Today we’re going to unpack a speech from one of Shakespeare’s funniest and most confusing plays, The Comedy of Errors. In this speech we see Luciana do her best to salvage a bad situation when Antipholus of Syracuse, the twin brother of her brother-in-law tries to woo her and win her heart. This is a great speech for an actor looking to play with layers in a character and work for objective.
Antipholus of Syracuse, makes a bold attempt to woo Luciana and Luciana is having none of it. Luciana is the sister of Adriana who is married to Antipholus Ephesus, Antipholus of Syracuse’s twin brother.
Egeon and Emelia of Syracuse had identical twin sons. For their sons, they purchased identical twin servants. While travelling by ship, they were struck by a violent storm and the family were separated, half ending up in Ephesus and the other half back in Syracuse.
Believing the other half of his family has perished at sea, Egeon renamed his living son and his son’s servant. Antipholus for the son and Dromio for his servant, named after the ‘deceased’ Antipholus and Dromio. Hence we end up with two sets of identical twins: Antipholus of Syracuse and Antipholus of Ephesus, Dromio of Syracuse and Dromio of Ephesus. Best to draw a family tree.
Once they grew up, Antipholus of Syracuse and his servant Dromio head off in search of their twin brothers and mother. By chance, they arrive in Ephesus where Antipholus and Dromio of Ephesus live. Antipholus of Ephesus lives with his wife, Adriana and her sister Luciana. When Adriana and Luciana stumble upon Antipholus and Dromio of Syracuse in the town, Adriana believes this to be her husband and his servant… and so we come to the beginning of the scene where Luciana is telling him he’s not being a very good husband by trying to pursue her…
And may it be that you have quite forgot
A husband’s office? Shall Antipholus,
Even in the spring of love, thy love-springs rot?
Shall love, in building, grow so ruinous?
If you did wed my sister for her wealth,
Then, for her wealth’s sake use her with more kindness.
Or, if you like elsewhere, do it by stealth-
Muffle your false love with some show of blindness;
Let not my sister read it in your eye;
Be not thy tongue thy own shame’s orator;
Look sweet, speak fair, become disloyalty;
Apparel vice like virtue’s harbinger.
Bear a fair presence, though your heart be tainted;
Teach sin the carriage of a holy saint;
Be secret-false: what need she be acquainted?
What simple thief brags of his own attaint?
‘Tis double wrong to truant with your bed,
And let her read it in thy looks at board:
Shame hath a bastard fame, well managed;
Ill deeds are doubled with an evil word.
Alas! poor women, make us but believe,
Being compact of credit, that you love us;
Though others have the arm, show us the sleeve;
We in your motion turn, and you may move us.
Then, gentle brother, get you in again;
Comfort my sister, cheer her, call her wife:
‘Tis holy sport to be a little vain,
When the sweet breath of flattery conquers strife.
And have you forgotten a husbands duty?
Will your love rot right when it’s blooming?
Will your love crumble just as it’s being built?
If you did just marry my sisters for her money then at least treat her kindly.
And if you’re going to cheat at least be discreet and pretend to love her.
Don’t let my sister see it in your eyes.
Don’t speak so shamelessly about it.
Look sweet, speak kindly, hide your disloyalty and mask your vices as virtues.
Show a warm heart even though your heart is tainted.
Bare your sins like a saint.
Don’t tell her; why does she need to know?
What kind of stupid thief flaunts his stealings?
It’s twice as bad to cheat on her and then let her see it in your face at breakfast.
Your shame doesn’t need to be known if you manage it properly
Evil actions are twice as bad if you speak about them.
Ugh! Poor women; make us believe, since we love so blindly, that you love us.
Even though someone else has you show us that love too.
We’ll follow you anywhere you guide us.
So please brother go back to her.
Comfort my sister, praise her, remind her she is your wife.
It’s not a cardinal sin to tell a small lie if you flatter her enough it will outweigh the bad.
Notes on Performance
Remember the character doesn’t know as much as you so it must be clear in your mind that this is not the long lost twin brother of your brother in law but rather your actual brother in law. Make sense? Point is: don’t endgame the scene. Play it truthfully within the given circumstances.
This is a great chance to play with some subtext which apparently doesn’t exist in Shakespeare. Luciana here is doing her best to protect her sister with the little tools she has available. She knows that even though she might not be able to get Antipholus to stop, she can at least protect her sister’s heart. So she’s probably filled with rage and hate for Antipholus but decides to try her best to put on a kind word and salvage what she can. Play with the layers.
This is a comedy so inject a little energy into the speech and have fun with the words but remember it’s not funny to the audience if the character and especially if the actor finds it funny themselves.