Food and Fidelity – Food Imagery in the Comedy of Errors

Latrina M. Midkiff

Imagery is a powerful shaft in the quiver of any writer, and there was hardly a better shot in all the world of literature than William Shakespeare. He used various types of imagery to communicate past the surface level of the text. He helped the reader visualize and empathize with droplets of water, with great birds of the skies, and with something as daily and ordinary as food. In The Comedy of Errors, Shakespeare used food imagery to symbolize physical affection between husband and wife.

The first example of this imagery occurs in Act One Scene Two as Dromio of Ephesus first encounters Antipholus of Syracuse. Antipholus, being late for dinner, is rebuked by Dromio who says, “She is so hot because the meat is cold;/ The meat is cold because you come not home;/ You come not home because you have no stomach;/ You have no stomach, having broke your fast.” (46-50). These few lines inform the careful reader of the state of Antipholus’ and Adriana’s marriage. Adriana is mad because she believes her husband to be unfaithful. This is an example of imagery that everyone can understand. Often foods that taste very agreeably when served hot, have no savor once allowed to grow cold. In the same way, the physical love, trust, and affection between the couple has cooled to a vanishing point. Furthermore, Adriana is ‘hot’, or angry, that this has occurred. The gift of her meal (or body) is not being consumed or enjoyed by her husband. She waits for him faithfully, but he comes not home. This passage also implies that Antipholus is an adulterer by stating he was late for dinner because he had “broke (his) fast”; meaning, he has been feeding his sexual appetites at the table of another.

Later in the same scene Dromio says, “Your Worship’s wife, my mistress at the Phoenix,/ She that doth fast till you come home to dinner/ And prays that you will hie you home to dinner.” (90-93) Here, Shakespeare assures the reader that Adriana has been faithful and has not shared her bed (or table) with another. She eagerly awaits the return of her husband and urgently prays for his fidelity. She fasts for him! She goes without while she awaits his return! He is her meal, the only source of nourishment to her sexual life.

In the beginning of Act 2, one reads more of this imagery. Adriana is concerned because her husband is still absent, and her sister attempts to calm her by saying, “Perhaps some merchant hath invited him,/ And from the mart he’s somewhere gone to dinner.”(4-5). Then the sisters go back and forth saying, “Why should their liberty more than ours be?/ Because their business still lies out ‘o’ door./ Look when I serve him so, he takes it ill.” (10-12). Again, the idea surfaces in the text that Antipholus is committing adultery. The word ‘lies’ in these lines has potent meaning to the reader. The sexual idea that he has been laid, or the idea that he is a liar both come through in this sentence and cause great concern in the fretting wife. She closes by reaffirming her fear that when she “serves” him (physically) he is not pleased or he “takes it ill.”

In this play, Shakespeare truly emphasized the idea that when one spouse partakes of the other sexually, it can be likened unto eating a meal. Food nourishes and sustains life just as physical love nourishes and sustains marriage. A meal, just like a sexual interaction, has the power to be very intimate. One tastes each morsel on their plate and gains physical, emotional, and mental enjoyment and sustenance from the meal. Likewise, when one partakes of the physical intimacy of their spouse, similar (albeit more powerful) fulfillment is savored. These similes evoke a deeper level of thought and an intense appreciation for the master author that Shakespeare was.

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