While leading my Comedy class in a discussion of Shakespeare's Comedy of Errors, I tripped on Dromio's name and came out with Romeo, and then of course I had to riff a bit on whether Dromio and Romeo could exist in the same world. What would a mash-up of Comedy of Errors and Romeo and Juliet look like? Would we see twice as many suicides or half as many beatings? Would Dr. Pinch and the Apothecary come to fisticuffs? Would the Abbess emerge at the end to reveal that Romeo and Juliet were actually her long-lost twins? Dromio, Dromio, wherefore art thou Dromio?
I've grown accustomed to asking students to consider what separates comedy and tragedy and what happens when they overlap; lately, however, I've been struggling to recognize the distinction outside the classroom as well. I keep going to meetings in which I can't decide whether to laugh or cry or run screaming from the room, where I'm faced with incompatible options and impossible demands and I'm expected to make sense out of them.
On the one hand I'm told to dream big and imagine a new, sparkly, unprecedented way to reconfigure this important program--the only limit is my imagination! But on the other hand, I'm supposed to figure out how to do more with less and imagine a world in which whole programs and perhaps departments disappear entirely. I keep hoping a deus ex machina will drop from the sky and provide a miraculous happy ending, but I fear we're heading instead for a stage covered with bloody bodies.