Comedy of Errors

"Disfigure" Dissected: A Close Reading of The Comedy of Errors and The Taming of the Shrew College

Within The Comedy of Errors by the venerable William Shakespeare, there comes a hectic bit in the first scene of the fifth act whereupon a lowly messenger brings disturbing news to Adriana: “Mistress, upon my life I tell you true / I have not breathed since I did see it / He cries for you and vows, if he can take you / To scorch your face and to disfigure you” (5.1.180-4). The usage of the word ‘disfigure’ within this specific passage strikes particular intrigue as it is being used to describe the supposed malicious intent of the aforementioned messenger’s master, thus meriting further dissection of said word.

‘Disfigure’ is primarily Latin in origin, with the root word being ‘figura,’ which translates unquestionably to ‘figure.’ The Oxford English Dictionary cross-references ‘figura’ with ‘figure’ as “the form of anything as determined by the outline; external form; shape…” (“Disfigure”). Due to the widespread utilization of ‘figure’ throughout literature as well as everyday conversation, the exact age of the word ‘figura’ remains a mystery to this day. Usage of ‘disfigure’ as a verb gained prominence through the old French word ‘desfigurer,’ which eventually took on the form of ‘disfigure’ that we see within modern English....

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