Slaves, Masters, and the Art of Authority in Plautine Comedy

Slaves, Masters, and the Art of Authority in Plautine Comedy

Kathleen McCarthy
Copyright Date: 2000
Pages: 248
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt7s4pp
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    Slaves, Masters, and the Art of Authority in Plautine Comedy
    Book Description:

    What pleasures did Plautus' heroic tricksters provide their original audience? How should we understand the compelling mix of rebellion and social conservatism that Plautus offers? Through a close reading of four plays representing the full range of his work(Menaechmi, Casina, Persa, and Captivi),Kathleen McCarthy develops an innovative model of Plautine comedy and its social effects. She concentrates on how the plays are shaped by the interaction of two comic modes: the socially conservative mode of naturalism and the potentially subversive mode of farce. It is precisely this balance of the naturalistic and the farcical that allows everyone in the audience--especially those well placed in the social hierarchy--to identify both with and against the rebel, to feel both the thrill of being a clever underdog and the complacency of being a securely ensconced authority figure.

    Basing her interpretation on the workings of farce and naturalism in Plautine comedy, McCarthy finds a way to understand the plays' patchwork literary style as well as their protean social effects. Beyond this, she raises important questions about popular literature and performance not only on ancient Roman stages but in cultures far from Plautus' Rome. How and why do people identify with the fictional figures of social subordinates? How do stock characters, happy endings, and other conventions operate? How does comedy simultaneously upset and uphold social hierarchies? Scholars interested in Plautine theater will be rewarded by the detailed analyses of the plays, while those more broadly interested in social and cultural history will find much that is useful in McCarthy's new way of grasping the elusive ideological effects of comedy.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-2470-0
    Subjects: Language & Literature, Performing Arts

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. PREFACE
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. ABBREVIATIONS AND CONVENTIONS
    (pp. xiii-2)
  5. Chapter I THE CROWDED HOUSE
    (pp. 3-34)

    Plautus is a poet whose house is open to a bewildering variety of guests. Earnest ingénues and cynical tricksters make themselves at home there; both masters and slaves proclaim themselves to be honored inmates. The plots that focus on reweaving familial bonds and the triumph of love are often almost derailed by the emphasis on deception tricks and gags through which these plots are brought on stage; likewise, the socially conservative values of such familial plots, the ways that they support existing hierarchies, must coexist with the charmingly subversive intelligence of the clever slave. Conversely, the amoral genius that motivates...

  6. Chapter II THE TIES THAT BIND: MENAECHMI
    (pp. 35-76)

    A man, harried and harrassed by the strictures of his domestic life, rebels against his domineering wife and declares for himself a day of freedom. Through a series of coincidences, this declaration of independence ends up benefiting not him but his twin, who has come to this town in the course of a years-long search for his brother. But in the final scene, where the long-lost brothers are reunited, the visiting twin suggests that they both go back to their native home; thus, even though the harried man’s rebellion against his wife did not free him in the way that...

  7. Chapter III LOVE’S LABOUR’S LOST: CASINA
    (pp. 77-121)

    The prologue of theCasinatells us that we are watching a typical story of a boy in love with an apparently inappropriate girl, a foundling raised in his parents’ house; the epilogue tells us that she has been recognized as the daughter of the next-door neighbors, the story culminating in a happy ending of marriage. But the flavor of this play is best described by noting that neither of the two young lovers appears onstage; the entire play is taken up with the young man’s father’s attempt to get the girl for himself, an attempt that comes alarmingly close...

  8. Chapter IV A KIND OF WILD JUSTICE: PERSA
    (pp. 122-166)

    Thepersa(“The Persian”) departs in important respects from the patterns observed so far in theMenaechmiandCasina. In each of the two plays considered in previous chapters, the characters waged a tug-of-war over roles and hierarchies within the household. On the other hand, the plays examined in this chapter and in the next, thePersaandCaptivi, illuminate the tensions of public life and thus will turn my investigation of slavery in Plautus in a new direction. These public tensions center on the nexus of two related oppositions: that between citizen and slave and that between master and...

  9. Chapter V TRUTH IS THE BEST DISGUISE: CAPTIVI
    (pp. 167-210)

    In thecaptivi(“The Prisoners”) we immediately recognize the familiar elements of Plautine comedy: disguise tricks, a clever slave, a hungry parasite. But the didactic tone of this play and its concern with the emotional and philosophical problem of identity mark a gulf between it and much of the rest of the corpus.¹ Neither its skillful use of the stock elements of farcical comedy nor its transformation of those elements into carriers of ethical precepts should be allowed exclusively to define this complex play.²

    As can easily be seen in the high-minded self-descriptions in the prologue and epilogue, theCaptivi’s...

  10. Conclusion THE SLAVE’S IMAGE IN THE MASTER’S MIND
    (pp. 211-214)

    In his description of blackface minstrel shows, the folklorist Roger D. Abrahams quotes a nineteenth-century commentator, “And thus it came to pass, that while James Crow and Scipio Coon were quietly at work on their masters’ plantations, all unconscious of their fame, the whole civilized world was resounding with their names.”¹ The same paradox applies to the real slaves in real Roman households in the mid-Republic. While they lived in obscurity and servitude, the whole city was resounding with the names of Pseudolus, Epidicus, and Tranio. In both slave societies, fictive slaves captured the imagination and attention of the public...

  11. WORKS CITED
    (pp. 215-220)
  12. INDEX OF PLAUTINE PASSAGES
    (pp. 221-226)
  13. GENERAL INDEX
    (pp. 227-231)