If your taste is presidential history, with a penchant for progress or change you will want to venture to the lovely old town of Staunton, Virginia , birthplace of Woodrow Wilson. A museum has been constructed to Wilson’s honor, and the house where he came into this world and lived for a few months is open to visit. I would say the same thing if your taste is for a certain brand of pop country music, with an admiration for a bass voice. Staunton happens also to be the birthplace of the Statler brothers, recently inducted into the country music hall of fame. As you enter town, on the outskirts, you cross Statler Brothers Boulevard, which, with its fast food outlets and closed failing auto dealerships is not exactly up to Wilson’s standard of dignity. Perhaps not all change is progress after all.

There is a third reason, however, to visit Staunton, which is William Shakespeare. So far as I know he wasn’t born there, though Staunton in Shenandoah does have a remote resonance to Stratford on Avon. But Staunton has the Blackfriars playhouse, a replica of the London original, and the wonderful Shenandoah Shakespeare Company. So what better way to spend a Sunday afternoon than to make the trek over the mountains from Charlottesville, with all three fellows from the Program for Constitutionalism and Democracy (PCD) , to view The Comedy of Errors ?

I won’t even try to summarize the play except to say that it is the ultimate experiment in identical twin observation before modern science took up this theme and subjected it to all the rigors of the modern experimental method. The twins are so identical (there are two pair of them) that they cannot be distinguished. They are so identical that one twin, stranded in the city of his brother (Ephesus) and likened by everyone to his brother, begins to question his own identity. And so does his brother. Is he who he thought he was? Here is perspectivalism carried to its outermost limit. It is funny, but also horrifying — or at least Gadamer thought so. The key passage is uttered by Antipholus (of Syracuse): “Am I in earth, in heaven, or in hell?/ Sleeping or waking, mad or ill-advised?/Known unto these, and to myself disguised?”

For those going into the play are looking for nature, this was most disquieting. My faith in the “one true and common world perceived in waking” — a world of common sense perception that can serve as a starting point for all thought — was thrown suddenly into question. Does such a starting point exist? Or is even the starting point “constructed”? Alas, poor phenomenology, I knew it well.

In the end, Shakespeare brings us back to reality when the twins at last discover themselves and everything gets sorted out: All’s well that ends well.

More on: Etcetera

Show 0 comments