Identity in The Comedy of Errors

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      The way the various characters in The Comedy of Errors view their respective identities is perhaps the play's most prominent theme. The central quest for identity, of course, is that of S. Antipholus, whom the audience understands from early on to be seeking himself, to a great extent, in his twin brother; this understanding comes primarily from the speech in the first act in which he compares himself to a drop of water seeking another drop in an entire ocean. Coppelia Kahn views S. Antipholus's definition of identity here as tantamount to a desire to cease to exist: "He envisions extinction - total merger with an undifferentiated mass, as the result of his search." Kahn proceeds to frame this form of negating self-definition in psychological terms: The image of that one drop falling into a whole ocean conveys the terror of failing to find identity: irretrievable ego loss." In these terms, S. Antipholus's search for identity can be understood as a possible step in the maturational process, whereby an adolescent might test the boundaries of his or her identity by fiercely identifying with someone such as a sibling-with such an identification between twins being especially strong. Kahn concludes, "The irony is that seeking identity by narcissistic mirroring leads only to the obliteration, not the discovery, of the self." Thus, while S. Antipholus finds his twin, the extent to which he likewise "finds himself" is unclear, as the reunion between the two does not indicate that they share any instinctive connection.

      Adriana's conception of her identity is also of great Concern and is, in fact, quite similar to that of S. Antipholus, in that she seeks to define herself in relation to another - namely, to her husband. Echoing S. Antipholus's remarks about feeling like a drop in an ocean seeking a particular another drop, Adriana compares herself to a drop of water in a gulf, where the entire gulf is understood to be her husband. A difference between the two conceptions of identity, then, can relate to the extent to which the two characters wish to be merged, in essence, with others: S. Antipholus feels lost in the ocean and seeks to unite himself only with a single other drop, his brother; Adriana, meanwhile, is perhaps perfectly content to be lost in her gulf, her husband, as long as she is never forcibly removed from it. These dual manners of defining the self through others may fairly reflect the play's greater conception of identity, as related by Barry Weller: "The familial embrace with which the community of Ephesus eventually receives and reassembles the scattered members of Egeons household intimates the priority of corporate identities over the single and limited life of the individual consciousness." That is, the play's conclusion perhaps demonstrates the primary importance of the intersection of identities that is brought about by love.

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