University of Pennsylvania
The Dramatic Values in Plautus
Wilton Wallace Blancke, A.M., Ph.D. Professor of Latin in the Central High School of Philadelphia
Presented to the Faculty of the Graduate School in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy
This dissertation was written in 1916, before the entrance of the United States into The War, and was presented to the Faculty of the University of Pennsylvania as a thesis for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy. Its publication at this time needs no apology, for it will find its only public in the circumscribed circle of professional scholars. They at least will understand that scholarship knows no nationality. But in the fear that this may fall under the eye of that larger public, whose interests are, properly enough, not scholastic, a word of explanation may prove a safeguard.
The Germans have long been recognized as the hewers of wood and drawers of water of the intellectual world. For the results of the drudgery of minute research and laborious compilation, the scholar must perforce seek German sources. The copious citation of German authorities in this work is, then, the outcome of that necessity. I have, however, given due credit to German criticism, when it is sound. The French are, generically, vastly superior in the art of finely balanced critical estimation.
My sincere thanks are due in particular to the Harrison Foundation of the University for the many advantages I have received therefrom, to Professors John C. Rolfe and Walton B. McDaniel, who have been both teachers and friends to me, and to my good comrades and colleagues, Francis H. Lee and Horace T. Boileau, for their aid in editing this essay.
Wilton Wallace Blancke. 1918.
A Resume of the Criticism and of the Evidence Relating to the Acting of Plautus
This investigation was prompted by the abiding conviction that Plautus as a dramatic artist has been from time immemorial misunderstood. In his progress through the ages he has been like a merry clown rollicking amongst people with a hearty invitation to laughter, and has been rewarded by commendation for his services to morality and condemnation for his buffoonery. The majority of Plautine critics have evinced too serious an attitude of mind in dealing with a comic poet. However portentous and profound his scholarship, no one deficient in a sense of humor should venture to approach a comic poet in a spirit of criticism. For criticism means appreciation.
Furthermore, the various estimates of our poet's worth have been as diversified as they have been in the main unfair. Alternately lauded as a master dramatic craftsman and vilified as a scurrilous purveyor of unsavory humor, he has been buffeted from the top to the bottom of the dramatic scale. More recent writers have been approaching a saner evaluation of his true worth, but never, we believe, has his real position in that dramatic scale been definitely and finally fixed; because heretofore no attempt has been made at a complete analysis of his dramatic, particularly his comic, methods. It is the aim of the present dissertation to accomplish this.
I doubt not that from the inception of our acquaintance with the pages of Plautus we have all passed through a similar experience. In the beginning we have been vastly diverted by the quips and cranks and merry wiles of the knavish slave, the plaints of love-lorn youth, the impotent rage of the baffled pander, the fruitless growlings of the hungry parasite's belly. We have been amused, perhaps astonished, on further reading, at meeting our new-found friends in other plays, clothed in different names to be sure and supplied in part with a fresh stock of jests, but still engaged in the frustration of villainous panders, the cheating of harsh fathers, until all ends with virtue triumphant in the establishment of the undoubted respectability of a hitherto somewhat dubious female character.
Our astonishment waxes as we observe further the close correspondence of dialogue, situation and dramatic machinery. We are bewildered by the innumerable asides of hidden eavesdroppers, the inevitable recurrence of soliloquy and speech familiarly directed at the audience, while every once in so often a slave, desperately bent on finding someone actually under his nose, careens wildly cross the stage or rouses the echoes by unmerciful battering of doors, meanwhile unburdening himself of lengthy solo tirades with great gusto; and all this dished up with a sauce of humor often too racy and piquant for our delicate twentieth-century palate, which has acquired a refined taste for suggestive innuendo, but never relishes calling a spade by its own name.
If we have sought an explanation of our poet's gentle foibles in the commentaries to our college texts, we have assuredly been disappointed. Even to the seminarian in Plautus little satisfaction has been vouchsafed. We are often greeted by the enthusiastic comments of German critics, which run riot in elaborate analyses of plot and character and inform us that we are reading Meisterwerke of comic drama. Our perplexity has perhaps become focused upon two leading questions; first: "What manner of drama is this after all? Is it comedy, farce, opera bouffe or mere extravaganza?" Second: "How was it done? What was the technique of acting employed to represent in particular the peculiarly extravagant scenes?"
There is an interesting contrast between the published editions of Plautus and Bernard Shaw. Shaw's plays we find interlaced with an elaborate network of stage direction that enables us to visualize the movements of the characters even to extreme minutiae. In the text of Plautus we find nothing but the dialogue, and in the college editions only such editorially-inserted "stage-business" as is fairly evident from the spoken lines. The answer then to our second question: "How was it done?", at least does not lie on the surface of the text.
For an adequate answer to both our questions the following elements are necessary; first: a digest of Plautine criticism; second: a resume of the evidence as to original performances of the plays, including a consideration of the audience, the actors and of the gestures and stage-business employed by the latter; third: a critical analysis of the plays themselves, with a view to cataloguing Plautus' dramatic methods. We hope by these means to obtain a conclusive reply to both our leading questions.
Sec.1. Critics of Plautus
Plautine criticism has displayed many different angles. As in most things, time helps resolve the discrepancies. The general impression gleaned from a survey of the field is that in earlier times over-appreciation was the rule, which has gradually simmered down, with occasional outpourings of denunciation, to a healthier norm of estimation.
Even in antiquity the wiseacres took our royal buffoon too seriously. Stylistically he was translated to the skies. [Sidenote: Cicero] Cicero imputes to him "iocandi genus, ... elegans, urbanum, ingeniosum, facetum." [Sidenote: Aelius Stilo] Quintilian quotes: "Licet Varro Musas Aelii Stilonis sententia Plautino dicat sermone locuturas fuisse, si latine loqui vellent." [Sidenote: Gellius] The paean is further swelled by Gellius, who variously refers to our hero as "homo linguae atque elegantiae in verbis Latinae princeps," and "verborum Latinorum elegantissimus," and "linguae Latinae decus." [Sidenote: Horace] If our poet is scored by Horace it is probably due rather to Horace's affectation of contempt for the early poets than to his true convictions; or we may ascribe it to the sophisticated metricist's failure to realize the existence of a "Metrica Musa Pedestris." As Duff says (A Literary History of Rome, p. 197), "The scansion of Plautus was less understood in Cicero's day than that of Chaucer was in Johnson's." (Cf. Cic. Or. 55. 184.)
[Sidenote: Euanthius] We have somewhat of a reaction, too, against the earlier chorus of praise in the commentary of Euanthius, who condemns Plautus' persistent use of direct address of the audience. If it is true, as Donatus says later: "Comoediam esse Cicero ait imitationem vitae, speculum consuetudinis, imaginem veritatis," we find it hard to understand Cicero's enthusiatic praise of Plautus, as we hope to show that he is very far from measuring up to any such comic ideal as that laid down by Cicero himself.
But of course these ancient critiques have no appreciable bearing on our argument and we cite them rather for historical interest and retrospect. [Sidenote: Festus] [Sidenote: Brix] While Festus makes a painful effort to explain the location of the mythical "Portus Persicus" mentioned in the Amph., Brix in modern times shows that there is no historical ground for the elaborate mythical genealogy in Men. 409 ff. We contend that "Portus Persicus" is pure fiction, as our novelists refer fondly to "Zenda" or "Graustark," while the Men. passage is a patent burlesque of the tragic style.
[Sidenote: Becker] On the threshold of what we may term modern criticism of Plautus we find W.A. Becker, in 1837, writing a book: "De Comicis Romanorum Fabulis Maxime Plautinis Quaestiones." Herein, after deploring the neglect of Plautine criticism among his immediate predecessors and contemporaries, he attempts to prove that Plautus was a great "original" poet and dramatic artist. Surely no one today can be in sympathy with such a sentiment as the following (Becker, p. 95): "Et Trinummum, quae ita amabilibus lepidisque personis optimisque exemplis abundat, ut quoties eam lego, non comici me poetae, sed philosophi Socratici opus legere mihi videar." I believe we may safely call the Trinummus the least Plautine of Plautine plays, except the Captivi, and it is by no means so good a work. The Trinummus is crowded with interminable padded dialogue, tiresome moral preachments, and possesses a weakly motivated plot; a veritable "Sunday-school play."
But Becker continues: "Sive enim seria agit et praecepta pleno effundit penu, ad quae componere vitarn oporteat; in sententiis quanta gravitas, orationis quanta vis, quam probe et meditate cum hominum ingenia moresque novisse omnia testantur." We feel sure that our Umbrian fun-maker would strut in public and laugh in private, could he hear such an encomium of his lofty moral aims. For it is our ultimate purpose to prove that fun-maker Plautus was primarily and well-nigh exclusively a fun-maker.
[Sidenote: Weise] K. H. Weise, in "Die Komodien des Plautus, kritisch nach Inhalt und Form beleuchtet, zur Bestimmung des Echten und Unechten in den einzelnen Dichtungen" (Quedlinburg, 1866), follows hard on Becker's heels and places Plautus on a pinnacle of poetic achievement in which we scarcely recognize our apotheosized laugh-maker. Every passage in the plays that is not artistically immaculate, that does not conform to the uttermost canons of dramatic art, is unequivocally damned as "unecht." In his Introduction (p. 4) Weise is truly eloquent in painting the times and significance of our poet. With momentary insight he says: "Man hat an ihm eine immer frische und nie versiegende Fundgrabe des aechten Volkswitzes." But this is soon marred by utterances such as (p. 14): "Faende sich also in der Zahl der Plautinischen Komodien eine Partie, die mit einer andern in diesen Hinsichten in bedeutendem Grade contrastirte, so konnte man sicher schliessen, dass beide nicht von demselben Verfasser sein koennten." He demands from Plautus, as ein wahrer Poet, "Congruenz, und richtige innere Logik harmonische Construction" (p. 12), and finally declares (p. 22): "Interesse, Character, logischer Bau in der Zusammensetzung, Naturlichkeit der Sprache und des Witzes, Rythmus und antikes Idiom des Ausdrucks werden die Kriterien sein mussen, nach dem wir uber die Vortrefflichkeit und Plautinitaet plautinischer Stuecke zu entscheiden haben."
On this basis he ruthlessly carves out and discards as "unecht" every passage that fails to conform to his amazing and extravagant ideals, in the belief that "der aechte Meister Plautus konnte nur Harmonisches, nur Vernunftiges, nur Logisches, nur relativ Richtiges dichten" (p. 79), though even Homer nods. The Mercator is banned in toto. To be sure, Weise somewhat redeems himself by the statement (p. 29 f.): "Plautus bezweckte ... lediglich nur die eigentliche und wirksamste Belustigung des Publicums." But how he reconciles this with his previously quoted convictions and with the declaration (p. 16): "Plautus ist ein sehr religioser, sehr moralischer Schriftsteller," it is impossible to grasp, until we recall that the author is a German.
[Sidenote: Langen] Such criticism stultifies itself and needs no refutation; certainly not here, as P. Langen in his Plautinische Studien (Berliner Studien, 1886; pp. 90-91) has conclusively proved that the inconsistent is a feature absolutely germane to Plautine style, and has collected an overwhelming mass of "Widerspruche, Inkonsequenzen und psychologische Unwahrscheinlichkeiten" that would question the "Plautinity" of every other line, were we to follow Weise's precepts. Langen too uses the knife, but with a certain judicious restraint.
We insist that the attempt to explain away every inconsistency as spurious is a sorry refuge.
[Sidenote: Langrehr] Langrehr in Miscellanea Philologica (Gottingen, 1876), under the caption Plautina gives vent to further solemn Teutonic carpings at the plot of the Epidicus and argues the play a contaminatio on the basis of the double intrigue. He is much exercised too over the mysterious episode of 'the disappearing flute-girl.'
Langen, who is in the main remarkably sane, refutes these conclusions neatly. How Weise and his confreres argue Plautus such a super-poet, in view of the life and education of the public to whom he catered, let alone the evidence of the plays themselves, and their author's status as mere translator and adapter, must remain an insoluble mystery. The simple truth is that a playwright such as Plautus, having undertaken to feed a populace hungry for amusement, ground out plays (doubtless for a living), with a wholesome disregard for niceties of composition, provided only he obtained his sine qua non—the laugh.
[Sidenote: Lessing] In our citation of opinions we must not overlook that impressive mile-stone in the history of criticism, the discredited but still great Lessing. In his "Abhandlung von dem Leben und den Werken des M. Accius Plautus" Lessing deprecates the harsh judgment of Horace and later detractors of our poet in modern times. Lessing idealizes him as the matchless comic poet. That the Captivi is "das vortrefflichste Stueck, welches jemals auf den Schauplatz gekommen ist," as Lessing declares in the Preface to his translation of the play, is an utterance that leaves us gasping.
[Sidenote: Dacier] But Lessing's idea of the purpose of comedy is a combination of Aristotelian and mid-Victorian ideals: "die Sitten der Zuschauer zu bilden und zu bessern, ... wenn sie naemlich das Laster allezeit ungluecklich und die Tugend am Ende gluecklich sein laesst." It is on the basis of this premise that he awards the comic crown to the Cap. His extravagant encomium called forth from a contemporary a long controversial letter which Lessing published in the second edition with a reply so feeble that he distinctly leaves his adversary the honors of the field. How much better the diagnosis of Madame Dacier, who is quoted by Lessing! In the introduction to her translations of the Amphitruo, Rudens and Epidicus (issued in 1683), she apologizes for Plautus on the ground that he had to win approval for his comedies from an audience used to the ribaldry of the Saturae.
[Sidenote: Lorenz] Lorenz in his introductions to editions of the Most. and Pseud. is another who seems to be carried away by the unrestrained enthusiasm that often affects scholars oversteeped in the lore of their author. Faults are dismissed as merely "Kleine Unwahrscheinlichkeiten" (Introd. Ps., p. 26, N. 25.) "Jeder Leser," says he, " darin beistimmen, dass ... der erste Act eine so gelungene Exposition darbietet, wie sie die dramatische Poesie nur aufweisen kann." Such a statement must fall, by weight of exaggeration. In appreciation of the portrayal of the name-part he continues: "Mit welch' ueberwaeltigender Herrschaft tritt hier gleich die meisterhaft geschilderte Hauptperson hervor! Welche packende Kraft, welche hinreissende verve liegt in dem reichen Dialoge, der wie beseelt von der feurigen Energie des begabten Menschen, der ihn lenkt, froehlich rauschend dahin eilt, uebersprudelnd von einer Fulle erheiternder Scherze und schillernder Spielereien!"
In curious contrast to this fulsome outpouring stands the expressed belief of Lamarre that the character of Ballio overshadows that of Pseudolus. In support of this view he cites Cicero (Pro Ros. Com. 7.20), who mentions that Roscius chose to play Ballio.
Lorenz in his enthusiasm exalts the Epid. to an ideal of comic excellence (Introd. Ps. p. 27). He even goes so far as to contend that Plautus lives up to the following characterization: "Nicht blos durch naturgetreue and lebhafte Charakterschilderungen und durch eine komisch gehaltene, aber die Grenzen des Wahrscheinlichen und des Grazioesen nicht ueberschreitende Zeichnung des taeglichen Lebens soll der Dichter des Lustspiels seine Zuschauer interessiren und ihr heiteres Gelaechter hervorrufen, sondern auch so reiche Anwendung zu geben, durch die es in den Dienst einer sittlichen Idee tritt, und so gleichsam die moralische Atmosphaere ... zu reinigen."
Such emotional superlatives merely create in the reader a cachinnatory revulsion. Yes, Plautus was great, but he was great in a far different way. He approached the Rabelaisian. It is doubtful if "die Grenzen des Grazioesen" lay within his purview at all.
[Sidenote: Lamarre] The treatment of Lamarre cited above contains a highly meritorious analysis of the Plautine characters, discussed largely as a reflection of the times and people, both of New Comedy and of Plautus, without imputing to our poet too serious motives of subtle portrayal. But he too ascribes to Plautus a latent moral purpose: "En faisant rire, il veut corriger"!
[Sidenote: Naudet] This sounds ominously like an echo from Naudet who, in the course of lauding Plautus' infinite invention and variety of embroidery, would translate him into a zealous social reformer by saying: "L'auteur se proposait de faire beaucoup rire les spectateurs, mais il voulait aussi qu'ils se corrigeassent en riant." All this is disappointing. We should have expected Gallic esprit to rise superior to such banality.
[Sidenote: LeGrand] The celebrity of French criticism is somewhat redeemed by LeGrand in his monumental work entitled Daos Tableau de la comedie grecque pendant la periode dite nouvelle (Annales de l'Universite de Lyon, 1910), in the conclusion to the chapter on 'Intentions didactiques et valeur morale' (Part III, Chap. I, page 583): "Tout compte fait, au point de vue moral, la νέα dut etre inoffensive (en son temps)." This is the culmination of a calm, dispassionate discussion and analysis of the extant remains of New Comedy and Palliatae.
Even Ritschl fails to escape the taint of degrading Plautus to the status of a petty moralizer. In particular, he lauds the Aul unreservedly as a chef d'oeuvre of character delineation and pronounces it immeasurably superior to Moliere's imitation, "L'Avare." This whole critique, while interesting, falls into the prevailing trend of imputing to Plautus far too high a plane of dramatic artistry.
[Sidenote: Langen] Indeed, Langen has already scored Ritschl on this very point in remarking that Ritschl's condemnation of an alleged defect in the Cas implies much too favorable an estimate of Plautus' artistic worth, as the defects cited are represented as something isolated and remarkable, whereas they are characteristic of Plautine comedy. Langen still displays clear-headed judgment when he says of the Miles: "Wenn die Farben so stark aufgetragen werden, hort jede Feinhet der Charakterzeichnung auf und bereinem Dichter, der sich dies gestattet, darf man bezuglich der Charakterschilderungen nicht zu viele Anspruche machen. Es ist sehr wahrscheinlich dass Plautus mit Rucksicht auf den Geschmack eines Publikums die Zuge des Originals sehr vergrobert hat."
But Langen fails to follow this splendid lead. Without taking advantage of the license that he himself offers the poet, he severely condemns, the scene in which Periplecomenus shouts out to Philocomasium so loudly that the soldier's household could not conceivably help hearing, whereas he is supposed to be conveying secret information. If carried out in a broadly farcical spirit, the scene becomes potentially amusing.
[Sidenote: Mommsen] Mommsen in his History, in the course of an interesting discussion on palliatae and their Greek originals, has a far saner point of view. He says of the authors of New Comedy, "They wrote not like Eupolis and Aristophanes for a great nation; but rather for a cultivated society which spent its time ... in guessing riddles and playing at charades.... Even in the dim Latin copy, through which we chiefly know it, the grace of the original is not wholly obliterated. persons and incidents seem capriciously or carelessly shuffled as in a game of cards; in the original a picture from life, it became in the reproduction a caricature."
Naturally we are not concerned with any consideration of the value of his estimate of New Comedy. Assuredly he rates it too highly, as later investigations have indicated. But here for the first time we are able to quote a well-balanced appreciation of some essential features of Plautine drama: a "capricious shuffling of incidents" and "caricature." In fact it will be our endeavor to show that the palliata was not a true art form, but merely an outer shell or mold into which Plautus poured his stock of witticisms.
[Sidenote: Korting] Still more trenchant is the conclusion of Korting in his Geschichte des griechischen und roemischen Theaters (P. 218 ff.): "Die neue attische Komoedie und folglich auch ihr Abklatsch, die romische Palliata, war nicht ein Lustspiel im hoechsten, im sittlichen Sinne des Wortes, sondern ein blosses Unterhaltungsdrama. Amuesieren wollten die Komoediendichter, nichts weiter. Jedes hoehere Streben lag ihnen fern. Wohl spickten sie ihre Lustspiele mit moralischen Sentenzen.... Aber die schoenen Sentenzen sind eben nur Zierat, sind nur Verbramung einer in ihrem Kerne und Wesen durch und durch unsittlichen Dichtung ... Mit der Wahrscheinlichkeit der Handlung wird es sehr leicht genommen: die seltsamsten Zufaelle werden als so ziemlich selbstverstaendliche Moeglichkeiten hingestellt ... Es ginge das noch an, wenn wir in eine phantastische Maerchenwelt gefuehrt werden, in welcher am Ende auch das Wunderbarste moeglich ist, aber nein! es wird uns zugemutet, ueberzeugt zu sein, dass alles mit natuerlichen Dingen zugehe.
"Alles in allem genommen, ist an dieser Komoedie, abgesehen von ihrer formal musterhaften Technik, herzlich wenig zu bewundern.... An Zweideutigkeiten, Obscoenitaeten, Schimpfscenen ist Ueberfluss vorhanden."
With admirable clarity of vision, Korting has spied the vital spot and illuminated it with the word "Unterhaltungsdrama." That amusement was the sole aim of the comic poets we firmly believe. But if this was so, why arraign them on the charge of trying to convince us that everything is happening in a perfectly natural manner? The outer form to be sure is that of everyday life, but this is no proof that the poets demanded of their audiences a belief in the verisimilitude of the events depicted. Can we have no fantastic fairyland without some outlandish accompaniment such as a chorus garbed as birds or frogs? But we reserve fuller discussion of this point until later. We might suggest an interesting comparison to the nonsense verse of W. S. Gilbert, which represents the most shocking ideas in a style even nonchalantly matter-of-fact. Does Gilbert by any chance actually wish us to believe that "Gentle Alice Brown," in the poem of the same name, really assisted in "cutting up a little lad"?
Korting regains his usual clear-headedness in pronouncing 'that there is little in the technique of palliatae to excite our admiration.' Again we insist (to borrow the jargon of the modern dramatic critic) it was but a "vehicle" for popular amusement.
[Sidenote: Schlegel] Wilhelm Schlegel, in his History of the Drama has the point of view of the dramatic critic, rather than the professional scholar; while expressing a measure of admiration for the significance of Plautus in literature, he is impelled to say: "The bold, coarse style of Plautus and his famous jokes, savour of his familiarity with the vulgar ... mostly inclines to the farcical, to overwrought and often disgusting drollery." This is doubtless true, but, by making the incidental a criterion for the whole, it gives a gross misconception to one that has not read Plautus.
[Sidenote: Donaldson] J. W. Donaldson, in his lectures on the Greek theatre, has plagiarized Schlegel practically verbatim, while giving the scantest credit to his source. His work thus loses value, as being a mere echo, or compilation of second-hand material.
We learn from Schlegel that Goethe was so enamored of ancient comedy that he enthusiastically superintended the translation and production of plays of Plautus and Terence. Says Schlegel: "I once witnessed at Weimar a representation of the Adelphi of Terence, entirely in ancient costume, which, under the direction of Goethe, furnished us a truly Attic evening."
[Sidenote: Scott] In this connection the opinion of Sir Walter Scott may be interesting. He too, not being a classical scholar par excellence, may be better equipped for sound judgment. In the introduction to Dryden's Amphitryon he says: "Plautus ... left us a play on the subject of Amphitryon which has had the honour to be deemed worthy of imitation by Moliere and Dryden. It cannot be expected that the plain, blunt and inartificial style of so rude an age should bear any comparison with that of the authors who enjoyed the highest advantages of the polished times to which they were an ornament." There speaks the sophisticated and conscious literary technician!
[Sidenote: LeGrand] The most comprehensive and judicious estimate of all is certainly attained by LeGrand in Daos. He appreciates clearly that "la nouvelle comedie n'a pas ete, en toute circonstance stance, une comedie distinguee. Elle n'a pas dedaigne constamment la farce et le gros rire." How much more then would this apply to palliatae!
We now believe that we have on hand a sufficiently large volume of criticism to appreciate practically every phase of judgment to which Plautus has been subjected. The ancients overrated him stylistically, but he was a man of their own people. Men such as Becker, Weise, Lorenz and Langrehr have proceeded upon a distinctly exaggerated ideal of Plautus' eminence as a master dramatic craftsman and literary artist and therefore have amputated with the cry of "Spurious!" everything that offends their ideal. Lessing is obsessed with too high an estimate of the Captivi. Lamarre, Naudet and Ritschl commit the error of imputing to our poet a moral purpose. Schlegel and Scott deprecate the crudity of his wit without an adequate appreciation of its sturdy and primeval robustness. Langen, Mommsen, Korting and LeGrand approach a keen estimate of his inconsistencies and his single-minded purpose of entertainment, but Korting accuses him of attempting to create an illusion of life while aiming solely at provoking laughter.
From this heterogeneous mass of diversified criticism we glean the prevailing idea that Plautus is lauded or condemned according to his conformity or non-conformity to some preconceived standard of comedy situate in the critic's mind, without a consideration of the poet's original purpose. We must seriously propound the question as to how far a grave injustice has been done him almost universally in criticising him for what he does not pretend to be. Did Plautus himself suffer from any illusion that his plays were constructed with cogent and consummate technique? Did he for a single instant imagine himself the inspired reformer of public morality? Did he believe that his style was elegant and polished? Indeed, he must have effected an appreciable refinement of the vernacular of his age to produce his lively verse, but without losing the robust vitality of "Volkswitz." Or is it true that nothing further than amusement lay within his scope?
If so, we may at least posit that almost unbounded license must be allowed the pen which aims simply to raise a laugh. We do not fulminate against a treatise on Quaternions because it lacks humor. If the drawings of cartoonists are anatomically incorrect, we are smilingly indulgent. Do we condemn a vaudeville skit for not conforming to the Aristotelian code of dramatic technique? Assuredly we do not rise in disgust from a musical comedy because "in real life" a bevy of shapely maidens in scant attire never goes tripping and singing blithely though the streets. If then we can establish that Plautus regarded his adapted dramas merely as a rack on which to hang witticisms, merely as a medium for laugh-provoking sallies and situations, we have at once Plautus as he pretended to be, and in large measure the answer to the original question: "What manner of drama is this?"
We say only "in large measure," because it is part of our endeavor to settle accurately the position of our author in the dramatic scale, considered of necessity from the modern viewpoint. We cannot believe that he had any pretensions to refined art in play building, or rather rebuilding, or to any superficial elegance of style, or to any moralizing pose. We believe him an entertainer pure and simple, who never restricted himself in his means except by the outer conventions and form of the Greek New Comedy and the Roman stage, provided his single aim, that of affording amusement, was attained. To establish this belief, and at the same time to interpret accurately the nature of his plays and the means and effect of their production, is our thesis.
If then we run the gamut of the dramatic scale, we observe that as we descend from the higher forms, such as tragedy, psychological drama and "straight comedy," to the lower, such as musical comedy and burlesque, the license allowed playwright and actor increases so radically that we have a difference of kind rather than of degree. Certain conventions of course are common to all types. The "missing fourth side" of the room is a commonplace recognized by all. If we ourselves are never in the habit of communicating the contents of our letters, as we write, to a doubtless appreciative atmosphere, we never cavil at such an act on the stage. The stage whisper and aside, too, we accept with benevolent indulgence; but it is worth noting that in the attempted verisimilitude of the modern "legitimate" drama, the aside has well nigh vanished. As we go down the scale through light comedy and broad farce these conventions multiply rapidly.
With the introduction of music come further absurdities. Melodious voicing of our thoughts is in itself essentially unnatural, to say the least. Grand opera, great art form as it may be, is hopelessly artificial. Indeed, so far is it removed from the plane of every day existence that we are rudely jolted by the introduction of too commonplace a thought, as when Sharpless in the English version of "Madame Butterfly" warbles mellifluously: "Highball or straight?" And when we reach musical comedy and vaudeville, all thought of drama, technically speaking, is abandoned in watching the capers of the "merry-merry" or the outrageous "Dutch" comedian wielding his deadly newspaper.
It is important for our immediate purposes to note: first, (as aforesaid), that the amount of license allowed author and actor increases immeasurably as we go down the scale; second, that the degree of familiarity with the audience and cognizance of the spectator's existence varies inversely as the degree of dramatic value. Thus, at one end of the scale we have, for instance, Mrs. Fiske, whose fondness for playing to the centre of the stage and ignoring the audience is commented upon as a mannerism; at the other, the low comedian who says his say or sings his song directly at the audience and converses gaily with them as his boon companions. Now it will be shown that familiar address of the audience and the singing of monodies to musical accompaniment are essential features of Plautus' style, and many other implements of the lower types of modern drama are among his favorite devices. If then we can place Plautus toward the bottom of the scale, we relieve him vastly of responsibility as a dramatist and of the necessity of adherence to verisimilitude. Where does he actually belong? The answer must be sought in a detailed consideration of his methods of producing his effects and in an endeavor to ascertain how far the audience and the acting contributed to them.
Sec.2. The Performance
[Sidenote: The Audience] As it is perfectly patent that every practical playwright must cater to his public, the audience is an essential feature in our discussion. The audience of Plautus was not of a high class. Terence, even in later times, when education had materially progressed, often failed to reach them by over-finesse. Plautus with his bold brush pleased them. Surely a turbulent and motley throng they were, with the native violence of the sun-warmed Italic temperament and the abundant animal spirits of a crude civilization, tumbling into the theatre in the full enjoyment of holiday, scrambling for vantage points on the sloping ground, if such were handy, or a good spot for their camp-stools. In view of the uncertainty as to the actual site of the original performances, this portraiture is "atmospheric" rather than "photographic." (See Saunders in TAPA. XLIV, 1913). At any rate, we have ample evidence of the turbulence of the early Roman audience. (Ter. Prol. Hec. 39-42, and citations immediately following). Note the description of Mommsen: "The audience was anything but genteel.... The body of spectators cannot have differed much from what one sees in the present day at public fireworks and gratis exhibitions. Naturally, therefore, the proceedings were not too orderly; children cried, women talked and shrieked, now and then a wench prepared to push her way to the stage; the ushers had on these festivals anything but a holiday, and found frequent occasion to confiscate a mantle or to ply the rod."
Impatient if the play be delayed, and voicing their disapproval by lusty clapping, stamping, whistling and cat-calls, they are equally ready with noisy approval if the dramatic fare tickle their palate. The tibicen, as he steps forth to render the overture, is greeted uproariously as an old favorite. The manager perhaps appears and announces the names of those taking part, each one of whom is doubtless applauded or hissed in proportion to his measure of popularity. Differences of opinion as to the merits of an individual actor may culminate in the partisans' coming to blows. Horace (Ep. II. I. 200 ff.) comments on the turbulence of the audiences of his day too; while under the Empire factions for and against particular actors grew up, as in the circus. Late-comers of course often disturbed the Prologus in his lines. The continual reiteration that we find in such prologues as the Amph., Cap. and Poen. was naturally designed as a safeguard against such disturbance. Yet these prologues were undoubtedly composed, as Ritschl has shown (Par. 232 ff.), shortly after 146 B.C., and the turbulence of the original audience must have been far greater.
To win the favor of such a crowd, which would groan if instead of the expected comedy a tragedy should be announced, what methods were necessary? Slap-sticks, horse-play, broad slashing swashbuckling humor, thick colors daubed on with lavish brush!
By Cicero's time the public had attained to such a degree of sophistication that the slightest slip on the part of the wretched actor was greeted by a storm of popular disapproval. "Histrio si paulum se movit extra numerum, aut si versus pronuntiatus est syllaba una brevior aut longior, exsibilatur, exploditur," says Cicero. The actor dare not even have a cold, for on the slightest manifestation of hoarseness, he was hooted off, though favorites such as Roscius might be excused on the plea of indisposition. The Scholiast Cruquius to Hor. Ser. I. 10.37 ff. notes: "Poemata ... in theatris exhibita imperitae multitudinis applausum captare."
It is evident from all this that, while the Roman public had made considerable advances in education, their demonstrative temperament had not cooled. It seems eminently fair to deduce that the far ruder and less cultivated audiences of Plautus' day were even more violent in their manifestations of pleasure and displeasure, but that their criterion of taste was solely the amount of amusement derived from the performance and that they bothered themselves little about niceties of rhythm. To the Roman, the scenic and histrionic were the vital features of a production. Again we reiterate, only the bold brush could have pleased them.
That the plays of Plautus attained a permanent position in ihe theatrical repertoire of Rome is of course well known; but he wrote primarily for his own age, and in a difficult environment. Not only did he have to please a highly volatile and inflammable public, but he must have been forced to exercise tact to avoid offending the patrician powers, as the imprisonment of Naevius indicates. Mommsen has an apt summary: "Under such circumstances, where art worked for daily wages and the artist instead of receiving due honour was subjected to disgrace, the new national theatre of the Romans could not present any development either original or even at all artistic."
[Sidenote: The Actor] This brief discussion of the relation between public and playwright will suffice for our purposes. In the course of it we have insensibly encroached upon the next topic: the relation of public and actor. Who after all is the chief factor in the success or failure of a drama, in spite of the oft misquoted adage, "The play's the thing?" The actor! The actor, who can mouth and tear a passion to tatters, or swing a piece of trumpery into popular favor by the brute force of his dash and personality. That this was true in Plautus' day, no less than in our own, is plainly indicated by the personal allusion inserted in the Bac. (214-5):
Etiam Epidicum, quam ego fabulam aeque ac me ipsum amo, Nullam aeque invitus specto, si agit Pellio.
The servile status of the ancient actor is an index to the energy of his performance, if to nothing else. Failure meant a beating, success a drink at least. Augustus humanely abrogated the whipping of actors, but an attempt was made in Tiberius' time to renew the practice. On the other hand, there seem to have been prizes awarded to successful actors, as well as to the poet; but this practice surely arose after Plautus' lifetime. At any rate, whatever was the nature of the reward, in his day the large emoluments won by Roscius and other popular favorites were impossible. The effort demanded by the elaborate education of the actor, in which naturally gesticulation was the most vital element, was out of all proportion to the precarious reward. A rigid course of training was prescribed and strenuous exercises were required, for both actor and orator to keep the voice in proper form. Indeed, Quintilian advises the budding orator to take instruction in voice production and gesticulation from the comic actor. For the comic actor was at all times recognized as livelier and more vivid in his performance than the tragedian. The two were usually sharply differentiated. Specialization arose, too, and we hear of actors who confined their efforts to feminine roles, though naturally every performer was cast for parts to which his physique was best suited.
It is doubtful whether such an elaborate system had been developed in Plautus' time, but this much is certain: the comedian was on the stage lively, energetic and constantly spurred on by the fear of punishment from the dominus gregis and the violent disapproval of a fickle, tempestuous and withal exacting public. Polybius relates that the visit of a troupe of Greek actors to Rome was a failure because of their over-staid deportment, until, learning the desires of the volatile Italians, they improvised a vastly more vivid pantomime depicting a mock battle, with huge success. Assuredly the early Roman comedian must have acted with greater abandon and clownish drollery, if not with the elaborate histrionic technique of the later actor. We have heard Dr. Charles Knapp relate that the performance of the Ajax of Sophocles by a troupe of modern Greek players went with amazing and incredible rapidity and vivacity. It is all of a piece. We must inevitably associate vivid temperament with the sons of the Mediterranean in all ages. Yet we have just seen that the Greeks of old were too self-contained for their Italian brethren.
[Sidenote: The Histrionism] With this brief discussion of the condition, incentive and motive of the Plautine actor, let us pass on to a more detailed consideration of his methods and technique. Naturally by far the most important part of this was gesture. Here again, while some of our evidence is somewhat unreliable, practically every shred of extant testimony indicates an extreme liveliness and vivacity. In the rhetoricians frequent warning is issued to the forensic neophyte to avoid the unrestraint of theatrical gesticulation. Cicero says (De Or. I. 59. 251): "Nemo suaserit studiosis dicendi adulescentibus in gestu discendo histrionum more elaborare." Quintilian echoes (I. 11. 3): "Ne gestus quidem omnis ac motus a comediis petendus est.... Orator plurimum ... aberit a scaenico, nec vultu nec manu nec excursionibus nimius." And in the Auctor ad Herennium we find (III. 15. 26): "Convenit igitur in vultu et pudorem nec acrimoniam esse, in gestu et venustatem nec turpitudinem, ne aut histriones aut operarii videamur esse." That the nature and liveliness of gesture on the stage was determined by the character portrayed, it is almost needless to say.
Cicero's analysis (de Or. III. 59. 220) of the difference between theatrical and forensic gesture implies that the former illustrates individual words and ideas, while the latter comprehends more broadly the general thought and sentiment. It is most unfortunate that we have lost Cicero's treatise De Gestu Histrionis.
By Cicero's time a more restrained mode of acting was evidently considered good taste; witness de Off. (I. 36. 130): "Histrionum non nulli gestus ineptus non vacant, et quae sunt recta et simplicia laudantur." But the passages cited above bear ample testimony to the vigor of histrionic gesticulation even at this later and far more cultivated epoch. Again we repeat, what must have been the energy and abandon of the original Plautine actor?
Apart from the rhetoricians, the most fruitful literary source of our information on gesture is Donatus' commentary on Terence. The trustworthiness of this has been the subject of much argument. Sittl accuses him of speaking merely from the standpoint of a professor of rhetoric, as comedies of Terence were no longer given in the time of Donatus. Weinberger in his "Beitrage zu den Buhnenaltherthumern aus Donats Terenz-commentar," admonishes us to be very careful not to put too high a value on the commentary. Van Wageningen is of the opinion that much of the work was inspired by Donatus' having seen in his own time unmasked actors play. To this view color is lent by Donatus' note to And. 716: "Sive haec personatis viris agitur, ut apud veteres, sive per mulierem, ut nunc videmus."
If this is true, it makes Donatus' work of more significance to us, as it would imply a harking back to the play of feature of the unmasked performances of Plautus' day. But while it is certain that Donatus had other sources than the Terentian text for his annotations, it is equally certain that practically everything he has to say relative to gesture and stage business is readily to be deduced from the text and is in the main interesting only as a compilation. However, everything he says continues to point persistently to lively gesture and action; and this too in Terentian comedy, where the text makes far less rigorous demands on the actor's muscles than in Plautus' works.
Donatus remarks occasionally that certain words must have been accompanied by especially expressive gesture and byplay, evidently of feature, as vultuose, cum gestu and similar phrases are used to indicate this. His note to And. 722 is: "Haec scaena actuosa est: magis enim in gestu quam in oratione est constituta." Of gestures emphatic and yet not foreign to everyday life Quintilian notes (XI. 3. 123): "Femur ferire—et usitatum et indignantis decet"; a movement plainly employed in Mil. 204 and Truc. 601. But, says Quintilian further (ib.): "Complodere manus scaenicum est et pectus caedere."
One of the notable "hits" of the ancient stage is recorded by Donatus ad Phor. 315: Ambivius (as Phormio) entered "oscitans temulenter atque aurem minimo scalpens digitulo ... et labia lingens ut ebrius et ructans." But Ambivius' potations resulted in an extremely spirited and lifelike imitation of the parasite character and he was forthwith forgiven his drunkenness.
Passing mention must be made of the Terentian Mss. illustrations, though they add but little weight to the foregoing. For a complete list of their sources and editions see Sittl, "Gebaerden der Griechen und Roemer," Chap. XI, p. 203 ff. But whatever be the exact date of the original, in our extant copies the old traditional gestures are lost and the gesture of everyday life supplied. In fact, in the analyses appended by Leo, van Wageningen and Warnecke, in the works cited above, we arrive at little but that the gestures natural to any Italian-born person in a like situation are reproduced, such as "gestus abeuntis, cogitantis, parasiti," etc. It is almost too much to make any of this a basis for argument as to classical and pre-classical stage-craft. It is at least significant that every character with hands free is gesticulating and the scene from Eun. IV. 6-7 is evidently full of vigorous action.
An old and discursive article by T. Baden, containing a description and analysis of the gestures and posture of a number of familiar figures from comedy exemplified in some collections of statuettes (chiefly those in Borgia's Museum of Baden's time), is open to the same objection as the above. The gestures of slave, pander, parasite, etc., described in the article are lively and expressive to be sure, but contain little to differentiate them from those of daily life.
While much of our evidence is still to come, we believe that we are already justified in the deduction that the actor contemporary with Plautus must have indulged in the extravagances of the players in the Atellan farces and the mimes. The mimus of the Empire, we know, specialized in ridiculous facial contortions.
We must not forget too the vivacity indicated by the comic scenes among the Pompeian and Herculanean wall-paintings, which have a close kinship with the Terentian MSS. pictures. Nor must we lose sight of the fact that all our pictorial reliquiae portray the later masked characters, and hence play of feature, which must have been a notable concomitant of the original Plautine performance, is entirely obscured.
As our intention is fundamentally to get at the original intent of our poet and his actors, a discussion of the mask is not in order. Whether we agree with Donatus' statement that masks were first introduced for comedy and tragedy by Cincius Faliscus and Minucius Prothymus respectively, or with Diomedes' explanation that Roscius adopted them to disguise his pronounced squint, it is certain that they were not worn in Plautus' time, when wigs and make-up were employed for characterization. In fact, the early performances of Plautus, unless we except the original Terentian productions, stand almost alone in the history of Graeco-Roman comedy as unmasked plays. This would give opportunity for the practice of lively grimace and facial play.
The text itself contains not infrequent descriptions of the outward appearance of the characters, often pointing to grotesqueries of make-up that rival those of the Old Comedy. From As. 400-1 we learn that Saurea was:
Macilentis malis, rufulus, aliquantum ventriosus, Truculentis oculis, commoda statura, tristi fronte.
In the Mer. Lysimachus is described as a veritable thensaurus mali (639-40):
Canum, varum, ventriosum, buculentum, breviculum, Subnigris oculis, oblongis malis, pansam aliquantulum.
Curculio was one-eyed: "Unocule, salve" (Cur. 392). Pseudolus must have been a joy to the groundlings (Ps. 1218 ff.):
Rufus quidam, ventriosus, crassis suris, subniger, Magno capite, acutis oculis, ore rubicundo, admodum Magnis pedibus. BA. Perdidisti, ut nominavisti pedes. Pseudolus fuit ipsus.
His red slave's wig is thus made a feature in the characterization. (Cf. Ter. Phor. 51). When Trachalio is looking for the procurer, he inquires (Rud. 316 ff.):
Ecquem Recalvom ad Silanum senem, statutum, ventriosum, Tortis superciliis, contracta fronte...?
The precise details of the histrionic technique and "stage business" in vogue must remain more or less a mystery to us. Our limitations in this respect are admirably enunciated by Saunders (TAPA. XLIV, p. 97): "One must conclude then, that it is dangerous to dogmatize on this subject, as on most others connected with the early Roman stage. Our evidence is too slight and the period of time involved is too long...." We can, therefore, deal in little but generalities. The Romans must have imitated and developed their Greek and Etruscan models. When Livius Andronicus first fathered palliatae, he must have chosen the New Comedy not only as the type of drama most available to him, but as wholly adaptable to his audiences. When Plautus wrote, he had the machinery already built for him, and he doubtless seized upon the palliata form as the natural medium for the exploitation of his talents. By Cicero's time considerable technical equipment was required; the actor must be an adept in gesticulation, gymnastic and dancing. Appreciable refinement had been reached in Quintilian's age, for he scores the comic actor who departs too far from reality and pronounces the ideal player him who declaims with a measured artistic heightening of everyday discourse. It is noteworthy that this practically coincides with the accepted standard of modern realistic acting. But the Plautine actor could never have felt himself trammeled by any such narrow and sophisticated restrictions, as we believe the evidence accumulated above amply proves. At any rate, the delineation of different roles must have been at all times strictly in character. The need of feminine vocal tones, unless another jest is intended is indicated by Rud. 233:
Certe vox muliebris auris tetigit meas.
And Quintilian admonishes the youth who is taking lessons from a comic actor in voice-production not to carry his precepts so far as to imitate the female falsetto, the senile tremolo, the obsequiousness of the slave, the stuttering accents of intoxication or the intonations of love, greed, fear.
Where Donatus gives instructions as to the vocal expression with which certain lines are to be delivered, as in the case of his comments on gesture, they are almost painfully evident from the context. He cites for instance irony, anger, exhaustion , amazement , sympathy, pity. He appears as the lineal ancestor of the modern "coach" of amateur theatricals in somewhat naively remarking that upon leaving Thais for two days, Phaedria must pronounce "two days" as if "two years" were written.
Another phase of the delivery of the dialogue that deserves passing mention is song and musical accompaniment. Livy's anecdote of the employment by Livius Andronicus of a boy to sing for him while he gesticulated is almost universally accepted as an exceptional instance, prompted by the failing of Livius' voice through age. We are now fairly well informed of the tripartite diversion of the dialogue into canticum or song proper, recitative, and diverbium or spoken utterance, with the incidental accompaniment of the tibia. Though there may be some dispute as to the apportionment of the various classes, the general truth is established. The important feature of this for our purpose is that, if the ancient tragedy with its music and dancing was rather comparable to modern grand opera than to drama proper, the song and musical accompaniment of comedy lend it a strong flavor of the opera bouffe and even of the musical comedy of to-day. In Part II we shall draw numerous other parallels between this style of composition and the plays of Plautus. West, in A.J.P. VIII. 33, notes one of the few comparisons to "comic opera" that we have seen. Fay, in the Introduction to his ed. of the Most. (Sec. 11), likens Plautine drama to "an opera of the early schools."
One feature of the performance still remains to be discussed—the "stage-business," that is, the movements of the actors apart from mere gesticulation and dialogue. Much of this too will find a place in Part II, in the treatment of special peculiarities, but in general we note here that the text itself contains many indications that are as plain as printed stage directions regarding the movements being made or about to be made by the characters. Examples of the more significant follow: Amph. 308: Cingitur: Certe expedit se; 312: Perii, pugnos ponderat. (Sosia speaks aside of Mercury and similarly during the succeeding scene); 903: Potin ut abstineas manum?; 955: Aperiuntur aedis. This motif is commonplace and frequent; 958: Vos tranquillos video; 1130: quam valide tonuit; As. 39: Age, age, usque excrea; Bac. 668: quod sic terram optuere?; Cap. 557: Viden tu hunc, quam inimico voltu intuitur?; 594: Ardent oculi; 793: Hic homo pugilatum incipit; Ep. 609: illi caperrat frons severitudine; Mer. 138: iam dudum spato sanguinem; Mil. 1324: Nefle; Most. 1030: vocis non habeo satis. (He must have been shouting); Ps. 458: Statum vide hominis, Callipho, quam basilicum; 955: transvorsus ... cedit, quasi cancer solet: Trin. 623 f.: celeri graducunt uterque: ille rcprehendit hunc priorem pallio.
This practice of indicating business in the lines, of making the play act, is common to all the older types of drama, Elizabethan as well as classic. A single striking example from Shakespeare will furnish a parallel, in the well-known lines from Macbeth:
The devil damn thee black, thou cream-faced loon, Where gott'st thou that goose look? (V. 3).
The modern playwright robs his lines of their vividness and throws the onus on the actor through the medium of his interpolated direction, a custom which reaches its most exaggerated form in the plays of Bernard Shaw, as mentioned above.
[Sidenote: Thesis] We have now made a perceptible advance towards getting an answer to our original questions: "What manner of drama is this?" and "How was it done?" The comments of the most eminent critics on the former question have left us rather bewildered by their diversity. Almost to a man they have taken Plautus too seriously or else have arraigned him for not conforming to their preconceived code of comedy, without questioning whether it were Plautus' own or not. This has really nullified their efforts to explain away the peculiarities and absurdities of his style. Some solvent of these difficulties is needed.
As to the second question, we have examined briefly the extant evidence regarding the actor's employment of gesture and business, his delivery of the dialogue, make-up and character delineation, and found a disappointing paucity, but a general and irresistible trend towards liveliness, vivacity and broad undiluted comedy that must have been the sort of dramatic fare demanded by the primeval appetite of the Plautine audience. But again we find ourselves falling short of a satisfying answer to our question. Again, some solvent is needed. As the last resort, we turn to the evidence of the plays themselves and the unbounded realm of subjective criticism.
From the earliest times gesture and business in Aristophanes and the Old Comedy were marked by the riotous license of all the media of that notable epoch of comedy. From the broad spirit of its frank and vivid burlesque not even the most stolidly Teutonic of humorless critics ever thought of demanding a "picture of life." But with the abandonment of the purpose of political propaganda, the consequent disappearance of the chorus with its burlesque trappings (largely through motives of state economy), and the establishment in the New Comedy of a type of dramatic machinery that had a specious outer shell of reflection of characters and events in daily life, the critics instantly seem to demand the standard of dramatic technique of Aristotle and Freytag and condemn all departures from this standard. In reality, we believe that the kinship of Plautus with Aristophanes is much closer than has usually been realized.
Is, then, the change from Old to New Comedy as great as has been represented? Does not the change consist rather in the outer form and in the ideas expounded than in the spirit of the histrionism and mimicry? And must not the vigor, from what we have seen, have been intensified in Plautus? LeGrand alone seems to have caught the essence of this: "Que dire de la mimique? D'apres les indications contenues dans le texte meme des comedies, d'apres les commentaires—notamment ceux de Donat, d'apres les monuments figures—en particulier les images des manuscrits, elle devait etre en general tres vive, souvent trop vive pour le gout des modernes.... Et puis, ils s'addressaient a des spectateurs meridionaux, coutumiers dans la vie quotidienne d'une gesticulation plus animee que la notre." And this is said as a combined estimate of New Comedy and palliatae.
We are now prepared to advance a definite thesis, that shall gather up the random threads of argument and suggestion scattered through the foregoing pages and shall, we hope, provide a conclusive and final answer to both of our original questions. If we can establish: that our author's sole aim was to feed the popular hunger for amusement; that, while after leaving much of his Greek originals practically untouched, he considered them in effect but a medium for the provocation of laughter, but a vessel into which to pour a highly seasoned brew of fun; that to this end his actors went before the public, potentially speaking slap-stick in hand, equipped by nature with liveliness of grimace and gesture and prepared to act with verve, unction and an abandon of dash and vigor that would produce a riot of merriment; that his dramatic machinery is hopelessly crippled and that his evident intentions and effects are hopelessly lost unless interpreted in this spirit: then we relegate Plautine drama to a low plane of broad farce, where verisimilitude to life becomes wholly unnecessary because undesirable; where the canons of dramatic art become inoperative; where, contrary to what Koerting says, we are not asked to believe that "everything is happening in a perfectly natural manner"; where the poet may stick at nothing provided the laugh be forthcoming; where all the apparently absurd conventions of palliatae cease to be absurd, vanish into thin air and become unamenable to literary criticism, inasmuch as they are all only part of the laugh-compelling scheme. This is the solvent that we propose. To establish this, let us proceed to an examination of the internal mechanism of the plays.
An Analysis of the Dramatic Values in Plautus
The salient features that characterize the plays of Plautus include both his consciously employed means of producing his comic effects, and the peculiarities and abnormalities that evidence his attitude of mind in writing them. We should make bold to catalogue them as follows:
I. Machinery characteristic of the lower types of modern drama—farce, low comedy, musical comedy, burlesque shows, vaudeville, and the like.
A. Devices self-evident from the text. 1. Bombast and mock-heroics. 2. Horse-play and slap-sticks. 3. Burlesque, farce and extravagance of situation and dialogue. a. True burlesque. b. True farce. c. Extravagances obviously unnatural and merely for the sake of fun.
B. Devices absurd and inexplicable unless interpreted in a broad farcical spirit. 1. The running slave. 2. Wilful blindness. 3. Adventitious entrance.
II. Evidences of loose composition which prove a disregard of technique and hence indicate that entertainment was the sole aim.
A. Solo speeches and passages. 1. Asides and soliloquies. 2. Lengthy monodies, monologues and episodical specialties. 3. Direct address of the audience.
B. Inconsistencies and carelessness of composition. 1. Pointless badinage and padded scenes. 2. Inconsistencies of character and situation. 3. Looseness of dramatic construction. 4. Roman admixture and topical allusions. 5. Jokes on the dramatic machinery. 6. Use of stock plots and characters.
Let us illustrate these points by typical passages and endeavor to insert such stage-directions as would indicate how the most telling effects could be produced and hence aid the reader in visualizing the actual performance.
I. Machinery Characteristic of the Lower Types of Modern Drama
A. Devices self-evident from the text.
1. Bombast and mock-heroics.
It is a little difficult to sublimate this entirely from burlesque, but its true nature is instanced by the opening lines of the Miles, where the vainglorious Pyrgopolinices, with many a sweep and strut, addresses his attendants, who are probably staggering under the weight of an enormous shield:
"Have a care that the effulgence of my shield be brighter than e'er the sun's rays in a cloudless sky: when the time for action comes and the battle's on, I intend it shall dazzle the eyesight o' m' foes. (Patting his sword). Verily I would condole with this m' sword, lest he lament and be cast down in spirit, forasmuch as now full long hath he hung idle by m' side, thirsting, poor lad, to meet his fellow 'mongst the foe," and so on.
In line with this, a simulation of the military is a favorite device. So we find Pseudolus addressing the audience in ringing blustering tones and with grandiose gesture (Ps. 584 ff.):
"It now becomes my aim today to lay siege to this town and capture it." (Ballio the procurer is the town). "I shall hurl all my legions against it. If I take it, ... good luck to you, my citizens, for part of the booty shall be yours."
This finds a close counterpart in the Mil. 219 ff., a passage which West thinks was deliberately inserted to rouse the populace into demanding that Scipio be at once despatched to Africa.
Periplecomenus is urging Palaestrio to find a stratagem. Actually he probably addresses the pit:
"Don't you see that the enemy are upon you and investing your rear? Call a council of war, reach out for stores and reinforcements in this crisis: haste, haste, no time to waste! Make a detour through some pass, forestall your foes, beleaguer them, protect our troops! Cut off the enemy's base of supplies!" etc.
Whether this passage had an ulterior purpose or not, the motif is frequent. So we find Chrysalus in Bac. 925 ff. holding the stage for an entire scene with an elaborate comparison of himself to Ulysses, the brains of the Greek host, overcoming his master Nicobulus who represents Priam.
In general the mocking assumption of an heroic attitude recurs with sufficient frequency to stamp it as a staple of comic effect. Many passages would become tiresome and meaningless instead of amusing unless so interpreted. The soliloquy of Mnesilochus in Bac. 500 ff. could be made interesting only by turgid ranting. Similarly in Bac. 530 ff. and 612 ff.
2. Horse-play and slap-sticks.
By this we mean what can in nowise be so clearly defined as by "rough-house." For instance, the turbulent Euclio in Aul. delivers bastings impartially to various dramatis personae and as a climax drives the cooks and music-girl pell-mell out of the house, doubtless accompanied by deafening howling and clatter (415 ff.). Similarly in the Cas. (875 ff.) Chalinus routs Olympio and the lecherous Lysidamus. We may well imagine that such scenes were preceded as well as accompanied by a fearful racket within (a familiar device of our low comedy and extravaganza), the effect probably heightened by tempestuous melodrama on the tibiae, as both the scenes cited are in canticum.
In the Men. we are treated to a free fight, in which the valiant Messenio routs the lorarii by vigorous punches, while Menaechmus plants his fist in one antagonist's eye (Men. 1011 ff.):
(Menaechmus of Epidamnus is seized by lorarii; as he struggles, Messenio, slave of Menaechmus Sosicles, rushes into the fray to his rescue). "MES. I say! Gouge out that fellow's eye, the one that's got you by the shoulder, master. Now as for these rotters, I'll plant a crop of fists on their faces. (Lays about.) By Heaven, you'll be everlastingly sorry for the day you tried to carry my master off. Let go!
MEN. (Joining in with a will.) I've got this fellow by the eye!
MES. Bore it out! A hole's good enough for his face! You villians, you thieves, you robbers! (General melee. Lorarii weaken.)
LOR. We're done for! Oh Lord, please!
MES. Let go then!
MEN. What right had you to lay hands on me? Give them a good beating up! (Lorarii break and scatter wildly under the ferocious onslaught.)
MES. Come, clear out! To the devil with you all! That for you! (Strikes.) You're the last; here's your reward! (Strikes again.)"
The lines themselves are sufficiently graphic and need but little annotation. Other pugilistic activities crop up at not infrequent intervals in the text, and in Ps. 135 ff. Ballio generously plies the whip. In the lacuna of the Amph. after line 1034, Mercury probably bestows a drenching on Amphitruo. In As. III. 3, especially 697 ff., Libanus makes his master Argyrippus "play horsey" with him, doubtless with indelicate buffonery. With invariable energy, even so simple a matter as knocking on doors is made the excuse for raising a violent disturbance, as in Amph. 1019 f. and 1025: Paene effregisti, fatue, foribus cardines. And this idea is actually parodied in As. 384 ff. No, Plautus did not allow his public to languish for want of noise.
3. Burlesque, farce and extravagance of situation and dialogue.
Under this head we include such conscious strivings for comic as are frankly and plainly exaggerated and hyper-natural.
a. True burlesque.
This is in effect pure parody, cartooning. Patent burlesque of tragedy appears in Trin. 820 ff. (Charmides returns from abroad.)
"CHAR. To Neptune, ruler of the deep, and puissant brother unto Jove and Nereus, do I in joy and gladness cry my praises and gratefully proclaim my gratitude; and to the briny waves, who held me in their power, yea, even my chattels and my very life, and from their realms restored me to the city of my birth," etc., etc.
To tickle the ears of the groundlings, this must have been delivered in grandiloquent mimicry with all the paraphernalia of the tragic style. Horace notes a kindred manifestation of this tendency (to which he himself is pleasingly addicted), in Ep. II. 3.93 f.:
Interdum tamen et vocem comoedia tollit Iratusque Chremes tumido delitigat ore.
Tragic burlesque is again beautifully exemplified in Ps. 702 ff. The versatile Pseudolus after a significant aside: "I'll address the fellow in high-sounding words," says to his master Calidorus:
"Hail! Hail! Thee, thee, O mighty ruler, thee do I beseech who art lord over Pseudolus. Thee do I seek that thou mayst obtain thrice three times triple delights in three various ways, joys earned by three tricks and three tricksters, cunningly won by treachery, fraud and villainy, which in this little sealed missive have I but erstwhile brought to thee....
CHAR. The rascal's spouting like a tragedian."
When Sosia, in the first scene of Amph. (203 ff.), turgidly describes the battle between the Thebans and Teleboans, he is parodying the Messenger of tragedy. Another echo from tragedy is heard at the end of the play, when Jupiter appears in the role of deus ex machina.
Burlesque of character and calling puts in an occasional appearance. The recreant Sosia in Amph. 958 ff. mimics the dutiful slave. As. 259 ff. contains an ironical treatment of augury, while in 751 ff. the poet has his satirical fling at the legal profession.
b. True farce.
This is of course the comedy of situation and finds its mainstay in mistaken identity. The Men. and Amph. with their doubles are farce-comedies proper, but the element of farce forms the motive power of nearly all the plots; for example, the shuffling-up of Acropolistis, Telestis and the fidicina in Ep., the quarrel between Mnesilochus and Pistoclerus in Bac. resulting from the former's belief that his friend had stolen his sweetheart, the exchange of names between Tyndarus and Philocrates in Cap., the entrapping of Demaenetus with the meretrix at the denouement of As., etc., etc. It is understood, we presume, that the modern farce occupies no exalted position in the comic scale, is distinguished by the grotesquerie of its characters, incidents and dialogue, and is indulgently permitted to stray far from the paths of realism. Even in Shakespearian farce, note the exaggerated antics of the two Dromios in "The Comedy of Errors." It is significant then that farce is a staple of our plays.
The farcical element is strikingly exemplified in Amph. 365-462, where Mercury persuades Sosia that he is not himself. Impersonation and assumption of a role is another noteworthy and frequent medium of plot motivation. In As. 407 ff. Leonida tries to palm himself off as the atriensis. Note the violent efforts of the two slaves to wheedle the cunning ass-dealer (449 ff.). In Cas. 815 ff. Chalinus enters disguised as the blushing bride. In Men. 828 ff. Menaechmus Sosicles pretends madness in a clever scene of uproarious humor. In the Mil. (411 ff.) Philocomasium needs only to change clothing to appear in the role of her own hypothetical twin sister, and in 874 ff. and 1216 ff. the meretrix plays matrona. Sagaristio and the daughter of the leno impersonate Persians (Per. 549 ff.), Collabiscus becomes a Spartan (Poen. 578 ff.), Simia as Harpax gets Ballio's money (Ps. 905 ff.), the sycophant is garbed as messenger (Trin. 843 ff.), Phronesium elaborately pretends to be a mother (Truc. 499 ff.). A swindle is almost invariably the object in view. But we have said enough on this score: no one who knows the plays at all can fail to recognize the predominance of farce. Compare on the modern stage the sudden appearance of "the long-lost cousin from Chicago."
c. Extravagances obviously unnatural and merely for the sake of fun.
This group of course often contains marked features of burlesque and farce, and hence shows a close kinship with the foregoing.
The extravagance of the love-sick swain is a fruitful source of this species of caricature. The ridiculous Calidorus, always wearing his heart on his sleeve, rolls his eyes, brushes away a tear and says (Ps. 38 ff.): "But for a short space have I been e'en as a lily of the field. Suddenly sprang I up, as suddenly I withered." The irreverent Pseudolus replies: "Oh, shut up while I read the letter over." Calidorus finds his counterpart in Phaedromus of the Cur., who, accompanied by his slave, approaches milady's abode (Cur. 10 ff.):
"PH. (In languishing accents, with eyes cast upward): Shall I not take sweets to the sweet: what is culled by the toil of the busy bees to my own little honey?... (They advance to milady's doorway which he sprinkles with wine, 88 ff.): Come, drink, ye portals of pleasure, quaff and deign to be propitious unto me.
PALINURUS SER. (Addressing the door with mimicry of Phaedromus' airs.) Do you want some olives or sweetmeats or capers?
PH. (Continuing.) Arouse your portress; hither send her unto me. (Lavishes the wine.)
PAL. (In great alarm, grasping his arm.) You're spilling the wine! What's got hold of you?
PH. Unhand me! (Gently shakes himself loose.) Lo! The temple of joys untold is opening. Did not the hinge creak? 'Tis charming!
PAL. (Turning aside in disgust.) Why don't you give it a kiss?"
In each case the impertinent slave provides the foil. When the lovers succeed in meeting, they are interlocked in embrace from 172 to 192, probably invested with no small amount of suggestive "business." This would doubtless hardly be tolerated by the "censor" today. Another variety of lover's extravagance is the lavishing of terms of endearment, as we find in Cas. 134 ff.
When this feature of "extravagance" enters the situation instead of the dialogue, we have episodes such as the final scene of the Ps., where the name character is irrelevantly introduced (1246) in a state of intoxication which, with copious belching in Simo's face, culminates in a rebellion of the overloaded stomach (1294). We can scarcely doubt that such business was carried out in ultra-graphic detail and rewarded by copious guffaws from the populace. In sharp contrast to this, the drunkenness of Callidamates in Most. 313 ff. is depicted with unusual artistry, but still from the very nature of such a scene it may be labeled "extravagant."
Manifestation of violent anger is another source of exaggerated stage business. Ep. 512 ff. should be interpreted somewhat as follows:
"(The deluded Periphanes has just discovered that the fidicina is an impostor and not his daughter.) FID. (Sweetly.) Do you want me for anything else?
PER. (Stamping foot and shaking fists in a passion.) The foul fiend take you to utter perdition! Clear out, and quickly too!
FID. (In alarm.) Won't you give me back my harp?
PER. Nor harp nor pipes! So hurry up and get out of here, if you know what's good for you!
FID. (Stamping her foot in tearful rage.) I'll go, but you'll have to give them back later just the same and it will be all the worse for you.
PER. (Striding up and down in wildest anger.) What!... shall I let her go unpunished? Nay, even if I have to lose as much again, I'll lose it rather than let myself be mocked and despoiled with impunity!" and so on.
Other random scenes that may be classed as "extravagant" are found in Strobilus' cartoon of Euclio (Aul. 300 ff.), Demipho's discovery in the distance of a mythical bidder for the girl (Mer. 434 ff.), Charinus' playing "horsey" and taking a trip in his imaginary car (Mer. 930 ff.), and the loud "boo-hoo" to which Philocomasium gives vent (Mil. 1321 ff.). These all might be classed under either "farce" or "burlesque," but they seem to come more exactly under the kindred head of "extravagance."
A familiar figure in modern farce-comedy is the comic conspirator with finger on lip, tiptoeing round in fear of listeners. He finds his prototype in Trin. (146 ff.):
"(Callicles and Megaronides converse.)
CAL. (In a mysterious whisper.) Look around a bit and make sure there's nobody spying on us—and please look around every few seconds. (They pause and peer in every direction, perhaps creeping round on tiptoe.)
MEG. Now, I am all ears.
CAL. When you're through, I'll talk. (Pauses and nods.) Just before Charmides went abroad, he showed me a treasure, (stops and looks over his shoulders) in his house here, in one of the rooms. (Starts, as if at a noise.) Look around! (They repeat the search and return again.)
MEG. There's nobody."
Another old stage friend is the detected plotter trying to lie out of an embarrassing situation. He is lineally descended from Tranio in the Most. Tranio has just induced his master Theopropides to pay forty minae to the money-lender on the pretext that Theopropides' son Philolaches has bought a house (659 ff.):
"TH. In what neighborhood did my son buy this house?
TR. (Aside to audience in comic despair, with appropriate gesture.) See there now! I'm a goner!
TH. (Impatiently.) Will you answer my question?
TR. Oh yes, but (Stammering and displaying symptoms of acute embarrassment) I—I'm trying to think of the owner's name. (Groans.)
TH. Well, hurry up and remember it!
TR. (Rapidly, aside.) I can't see anything better to do than tell him his son bought the house of our next-door neighbor here. (With a shrug.) Thunder, I've heard that a steaming lie is the best kind. (Mock-heroically.) 'Tis the will of the gods, my mind's made up.
TH. (Who has been frowning and stamping in impatience.) Well, well, well! Haven't you thought of it yet?
TR. (Aside.) Curses on him!... (Finally turning and bursting out suddenly.) It's our next-door neighbor here—your son bought the house from him. (He sees that the lie goes and sighs with relief.)"
Another variation on this theme is the futile effort of the plotter to get rid of a character armed with incriminating evidence. Again we quote Most. (573 ff.), where Tranio is conversing with Theopropides. The money-lender from whom young Philolaches has borrowed appears on the other side of the stage. Tranio espies him. He must keep him away from the old man. With a hurried excuse he flies across to meet Misargyrides.
"TR. (Taking Misargyrides' arm and attempting to steer him off-stage.) I was never so glad to see a man in my life.
MIS. (Suspiciously, holding back.) What's the matter?
TR. (Confidentially.) Just step this way. (Looks back apprehensively at Theopropides, who is regarding them suspiciously.)
MIS. (In a loud and offensive voice.) Won't my interest be paid?
TR. I know you have a good voice; don't shout so loud.
MIS. (Louder.) Hang it, but I will shout!
TR. (Groans and glances over shoulder again.) Run along home, there's a good fellow. (Urges him toward exit.)", etc.
Tranio has a chance for very lively business: a sickly smile for the usurer, lightning glances of apprehension towards Theopropides, with an occasional intimate groan aside to the audience. Other farcical scenes of the many that may be cited as calling for particularly vivacious business and gesture are, e.g., Cas. 621 ff., where Pardalisca befools Lysidamus by timely fainting, Rud. 414 ff., where Sceparnio flirts with Ampelisca, and the quarrel scene, Rud. 485 ff.
The last four passages quoted in translation are by no means lacking in artistic humor and a measure of reality, but they imply a pronounced heightening of the actions and emotions of everyday life and lose their humor unless presented in the broad spirit that stamps them as belonging to the plane of farce. We now pass on to motives where the dialogue aims at effects manifestly unnatural and where verisimilitude is sacrificed to the joke, as we have seen it is in the employment of "bombast," "true burlesque," etc.
The first of these motives is a stream of copious abuse, as in Per. 406 ff., where Toxilus servos and Dordalus leno exchange Rabelaisian compliments.
"TOX. (Hopping about with rabid gestures.) You filthy pimp, you mud-heap, you common dung-hill, you besmirched, corrupt, law-breaking decoy, you public sewer, ... robber, mobber, jobber, ...!
DOR. (Who has been dancing around in fury, shaking his fist until exhausted by his paroxysms.) Wait—till—(Puffing)—I—get—my breath—I'll—answer you! You dregs of the rabble, you slave-brothel, you 'white-slave' freer, you sweat-of-the-lash, you chain gang, you king of the treadmill, ... you eat-away, steal-away run-away....!" etc.
Perhaps we have here the forerunner of the shrewish wife in modern vaudeville, who administers to her shrinking consort a rapid-fire tongue-lashing. Another phase of this profuse riot of words appears in the formidable Persian name that Sagaristio, disguised as a Persian, adopts in the Per. (700 ff.):
"DORDALUS. What's your name?
SAG. Listen then, and you shall hear: False-speaker-us Girl-seller-son Much-o'-nothing-talk-son Money-gouge-out-son Talk-up-to you-son Coin-wheedle-out-son What-I-once-get-son Never-give-up-son: there you are!
DOR. (With staring eyes and gasping breath.) Ye Gods! That's a variegated name of yours!
SAG. (With a superior wave of the hand.) It's the Persian fashion."
The second point in this category is own cousin to the above. We should label it persistent interruption and repetition. An excellent instance is Trin. 582 ff., when Stasimus, Lesbonicus and Philto have just hatched a plot. Philto departs.
"LES. (To Stasimus.) You attend to my instructions. I'll be there presently. Tell Callicles to meet me.
ST. Now you just clear out! (Pushes him after Philto.)
LES. (Calls out as he is being shoved away.) Tell him to see what has to be done about the dowry.
ST. Clear out!
LES. (Raising his voice.) For I'm determined not to marry her off without a dowry.
ST. Won't you clear out?
LES. (Still louder.) And I won't let her suffer harm by reason.——
ST. Get out, I say!
LES. (Shouts.)—of my carelessness.
ST. Clear out!
LES. It seems right that my own sins—
ST. Clear out!
LES.—should affect me alone.
ST. Clear out!
LES. (Mock heroically.) Oh father, shall I ever behold you again?
ST. Out, out, out! (With a final shove.) (Exit Lesbonicus.) At last, I 've got him away! (Breathes hard.)"
The fun, if fun there be, lies in the hammer-like repetition of "I modo," a sort of verbal buffoonery. A clever actor could din this with telling effect. The device is employed several times. In Most. 974 ff. the word is aio, in Per. 482 ff. credo, in Poen. 731 ff. quippini, in Ps. 484 ff. ναι γάρ, in Rud. 1212 ff. licet and 1269 ff. censeo. The last two examples are the lengthiest.
The third of these motives is the introduction of clearly unnatural dialogue, wholly incidental and foreign to the action, for the sake of lugging in a joke. The As. (38 ff.) yields the following conversation between Demaenetus senex and his slave Libanus:
"LI. By all that's holy, as a favor to me, spit out the words you have uttered.
DE. All right, I'll be glad to oblige you. (Coughs.)
LI. Now, now, get it right up! (Pats him on the back.)
DE. More? (Coughs.)
LI. Gad, yes, please! Right from the bottom of your throat: more still! (Pats.)
DE. Well, how far down then?
LI. (Unguardedly.) Down to Hades is my wish!
DE. I say, look out for trouble!
LI. (Diplomatically.) For your wife, I mean, not for you.
DE. For that speech I bestow upon you freedom from punishment."
The childish bandying of words in Truc. 858 ff. is egregiously tiresome in the reading, but in action could have been made to produce a modicum of amusement if presented in the broad burlesque spirit that we believe was almost invariably employed. This gives us a clue to the next topic.
B. Devices absurd and inexplicable unless interpreted in a broad farcical spirit.
This includes peculiarities that have usually been commented on as weaknesses or conventions, or else been given up as hopeless incongruities, but which we hope to prove also yield their quota of amusement if clownishly performed. The foremost of these is the famous
1. Running Slave or Parasite.
We all know him: rushing madly cross stage at top-speed (if we take the literal word of the text for it), with girded loins, in search of somebody right under his nose, the while unburdening himself of exhaustive periods that, however great the breadth of the Roman stage, would carry him several times across and back: as Curculio in 279 ff.:
"Make way for me, friends and strangers, while I carry out my duty here. Run, all of you, scatter and clear the road! I'm in a hurry and I don't want to butt into anybody with my head, or elbow, or chest, or knee.... And there's none so rich as can stand in my way, ... none so famous but down he goes off the sidewalk and stands on his head in the street," and so on for ten lines or more. After he has found his patron Phaedromus, he is apparently so exhausted that he cries: "Hold me up, please, hold me up! (Wobbles and falls panting into Phaedromus' arms.)