Dr. Adam Zucker, with his brown hair and long beard, is often mistaken for William Shakespeare himself. This is fitting, as he is Associate Professor in the English Department at UMass Amherst with a focus on Elizabethan Theatre. We were lucky enough to host Dr. Zucker in the Williston Theatre on Wednesday to discuss The Comedy of Errors with the cast of our production.
He shared some fascinating scholarship with us, most notably that even in this most light-hearted of Shakespeare’s plays, the Bard still manages to ask deep, philosophical questions about belonging and family. Dr. Zucker began by reading his favorite lines from the play, Antipholus of Syracuse’s speech in Act I, Scene II:
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.
This marriage of light and dark is a huge presence in this play. We begin with Duke Solinus reminding Egeon that he will die by the end of the day, our Dromios (who are just trying to do their jobs) are repeatedly beaten, and Adriana is deeply wounded because her husband ignores her. Shakespeare is carrying on the very long tradition of using comedy to bring to light the darker sides of society.
Dr. Zucker also reminded us that this play from its very inception, despite the dark undertones, was meant to be festive. After its first performance, which was for an audience of lawyers, there were actual riots. These were not political riots, but a result of people having a bit too much fun. In Elizabethan times lawyers were not the upstanding citizens they are today. They were, in Dr. Zucker’s own words, rich hipsters who tended to have too much fun. Even thought a modern audience shares little in common with Elizabethan lawyers, we are supposed enjoy the experience of the play and let loose a little.
This marriage of light and dark, tension and release, makes good sense for our production. While we have embraced the legacy of The Comedy of Errors’ riotous past, the darker elements of the play have not disappeared. The cast and crew has often remarked how the experience of our Antipholi feels like a nightmare come to life. It is. Imagine a world where everyone recognizes you and you know no one. Or that your closest friends and family are convinced you have said things that never came out of your mouth.
Leave it up to the Bard to brings these two seemingly different worlds together miraculously in one place. We are grateful to Dr. Zucker for reminding us that Shakespeare, even in his shortest work, is a masterful playwright.