstanding the above, Adriana came to her husband’s aid when he was wrongfully put in jail.
Why did Adriana stand by her man?
Perhaps there was still some love, but the more reasonable answer, in those days and in that situation, was that Adriana, without her husband, would have been left with no wealth, no home, no servants and no social standing. Her life and situation would have been considerably worse, and far from her comfortable home.
“And yet would herein others’ eyes were worse,
Far from her nest the lapwing cries away.”
But Hillary and Olivia.
Why did they stick by their men?
After Bill completed his presidency, Hillary could have dumped his sorry ass. She was well known, a lawyer and very well-respected and connected. She had the financial means to successfully separate from the Bill.
But I believe she made the practical and political calculation that staying with Bill – a more powerful and more popular public figure than herself – would be better for her politically, perhaps in terms of a potential run for the Senate, or even the presidency.
History has proven Hillary to be correct in that calculation.
Similarly, when Jack Layton was caught naked by the police, allegedly getting a massage in a sleazy second floor walk-up around the corner from the house he and Olivia shared – known to be an illegal massage parlor, employing underage illegal Asian girls and called (appropriately) “The Velvet Touch” – Olivia stood by her man.
After that incident, Olivia could have left Jack.
Olivia is a very intelligent and street smart person. This was not her first rodeo or massage parlor. She knew Jack, or in this case, Jack off.
But I believe that, like Hillary, Olivia made the political calculation to stick by her more popular and charismatic husband, for the sake of her political and public future.
And history and experience have shown Olivia to be bang on. She is still a serious contender for regaining a seat in the federal parliament, notwithstanding her disastrous showing in the last Toronto mayoral election.
I think the Bard would be very amused looking at Hillary and Olivia today through Adriana’s eyes.
I suspect the Bard may conclude that though women have come a long way, baby, they still have a way to go.