The Comedy of Errors has the reputation of being one of Shakespeare’s “early” plays, and along with it, the baggage and presumption of being unsophisticated, silly, immature, or sophomoric — as opposed to “later” plays which are considered more thoughtful and developed (think The Winter’s Tale or The Tempest). We will be challenging and debunking those assumptions in this production.
While I think The Comedy of Errors is certainly one of Shakespeare most technically demanding plays, full of slapstick and extraordinary physical feats, it doesn’t quite assimilate into traditional notions of Shakespearean comedy. It has neither a female protagonist or disguise, nor a romance that leads to marriage.
What is surprising about this play is that it’s a bit of an existential crisis. In The Comedy of Errors, whichever twin is onstage is always the wrong twin. The play gives us few psychological distinctions between the two Antipholuses (or Antipholi?) and Dromios: they serve identical functions in the social system they live in, and their identities are virtually interchangeable. They don’t even have the ability to distinguish themselves by name — their only signifier is one of geographical origin. And for an American audience largely preoccupied with individualism and our own sense of self-importance, this idea can be a bit distressing. Sort of like a nightmare where you’re slowly finding that you’re living a life that doesn’t seem to be yours.
Antipholus of Syracuse has an astute moment in Act I, Scene 2 where he realizes:
I to the world am like a drop of water
That in the ocean seeks another drop,
Who, falling there to find his fellow forth,
Unseen, inquisitive, confounds himself:
So I, to find a mother and a brother,
In quest of them, unhappy, lose myself.
The Comedy of Errors is a story of the search for the whole, that in searching for your other, you come closer to finding yourself, and in doing so, lose yourself to something greater.