Date of Award

5-2009

Degree Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Departmental Honors

Department

English

First Advisor

Phebe Jensen

Abstract

Since The Comedy of Errors' rescue from the literary bargain bin where it was tossed by nineteenth and early twentieth-century critics, many modern scholars have provided insightful cultural, linguistic, and theatrical commentaries on a play that is clearly more complex than it first seems. One area these recent discussions frequently address is the play's portrayal of madness in early modern society. However, what many of these discussions fail to remember is that ultimately Errors is a comedy "performed for the Delight of the Beholders" and that no one in the play is actually mad. Therefore, this essay argues that The Comedy of Errors actually makes fun of the prevalent theories of madness in early modern England, ultimately undermining them, and implicitly suggesting in their place, a view on the subject of madness which relies upon the fact that the characters in the play, most notably Egeon, the two Antipholi and Adriana, are not mad, but actually suffering what the Early Modern would have called "distraction" or "melancholia," a condition that is strikingly akin to modern identity displacement or dysphoria-conditions that are defined by modern psychology as an aspect of a "fundamental need to belong."

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