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Plautus S Broad Humor, Reflecting Roman Manners And Contemporary Life, Is Revealed In These Five Plays The Pot Of Gold Aulularia , The Prisoners Captivi , The Brothers Menaechmus Menaechmi , The Swaggering Soldier Miles Gloriosus , And Pseudolus If you want a taste of ancient Roman comedy, this is a really good book The plays are funny and accessible and give you great insight into classical Roman literature and daily life An easy read if you just do a play a day. A farcical collection of Roman comedies10 November 2014 Okay, I have made comments on all of the plays in this book, but I wanted to spend a little time looking at the collection as a whole As I have said time and time again, the difficulty that I have with reading plays is that they are designed to be performed, so when I read them I don t get the same pace and tone as a good actor would produce, and the characters are littlethan names on a piece of paper Also, it is a real shame that these plays aren t really performed all that much or at least where I come from because despite the fact that they are two millennia old, I am sure they could still be incredibly funny The things that I have noticed in this collection is that despite them being written in Roman times, they are all set in the Greek part of the empire, and generally all involve Greeks This is not surprising because at this time much of the Roman literature was still being produced by the Greeks, and it wasn t for another two hundred years that Roman literature began to take a life of its own The Romans were basically farmers and warriors, so they never saw the need to produce literature However, the Greeks were philosophers and artists, and considered that such pursuits were essential to a well rounded society The Greeks weren t necessarily the first artistic culture that the Roman s had conquered The Etruscans, who lived in modern day Tuscany, were a very artistic culture, and once again they had also heavily influenced the Romans However it wasn t until they had engulfed the Greek world that art and literature began to adominant role It is around this time that we see the philosophies Epicurius and Zeno beginning to take hold in Rome, though many of the authors would still write in Greek it wasn t until Aeneas and Ovid that literature was composed in Latin Another thing that stood out in this collection was slavery Time and again Plautus seems to be writing against slavery and creating scenarios where slaves are being released It almost seems that Plautus had a problem with slavery However slavery to the Ancient Romans is sort of like coal and oil to us Yes, granted, there are a lot of people that do not like coal and oil, but we simply cannot do away with it overnight because our modern lifestyle is dependant upon them Such was the case with slavery the Greek and Roman lifestyle were dependant upon slaves, and if you suddenly freed all of the slaves then the entire economy would collapse However, that does not necessarily mean that Plautus was fighting a fools errand, in much the same what that opponents to coal and gas are fighting a fools battle today What he was doing was using his skill as a playwright to attempt to sway people to change their opinions, and possibly look for a way of living without having to resort to enslaving their fellow humans. Originally published on my blog here in May 2009.What makes a perfect comedy The German critic Gotthold Ephraim Lessing described one of the plays in this volume, Captivi The Prisoners as such, but it is unlikely to be an answer that would occur to many people asked this question today Even if the field is restricted to stage comedies on the grounds that Lessing lived before the invention of moving pictures ruling out such contenders as Some Like it Hot and Fawlty Towers , there are many plays which are funnier Among my favourites, I might suggest Aristophanes Frogs , Wilde s The Importance of Being Earnest, Stoppard s Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead, Orton s Loot, Frayn s Noises Off My father would have suggested farces by Feydeau or Labiche, I m sure.To Lessing, of course, the word comedy didn t just mean an amusing drama it was atechnical term, describing a play with particular components and attributes But even so, Captivi is an odd choice, as Watling points out in his introduction for example, the real world geography of the Greek setting makes it virtually impossible for the action of the play to take place in one day, a requirement applied to drama by critics of the time, based on Aristotle s ideas in the Poetics So why choose this one Again, Watling makes a sensible suggestion, that the real issue is that the play does not have aspects which Lessing apparently viewed as distasteful in ancient literature and particularly in the texts which could be used to teach in schools In particular, there s no sexual content to the play, which is very unusual in ancient comedy, the surviving examples of which usually at least include bawdy jokes Until fairly recently, there were still versions of Aristophanes which translated passages which were particularly rude into Latin, rather than into English which could be read by the uneducated, considered to have minds corruptible by such things Instead, Captivi is about the ties between father and son together with the mistaken identities which occur in almost every plot used by Plautus.And Captivi is not even the best known of the five plays in the volume Two of the others served as the inspiration for extremely famous later comedies Shakespeare s The Comedy of Errors is based on Menaechmi but takes the plot a step further by adding a second pair of twin brothers, increasing the potential for comic confusion at the risk of making belief in the actions on stage harder Shakespeare may well be the greatest dramatist who ever lived, but this is an early play, and not one of his best it has the air of an exercise rather than a drama involving characters based on human beings On the other hand, Aulularia, the title play in this collection, inspired L Avare by Moli re, one of the greatest works by a great writer in his prime Like Shakespeare, Moli re addedto the plot, which to me suggests something of why Plautus is not as well known today as he used to be My understanding is that these plays were produced as diversions during festivals effectively another sideshow so were not as long and or complex as Greek plays which were the main attractions of the festivals they appeared were written for or later plays which were the centrepiece of an evening s entertainment The plays are short, one theme almost one joke affairs, without the subplots and subtlety we have come to expect from a full length three act drama in today s theatre Perhaps it would be better to compare Plautus output with one act comedies, like Shaffer s Black Comedy, but they arelike individual episodes from The Simpsons than anything produced for the stage now Indeed, there are several parallels with the way that the animated sitcom works plots as variations on standard themes exaggerated everyman character improbable events and a happy ending.Captivi is also not the funniest or cleverest play in this collection The final pair here, Miles gloriosus and Pseudolus, are the best Plautus plays I have read In both, the characters rise at least a little above the stereotypes, the jokes remain funny, and a little bitlength allows some extra complexity These two are probably the place to start, if Shakespeare and Moli re give you and interest in theirt sources of inspiration Not the ultimate source, because Plautus took most of his ideas from Greek originals, now mostly lost, but the closest you can get The introduction to this collection states that these translations were made for use on the stage Now, Penguin Classics translations of drama don t usually have that as their main aim they are aimed at tthe reader, not the performer and tend to concentrate on being an accurate if not word for word translation of the best available edition of the original text The Penguin Ibsen translations are obviously like this, if compared with the work of Michael Meyer or my father among others So, is this collection of Plautus plays an exception, or was Watling mistaken There are certainly livelier translations of Plautus, while these are in turn livelier than some of the Penguin Classics drama that was published around the same time I m not so sure they would work so well on the stage perhaps they would be good as a dramatised excerpt to liven up an academic seminar, but that isn t quite the same thing But then I ve never found Plautus as enjoyable as thecomplex comedies listed at the start of this review, in any translation There are problems with details Some of the jokes could be better translated there must be a better pun to describe cooks who are scoundrels than rapscullions , for example. While entertaining enough, this collection of Plautus plays feelsthan a little disjointed Partially, this is because Plautus a Roman , wrote them in the 2nd and 3rd Centuries BC, ripping off older Greek plays He left the characters and locations in Greece or Greek colonies , but the social issues, government and laws, and most of the religious references are Roman The plays are also filled with wordplay and jokes about contemporary issues, mostly lost in translation On the subject of translation, I am not a fan of this particular version 1965 as the word choice is all over the place, loaded with modern expressions He s off his head , taken the rap , nuff said , etc which I always find off putting in a period text However, the translator also throws in older British isms expressions grog shop , Act of Parliament , et al that don t fit in at all This gives the dialogue a confused feel Add this to Plautus habit of randomly ignoring the Fourth Wall, and not just in the prologues and asides at one point one character asks another to explain the plan, and he tells him that they are here to entertain the audience who have already heard it, so I ll tell you later In most cases, slaves fill the role taken by servants in later British plays crafty and dishonest, helping the protagonists by doing their dirty work and betraying the bad guys They also are most likely to engage in wordplay and play dumb while fooling their betters, who regularly threaten them with beatings, the rack, and crucifixion OK, but I d prefer a better translation Very low 3 stars.