Classical Greek Drama


1  Theatre of Ancient Greece
2   Classical Greek Tragedy
3  Classical Greek Comedy
4  The Trojan Women - Euripedes
5  Trojan Women Film
6  Plautus (who made Roman comedy out of Greek comedy)
7  A Funny Thing Haooened on the Way to the Forum (American comedy from Plautus)

1  Theatre of ancient Greece

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

The Ancient Greek drama, is a theatrical culture that flourished in ancient Greece 700 BC. The city-state of Athens, which became a significant cultural, political, and military power during this period, was its centre, where it was institutionalised as part of a festival called the Dionysia, which honoured the god Dionysus. Tragedy (late 500 BC), comedy (490 BC), and the satyr play were the three dramatic genres to emerge there. Athens exported the festival to its numerous colonies and allies in order to promote a common cultural identity.



The word τραγῳδ (tragoidia), from which the word "tragedy" is derived, is a compound of two Greek words: τράγος (tragos) or "goat" and ᾠδή (ode) meaning "song", from ἀείδειν (aeidein), "to sing".[1] This etymology indicates a link with the practices of the ancient Dionysian cults. It is impossible, however, to know with certainty how these fertility rituals became the basis for tragedy and comedy.[2]


Main article: Greek tragedy see below
Panoramic view of the theatre at Epidaurus.

Greek tragedy as we know it was created in Athens around the time of 532 BC, when Thespis was the earliest recorded actor. Being a winner of the first theatrical contest held at Athens, he was the exarchon, or leader,[3] of the dithyrambs performed in and around Attica, especially at the rural Dionysia. By Thespis' time the dithyramb had evolved far away from its cult roots. Under the influence of heroic epic, Doric choral lyric and the innovations of the poet Arion, it had become a narrative, ballad-like genre. Because of these, Thespis is often called the "Father of Tragedy"; however, his importance is disputed, and Thespis is sometimes listed as late as 16th in the chronological order of Greek tragedians; the statesman Solon, for example, is credited with creating poems in which characters speak with their own voice, and spoken performances of Homer's epics by rhapsodes were popular in festivals prior to 534 BC.[4] Thus, Thespis's true contribution to drama is unclear at best, but his name has been immortalized as a common term for performer—a "thespian."

The dramatic performances were important to the Athenians – this is made clear by the creation of a tragedy competition and festival in the City Dionysia. This was organized possibly to foster loyalty among the tribes of Attica (recently created by Cleisthenes). The festival was created roughly around 508 BC. While no drama texts exist from the sixth century BC, we do know the names of three competitors besides Thespis: Choerilus, Pratinas, and Phrynichus. Each is credited with different innovations in the field.

More is known about Phrynichus. He won his first competition between 511 BC and 508 BC. He produced tragedies on themes and subjects later exploited in the golden age such as the Danaids, Phoenician Women and Alcestis. He was the first poet we know of to use a historical subject – his Fall of Miletus, produced in 493-2, chronicled the fate of the town of Miletus after it was conquered by the Persians. Herodotus reports that "the Athenians made clear their deep grief for the taking of Miletus in many ways, but especially in this: when Phrynichus wrote a play entitled "The Fall of Miletus" and produced it, the whole theatre fell to weeping; they fined Phrynichus a thousand drachmas for bringing to mind a calamity that affected them so personally, and forbade the performance of that play forever."[5] He is also thought to be the first to use female characters (though not female performers).[6]

Until the Hellenistic period, all tragedies were unique pieces written in honour of Dionysus and played only once, so that today we primarily have the pieces that were still remembered well enough to have been repeated when the repetition of old tragedies became fashionable (the accidents of survival, as well as the subjective tastes of the Hellenistic librarians later in Greek history, also played a role in what survived from this period).

New inventions during the Classical Period

Theater of Dionysius, Athens, Greece. Brooklyn Museum Archives, Goodyear Archival Collection

After the Great Destruction of Athens by the Persian Empire in 480 BC, the town and acropolis were rebuilt, and theatre became formalized and an even greater part of Athenian culture and civic pride. This century is normally regarded as the Golden Age of Greek drama. The centre-piece of the annual Dionysia, which took place once in winter and once in spring, was a competition between three tragic playwrights at the Theatre of Dionysus. Each submitted three tragedies, plus a satyr play (a comic, burlesque version of a mythological subject). Beginning in a first competition in 486 BC each playwright submitted a comedy.[7] Aristotle claimed that Aeschylus added the second actor (deuteragonist), and that Sophocles introduced the third (tritagonist). Apparently the Greek playwrights never used more than three actors based on what is known about Greek theatre.[8]

Tragedy and comedy were viewed as completely separate genres, and no plays ever merged aspects of the two. Satyr plays dealt with the mythological subject matter of the tragedies, but in a purely comedic manner.

Hellenistic period

Roman, Republican or Early Imperial, Relief of a seated poet (Menander) with masks of New Comedy, 1st century B.C. – early 1st century A.D., Princeton University Art Museum

The power of Athens declined following its defeat in the Peloponnesian War against the Spartans. From that time on, the theatre started performing old tragedies again. Although its theatrical traditions seem to have lost their vitality, Greek theatre continued into the Hellenistic period (the period following Alexander the Great's conquests in the fourth century BC). However, the primary Hellenistic theatrical form was not tragedy but 'New Comedy', comic episodes about the lives of ordinary citizens. The only extant playwright from the period is Menander. One of New Comedy's most important contributions was its influence on Roman comedy, an influence that can be seen in the surviving works of Plautus and Terence.

Characteristics of the buildings

The Ancient Theatre of Delphi.

The plays had a chorus from 12 to 15[9] people, who performed the plays in verse accompanied by music, beginning in the morning and lasting until the evening. The performance space was a simple circular space, the orchestra, where the chorus danced and sang. The orchestra, which had an average diameter of 78 feet, was situated on a flattened terrace at the foot of a hill, the slope of which produced a natural theatron, literally "watching place". Later, the term "theatre" came to be applied to the whole area of theatron, orchestra, and skené. The coryphaeus was the head chorus member who could enter the story as a character able to interact with the characters of a play.

A drawing of an ancient theatre. Terms are in Greek language and Latin letters.

The theatres were originally built on a very large scale to accommodate the large number of people on stage, as well as the large number of people in the audience, up to fourteen thousand. Mathematics played a large role in the construction of these theatres, as their designers had to be able to create acoustics in them such that the actors' voices could be heard throughout the theatre, including the very top row of seats. The Greeks' understanding of acoustics compares very favourably with the current state of the art. The first seats in Greek theatres (other than just sitting on the ground) were wooden, but around 499 BC the practice of inlaying stone blocks into the side of the hill to create permanent, stable seating became more common. They were called the "prohedria" and reserved for priests and a few most respected citizens.

In 465 BC, the playwrights began using a backdrop or scenic wall, which hung or stood behind the orchestra, which also served as an area where actors could change their costumes. It was known as the skênê (from which the word "scene" derives). The death of a character was always heard behind the skênê, for it was considered inappropriate to show a killing in view of the audience.  Though there is scholarly argument that death in Greek tragedy was portrayed off stage primarily because of dramatic considerations, and not prudishness or sensitivity of the audience.[10] In 425 BC a stone scene wall, called a paraskenia, became a common supplement to skênê in the theatres. A paraskenia was a long wall with projecting sides, which may have had doorways for entrances and exits. Just behind the paraskenia was the proskenion. The proskenion ("in front of the scene") was beautiful, and was similar to the modern day proscenium.

Greek theatres also had tall arched entrances called parodoi or eisodoi, through which actors and chorus members entered and exited the orchestra. By the end of the 5th century BC, around the time of the Peloponnesian War, the skênê, the back wall, was two stories high. The upper story was called the episkenion. Some theatres also had a raised speaking place on the orchestra called the logeion.

Scenic elements

There were several scenic elements commonly used in Greek theatre:



Tragic Comic Masks Hadrian's Villa mosaic.

The Ancient Greek term for a mask is prosopon (lit., "face"),[11] and was a significant element in the worship of Dionysus at Athens, likely used in ceremonial rites and celebrations. Most of the evidence comes from only a few vase paintings of the 5th century BC, such as one showing a mask of the god suspended from a tree with decorated robe hanging below it and dancing and the Pronomos vase,[12] which depicts actors preparing for a Satyr play.[13] No physical evidence remains available to us, as the masks were made of organic materials and not considered permanent objects, ultimately being dedicated to the altar of Dionysus after performances. Nevertheless, the mask is known to have been used since the time of Aeschylus and considered to be one of the iconic conventions of classical Greek theatre.[14]

Masks were also made for members of the chorus, who play some part in the action and provide a commentary on the events in which they are caught up. Although there are twelve or fifteen members of the tragic chorus, they all wear the same mask because they are considered to be representing one character.

Mask details

Mask dating from the 4th/3rd century BC, Stoa of Attalos
Bronze statue of a Greek actor. The half-mask over the eyes and nose identifies the figure as an actor. He wears a man's conical cap but female garments, following the Greek custom of men playing the roles of women. 150-100 BCE.

Illustrations of theatrical masks from 5th century display helmet-like masks, covering the entire face and head, with holes for the eyes and a small aperture for the mouth, as well as an integrated wig. These paintings never show actual masks on the actors in performance; they are most often shown being handled by the actors before or after a performance, that liminal space between the audience and the stage, between myth and reality.[13] This demonstrates the way in which the mask was to 'melt' into the face and allow the actor to vanish into the role.[15] Effectively, the mask transformed the actor as much as memorization of the text. Therefore, performance in ancient Greece did not distinguish the masked actor from the theatrical character.

The mask-makers were called skeuopoios or "maker of the properties," thus suggesting that their role encompassed multiple duties and tasks. The masks were most likely made out of light weight, organic materials like stiffened linen, leather, wood, or cork, with the wig consisting of human or animal hair.[16] Due to the visual restrictions imposed by these masks, it was imperative that the actors hear in order to orient and balance themselves. Thus, it is believed that the ears were covered by substantial amounts of hair and not the helmet-mask itself. The mouth opening was relatively small, preventing the mouth to be seen during performances. Vervain and Wiles posit that this small size discourages the idea that the mask functioned as a megaphone, as originally presented in the 1960s.[13] Greek mask-maker, Thanos Vovolis, suggests that the mask serves as a resonator for the head, thus enhancing vocal acoustics and altering its quality. This leads to increased energy and presence, allowing for the more complete metamorphosis of the actor into his character.[17]

Mask functions

In a large open-air theatre, like the Theatre of Dionysus in Athens, the classical masks were able to create a sense of dread in the audience creating large scale panic, especially since they had intensely exaggerated facial features and expressions.[17] They enabled an actor to appear and reappear in several different roles, thus preventing the audience from identifying the actor to one specific character. Their variations help the audience to distinguish sex, age, and social status, in addition to revealing a change in a particular character's appearance, e.g. Oedipus after blinding himself.[18] Unique masks were also created for specific characters and events in a play, such as The Furies in Aeschylus' Eumenides and Pentheus and Cadmus in Euripides' The Bacchae. Worn by the chorus, the masks created a sense of unity and uniformity, while representing a multi-voiced persona or single organism and simultaneously encouraged interdependency and a heightened sensitivity between each individual of the group. Only 2-3 actors were allowed on the stage at one time, and masks permitted quick transitions from one character to another. There were only male actors, but masks allowed them to play female characters.

Other costume details

The actors in these plays that had tragic roles wore boots called cothurni that elevated them above the other actors. The actors with comedic roles only wore a thin soled shoe called a sock. For this reason, dramatic art is sometimes alluded to as "Sock and Buskin".

Melpomene is the muse of tragedy and is often depicted holding the tragic mask and wearing cothurni. Thalia is the muse of comedy and is similarly associated with the mask of comedy and the comedic "socks".

See also

Further reading


  1. Merriam-Webster definition of tragedy
  2. Brockett & Ball (2000), p. 70
  3. Ridgeway (1910), p.
  4. Aristotle, Poetics
  5. Brockett (1999), pp. 16–17
  6. Herodotus, Histories, 6/21
  7. Brockett (1999), p. 17
  8. Kuritz (1988), p. 21
  9. Kuritz (1988), p. 24
  10. Jansen (2000)
  11. Pathmanathan (1965)
  12. Liddell & Scott via Perseus @ UChicago
  14. Vervain & Wiles (2004), p. 255
  15. Varakis (2004)
  16. Vervain & Wiles (2004), p. 256
  17. Brooke (1962), p. 76
  18. Vovolis & Zamboulakis (2007)


External links


2  Greek tragedy

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia


Aristotelian hypothesis

The origin of the word tragedy has been a matter of discussion from ancient times. Our primary source of knowledge on the question is the Poetics of Aristotle. Aristotle was able to gather first-hand documentation from theater performance in Attica, which is inaccessible to scholars today. His work is therefore invaluable for the study of ancient tragedy, even if his testimony is open to doubt on some points.

According to Aristotle, tragedy evolved from the satyr dithyramb, an Ancient Greek hymn, which was sung along with dancing in honor of Dionysus. The term τραγῳδία, derived from τράγος "goat" and ᾠδή "song", means "song of the goats," referring to the chorus of satyrs. Others suggest that the term came into being when the legendary Thespis (the root for our word thespian) competed in the first tragic competition for the prize of a goat (hence tragedy).[1]

Mask of Dionysus stored at the Louvre.

Alexandrian hypothesis

Alexandrian grammarians understood the term τραγῳδία as a "song for the sacrifice of the goat" or "song for the goat", believing the animal was a prize in a race, as attested by Horace's Ars Poetica:

"The poet, who first tried his skill in tragic verse for the paltry prize of a goat, soon after exposed to view wild satyrs naked, and attempted raillery with severity, still preserving the gravity of tragedy."

— Horace, Ars Poetica 220 (Smart & Buckley translation).

Other hypotheses

Maenads dancing, bringing a sacrificial lamb or kid

There are other suggested etymologies for the word tragedy. The Oxford English Dictionary adds to the standard reference to "goat song", that:

As to the reason of the name, many theories have been offered, some even disputing the connection with ‘goat’.[2]

J. Winkler proposed that "tragedy" could be derived from the rare word tragizein (τραγίζειν), which refers to "adolescent voice-change" referring to the original singers as "representative of those undergoing social puberty". [3] D'Amico, on the other hand, suggests that tragoidía does not mean simply "song of the goats", but the characters that made up the satyr chorus of the first Dionysian rites.[4]

Other hypotheses have included an etymology that would define the tragedy as an ode to beer. Jane Ellen Harrison pointed out that Dionysus, god of wine (a drink of the wealthy classes) was actually preceded by Dionysus, god of beer (a drink of the working classes). Athenian beer was obtained from the fermentation of barley, which is tragos in Greek. Thus, it is likely that the term was originally meant to be "odes to spelt," and later on, it was extended to other meanings of the same name. She writes: "Tragedy I believe to be not the 'goat-song', but the 'harvest-song' of the cereal tragos, the form of spelt known as 'the goat'." [5]

The evolution of tragedy

Origin of tragedy

The origin of Greek tragedy is one of the unsolved problems of classical scholarship. Ruth Scodel notes that, due to lack of evidence and doubtful reliability of sources, we know nearly nothing about tragedy's origin.[6] Still, R.P. Winningston-Ingram points out that we can easily trace various influences from other genres.[7] The stories that tragedy deals with stem from epic and lyric poetry, its meter — the iambic trimeter — owed much to the political rhetoric of Solon, and the choral songs' dialect, meter and vocabulary seem to originate in choral lyric. How these have come to be associated with one another remains a mystery however.

Speculating on the problem, Scodel writes that:

"Three innovations must have taken place for tragedy as we know it to exist. First, somebody created a new kind of performance by combining a speaker with a chorus and putting both speaker and chorus in disguise as characters in a story from legend or history. Second, this performance was made part of the City Dionysia at Athens. Third, regulations defined how it was to be managed and paid for. It is theoretically possible that all these were simultaneous, but it is not likely."[6]

From dithyramb to drama

Dionysus surrounded by satyrs

Aristotle writes in the Poetics that, in the beginning, tragedy was an improvisation "by those who led off the dithyramb",[8] which was a hymn in honor of Dionysus. This was brief and burlesque in tone because it contained elements of the Satyr play. Gradually, the language became more serious and the meter changed from trochaic tetrameter to the more prosaic iambic trimeter. In Herodotus Histories[9] and later sources,[10] the lyric poet Arion of Methymna is said to be the inventor of the dithyramb. The dithyramb was originally improvised, but later written down before performance. The Greek chorus of up to 50 men and boys danced and sang in a circle, probably accompanied by an aulos, relating to some event in the life of Dionysus.[11]

Scholars have made a number of suggestions about the way the dithyramb changed into tragedy. "Somebody, presumably Thespis, decided to combine spoken verse with choral song. ... As tragedy developed, the actors began to interact more with each other, and the role of the chorus became smaller.[6]" Scodell notes that:

The Greek word for “actor” is hypocrites, which means “answerer” or “interpreter,” but the word cannot tell us anything about tragedy’s origins, since we do not know when it came into use.[6]

Also, Easterling says:

There is .. much to be said for the view that hypokrites means 'answerer'. He answers the questions of the chorus and so evokes their songs. He answers with a long speech about his own situation or, when he enters as messenger, with a narrative of disastrous events ... Naturally, the transformation of the leader into an actor entailed a dramatization of the chorus.[11]

The first tragedies

Tradition attributes Thespis as the first person to represent a character in a play. This took place in 534 BC during the Dionysia established by Peisistratus.[12] Of his tragedies we know little except that the choir was still formed by Satyrs and that, according to Aristotle, he was the first to win a dramatic contest, and the first (ὑποκριτής) who portrayed a character rather than speaking as himself. Moreover, Themistius, a writer of the 4th century AD, reports that Thespis invented the prologue as well as the spoken part (ῥῆσις). Other playwrights of the time were Choerilus, author of probably one hundred and sixty tragedies (with thirteen victories), and Pratinas of Phlius, author of fifty works, of which thirty-two are satyr plays.[13] We have little record of these works except their titles. At this time, satyr plays were presented alongside tragedies. Pratinas definitely competed with Aeschylus and worked from 499 BC.

Another playwright was Phrynichus.[14] Aristophanes sings his praises in his plays: for example, The Wasps presents him as a radical democrat close to Themistocles. Besides introducing dialogues in iambic trimeter and including female characters for the first time, Phrynichus also introduced historical content to the genre of tragedy (e.g. in the Capture of Miletus). His first victory in a contest was in 510 BC. At this time, the organization of plays into trilogies began.

Aeschylus: the codification

Main article: Aeschylus

Aeschylus was to establish the basic rules of tragic drama.[15] He is credited with inventing the trilogy, a series of three tragedies that tell one long story, and introduced the second actor, making the dramatization of a conflict possible. Trilogies were performed in sequence over a full day, sunrise to sunset. At the end of the last play, a satyr play was staged to revive the spirits of the public, possibly depressed by the events of the tragedy.[note 1]

In the work of Aeschylus, comparing the first tragedies with those of subsequent years, there is an evolution and enrichment of the proper elements of tragic drama: dialogue, contrasts, and theatrical effects.[16] This is due to the competition in which the older Aeschylus was with other playwrights, especially the young Sophocles, who introduced a third actor, increased plot complexity and developed more human characters, with which the audience could identify.

Aeschylus was at least partially receptive to Sophocles' innovations, but remained faithful to a very strict morality and a very intense religiosity. So, for instance, in Aeschylus, Zeus always has the role of ethical thinking and action.[note 2] Musically Aeschylus remains tied to the nomoi, rhythmic and melodic structures developed in the Archaic period.

The reforms of Sophocles

Main article: Sophocles

Plutarch, in the Life of Cimon, recounts the first triumph of the young talented Sophocles against the famous and hitherto unchallenged Aeschylus.[17] This competition ended in an unusual manner, without the usual draw for the referees, and caused the voluntary exile of Aeschylus to Sicily. Many innovations were introduced by Sophocles, and earned him at least twenty triumphs.[18] He introduced a third actor, increased the number of chorus members to fifteen, broke the rule of having to present a trilogy, making the production of independent dramas possible; he also introduced scenery and the use of scenes.

Compared to Aeschylus, the chorus became less important in explaining the plot and there was a greater emphasis on character development and conflict. In Oedipus at Colonus, the chorus repeats "not to be born is best." The events that overwhelm the lives of the heroes are in no way explained or justified, and in this we see the beginning of a painful reflection on the human condition, still current in the contemporary world.

The realism of Euripides

Main article: Euripides
votive relief that probably celebrates the triumph of the Bacchae

The peculiarities that distinguish the Euripidean tragedies from those of the other two playwrights are the search for technical experimentation, and increased attention for feelings, as a mechanism to elaborate the unfolding of tragic events.[19]

The experimentation carried out by Euripides in his tragedies can be observed mainly in three aspects that characterize his theater: he turned the prologue into a monologue informing the spectators of the story's background, introduced the deus ex machina and gradually diminished the choir's prominence from the dramatic point of view in favor of a monody sung by the characters.

Another novelty of Euripidean drama is represented by the realism with which the playwright portrays his characters' psychological dynamics. The hero described in his tragedies is no longer the resolute character as he appears in the works of Aeschylus and Sophocles, but often an insecure person, troubled by internal conflict.

He uses female protagonists of the plays, such as Andromache, Phaedra and Medea, to portray the tormented sensitivity and irrational impulses that collide with the world of reason.[20]


The structure of Greek tragedy is characterized by a set of conventions. The tragedy usually begins with a prologue, (from pro and logos, "preliminary speech") in which one or more characters introduce the drama and explain the background of the ensuing story. The prologue is followed by the parodos (πάροδος), after which the story unfolds through three or more episodes (ἐπεισόδια, epeisodia). The episodes are interspersed by stasima (στάσιμoν, stasimon), choral interludes explaining or commenting on the situation developing in the play. The tragedy ends with the exodus (ἔξοδος), concluding the story. Some plays do not adhere to this conventional structure. Aeschylus' "The Persians" and "Seven Against Thebes" for example, have no prologue.


The Greek dialects used are the Attic dialect for the parts spoken or recited, and a literary Doric dialect for the vocals. For the metre, the spoken parts mainly use the iambic (iambic trimeter), described as the most natural by Aristotle,[8] while the choral parts rely on a variety of meters. Anapaests were typically used as the chorus or a character moved on or off the stage, and lyric metres were used for the choral odes. These included Dactylo-epitrites and various Aeolic metres, sometimes interspersed with iambics. Dochmiacs often appear in passages of extreme emotion.[21]

Greek tragedy in dramatic theory

Mimesis and catharsis

Main articles: Mimesis and Catharsis

As already mentioned, Aristotle wrote the first critical study of the tragedy: the Poetics. He uses the concepts of mimesis (μίμησις, "imitation"), and catharsis or katharsis (κάθαρσις, "cleansing") to explain the function of tragedy. He writes: "Tragedy is, therefore, an imitation (mimēsis) of a noble and complete action [...] which through compassion and fear produces purification of the passions."[22] Whereas mimēsis implies an imitation of human affairs, catharsis means a certain emotional cleansing of the spectator. What exactly is meant by "emotional cleansing" (κάθαρσις των παθήματων) however, remains unclear throughout the work. Although many scholars have attempted to define this element vital to the understanding of Aristotle's Poetics, they remain divided on the subject.[23]

Gregory, for instance, argues that there is "a close relationship between tragic katharsis and the transformation of pity and fear [...] into essentially pleasurable emotions in the theater".

Katharsis, on this reading, will denote the

overall ethical benefit that accrues from such an intense yet fulfillingly integrated experience. Exempt from the stresses that accompany pity and fear in social life, the audience of tragedy can allow these emotions an uninhibited flow that ... is satisfyingly attuned to its contemplation of the rich human significance of a wellplotted play. A katharsis of this kind is not reducible to either ‘‘purgation’’ or ‘‘purification.’’[24]

Lear[23] promotes as "the most sophisticated view of katharsis", the idea that it "provides an education for the emotions." "Tragedy ... provides us with the appropriate objects towards which to feel pity or fear."

The three unities

The three Aristotelian unities of drama are the unities of time, place and action.

  1. Unity of action: a play should have one main action that it follows, with no or few subplots.
  2. Unity of place: a play should cover a single physical space and should not attempt to compress geography, nor should the stage represent more than one place.
  3. Unity of time: the action in a play should take place over no more than 24 hours.

Aristotle asserted that a play must be complete and whole, in other words, it must have unity, i.e. a beginning, a middle and an end. The philosopher also asserted that the action of epic poetry and tragedy differ in length, "because in tragedy every effort is made for it to take place in one revolution of the sun, while the epic is unlimited in time."

These unities were considered key elements of the theatre until a few centuries ago, although they were not always observed (such as by authors like Shakespeare, Calderón de la Barca and Moliere).

Apollonian and Dionysian: the analysis of Nietzsche

Main article: The Birth of Tragedy

Friedrich Nietzsche at the end of the 19th century highlighted the contrast between the two main elements of tragedy: firstly, the Dionysian (the passion that overwhelms the character) and the Apollonian (the purely pictorial imagery of the theatrical spectacle).[25]

Contrasted with that is nemesis, the divine punishment that determines the fall or death of the character.

In ancient Greek culture, says Nietzsche, "there is a conflict between the plastic arts, namely the Apollonian, and non-plastic art of music, the Dionysian."

"Both drives, so different from each other, go side by side, mostly in open discord and opposition, always provoking each other to new, stronger births, in order to perpetuate in themselves the struggle of opposites which is only apparently bridged over by the common word 'art'; until, finally, by a wonderful act of Hellenic 'will,' they seem to pair up and in this pairing, at last, produce Attic Tragedy, which is as much a Dionysian as an Apollonian artwork."[26]

The tragic theatre as a mass phenomenon

The ancient tragedy as we understand it today, was not merely a show, but rather a collective ritual of the polis.[note 3] It took place in a sacred, consecrated space (the altar of the god stood at the center of the theatre).

A spectator of a Greek dramatic performance in the latter half of the fifth century B.C. would find himself seated in the theatron, or koilon,a semi-circular, curved bank of seats, resembling in some respects the closed end of a horseshoe stadium. ... Below him, in the best location in the theatre, is the throne of the priest of Dionysus who presides in a sense over the whole performance. The theatron is large-in fact, the one in Athens, in the Theatre of Dionysus, with its seats banked up on the south slope of the Acropolis, seated approximately 17,000 persons.

The spectator sees before him a level circular area called the orchestra, which means literally the "dancing place". ... In the centre of the orchestra stands an altar. A part of the dramatic action will take place in the orchestra, as well as the manoeuvres and dance figures performed by the Chorus as they present their odes. To the right and left of the theatron are the paradoi, which are used not only by the spectators for entering and leaving the theatre, but also for the entrances and exits of actors and the Chorus. Directly beyond the circular orchestra lies the skene or scene building. ... In most plays the skene represents the facade of a house, a palace, or a temple. The skene normally had three doors which served as additional entrances and exits for the actors. Immediately in front of the scene-building was a level platform, in the fifth century B.C. in all probability only a single step above the level of the orchestra. This was called the proskenion or logeion where much of the dramatic action of the plays takes place. Flanking the proskenion were two projecting wings, the so-called paraskenia. It must be remembered that the skene, since at first it was only a wooden structure, was flexible in its form, and was probably modified frequently.[27]

The theatre voiced ideas and problems from the democratic, political and cultural life of Athens. Tragedies can discuss use the Greek mythical past as a metaphor for the deep problems of current Athenian society.[28] In such plays, "the poet alludes directly to fifth-century events or developments, but moves them back into the mythological past. In this category [can be placed] Aeschylus’ Persians and Oresteia."[29]

In the case of Aeschylus' tragedy The Persians, it was performed in 472 BC in Athens, eight years after the battle of Salamis, when the war with Persia was still in progress. It tells the story of the Persian fleet's defeat at Salamis and how the ghost of former Persian King Darius accuses his son Xerxes of hubris against the Greeks for waging war on them.

"The possibility that a reflection of Athens is to be seen in Aeschylus’ Persian mirror could explain why the poet asks his audience to look at Salamis through Persian eyes and elicits great sympathy for the Persians, including Xerxes."[30]

Other tragedies avoid references or allusions to 5th century BC events, but "also draw the mythological past into the present."

The bulk of the plays in this category are by Euripides. Strains of fifth-century Athenian rhetoric, sketches of political types, and reflections of Athens’ institutions and society lend plays of this category a distinctly fifth-century Athenian flavor. The emphasis in Euripides’ Orestes on political factions, for example, is directly relevant to the Athens of 408 BCE.[30]

The performances of the tragedies took place in Athens on the occasion of the Great Dionysia, feasts in honor of Dionysus celebrated in the month of Elaphebolion, towards the end of March.[note 4] It was organized by the State and the eponymous archon, who picked three of the richest citizens to pay for the drama's expenses. In the Athenian democracy wealthy citizens were required to fund public services, a practice known as liturgy.

During the Dionysia a contest took place between three plays, chosen by the archon eponymous. This procedure might have been based on a provisional script, each of which had to submit a tetralogy consisting of three tragedies and a satyr play. Each tetralogy was recited in one day, so that the recitation of tragedies lasted three days. The fourth day was dedicated to the staging of five comedies.[note 5] At the end of these three days a jury of ten people chosen by lot from the body of citizens chose the best choir, best actor and best author. At the end of the performances, the judges placed a tablet inscribed with the name of their choice inside an urn, after which five tablets were randomly selected. The person who received the highest amount of votes won. The winning author, actor and choir were thus selected not purely by lot, but chance did play a part.

The passion of the Greeks for the tragedy was overwhelming: Athens, said the critics, spent more on theatre than on the fleet. When the cost for the shows became a sensitive subject, an admission fee was instated, alongside the so-called theorikon, a special fund to pay for festival's expenses.[31]

The surviving tragedies

Of the many tragedies known to have been written, full-length texts by only three authors, Aeschylus, Sophocles and Euripides, survive.



Seventy-nine titles of Aeschylus' works are known (out of about ninety works),[32] both tragedies and satyr plays. Seven of these have survived, including the only complete trilogy which has come down from antiquity, the Oresteia, and some papyrus fragments:[33]



According to Aristophanes of Byzantium, Sophocles wrote 130 plays, 17 of which are spurious; the Suda lexicon counted 123.[34][note 7] Of all Sophocles's tragedies, only seven remain intact:

Apart from the plays that have survived in their entirety, we also possess a large part of the satyr play Ἰχνευταί or Trackers, which was found at the beginning of the 20th century on a papyrus containing three-quarters of this work.[35]



According to the Suda, Euripides wrote either 75 or 92 plays, of which survive eighteen tragedies and the only complete surviving satyr play, the Cyclops.[36]

His extant works are:[37]


Some discussion exists on the function of satyr plays, however. See: Griffith (2002).
  1. An exception is Prometheus Bound, in which Zeus strikes tyrannical attitudes.
  2. Paul Judges Emilio assumed that it was for this reason that the construction of the theatre needed a certain size to hold all the free citizens of Athens. See his History of Theatre in Italy p. 18.
  3. The Dionysia was also called Great Dionysia, to distinguish them from rural areas, plays a minor that took place in winter in countries around Athens.
  4. During the Peloponnesian War the number of comedies was reduced to three, to be performed once a day, at the end of the tetralogies. It has been argued, the Athenians took this decision due to their financial situation at the time.
  5. The presence of attacks on Zeus casts doubt onto the authorship of Aeschylus's Prometheus Bound.
  6. Some scholars equate the two sources, assuming an error of Aristophanes, of 17 instead of 7. Cf. Rossi & Nicolai (2006) 93.


  1. Hart (2010) 9.
  2. Oxford English Dictionary, entry for tragedy
  3. Winkler & Zeitlin (1992) 60.
  4. D 'Amico (1960).
  5. Harrison (1922) 420.)
  6. Scodel (2011) 33.
  7. Easterling e.a. (1989) 1-6.
  8. Aristotle, Poetics, 1449a.
  9. Herodotus Histories I.23.
  10. Suda "Arion" (α.3886 Adler); Joannes Diaconus Commentaria in Hermogenem ed. H. Rabe Rheinisches Museum 63 (1908) 150.
  11. Harvey (1955); Easterling e.a. (1989) 4.
  12. Easterling (1989) 2; Sinisi & Innamorati (2003) 3. Cf. Horace Ars Poetica 275ff.
  13. Easterling e.a. (1989) 3, 5.
  14. Easterling e.a. (1989) 5f.
  15. For Aeschylus' innovation of Tragedy, see: Easterling (1989) 29–42.
  16. Aeschylus.[dead link]
  17. Plutarch Life of Cimon 8.7f.
  18. For Sophoclean theatrical inventions, see: Easterling (1989) 43-63; Sinisi & Innamorati (2003) 3.
  19. For the character of Euripidean Tragedy, see: Easterling (1989) 64-86.
  20. Michelini (2006).
  21. For a detailed study of the metric, see: Brunet (1997) 140–146.
  22. Aristotle Poetics 1449b 24-28.
  23. For a discussion of different views on katharsis, see: Lear (1992).
  24. Gregory (2005) 405.
  25. "The Apollonian…belongs to Schopenhauer’s world of representation. Metaphysically, it stands for the false, the illusory, for 'mere appearance.' Epistemologically, the Apollonian indicates a dreamlike state in which all knowledge is knowledge of surfaces. Aesthetically, the Apollonian is the beautiful, the world experienced as intelligible, as conforming to the capacities of the representing intellect." (Berys Gaut and Dominic McIver Lopes, editors, Routledge Companion to Aesthetics, Chapter 8, "Nietzsche," "Art and Metaphysics," p. 78.)
  26. The Birth of Tragedy, § 1
  27. Oates & O'Neil (1938) xiv–xvii.
  28. Sinisi & Innamorati (2003) 3.
  29. Gregory (2005) 5.
  30. Gregory (2005) 8.
  31. Plutarch Life of Pericles 9.1.
  32. According to the Byzantine lexicon Suda, Aeschylus wrote ninety plays. See: Suda "Aeschylus" (αι.357 Adler).
  33. Rossi & Nicolai (2006) 27-28.
  34. Suda "Sophocles" (σ.815 Adler).
  35. Privitera & Pretagostini (2006) 276.Rossi & Nicolai (2006) 184.
  36. Suda "Euripides" (ε.3695 Adler).
  37. Rossi & Nicolai (206) 184
  • Albini, U. (1999) Nel nome di Dioniso. Il grande teatro classico rivisitato con occhio contemporaneo (Milan: Garzanti) ISBN 88-11-67420-4.
  • D 'Amico, S. Storia del Teatro drammatico, parte I: Grecia e Roma (Milan: Garzanti).
  • Beye, C.R. La tragedia greca: Guida storica e critica (Rome: Laterza) ISBN 88-420-3206-9.
  • Brunet, P. (1997) Break of de la littérature dans la Grèce ancienne (Paris: Le Livre de Poche).
  • Easterling e.a. (eds.) (1989) The Cambridge History of Classical Literature Vol. 1 Pt. 2: Greek Drama (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press).
  • Gregory, J. (2005) A Companion to Greek Tragedy (Oxford: Blackwell Publishing).
  • Griffith, M. (2002) ‘Slaves of Dionysos: satyrs, audience, and the ends of the Oresteia' in: Classical Antiquity 21: 195–258.
  • Harrison, J.E. (1922) Prolegomena to the Study of Greek Religion (Princeton: Princeton University Press).
  • Hart, M.L. (2010) The art of ancient Greek theatre (Los Angeles: Getty Publications).
  • Harvey, A. E. (1955) "The Classification of Greek Lyric Poetry" in: Classical Quarterly 5.
  • Lear, J. (1992) 'Katharsis' in: A.O. Rorty (ed.) Essays on Aristotle's Poetics (Princeton: Princeton University Press).
  • Ley, G. (2015) 'Acting Greek Tragedy' (Exeter: University of Exeter Press).
  • Michelini, A.N. (2006) Euripides and the Tragic Tradition (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press) ISBN 0299107647.
  • Nietzsche, F. (1962) 'La nascita della tragedia' in: Opere scelte L. Scalero (trans.) (Milan: Longanesi).
  • Oates, W. & O'Neil, E. (1938) The Complete Greek Drama (New York: Random House).
  • Privitera, G.A & Pretagostini, R. (1997) Storia e forme della letteratura greca. Età arcaica ed età classica (Einaudi Scuola: Milan) ISBN 88-286-0352-6.
  • Rossi, L.E. & Nicolai, R. (2006) Corso integrato di letteratura greca. L'età classica (Grassina: Le Monnier) ISBN 978-88-00-20328-9.
  • Scodel, R. (2011) An Introduction to Greek Tragedy (Cambridge, Cambridge University Press).
  • Sinisi, S. & Innamorati, I. (2003) Storia del teatro: lo spazio scenico dai greci alle avanguardie storiche (Bruno Mondadori: Milan).
  • Winkler, J.J. & Zeitlin, F. (eds.) (1992) Nothing to Do With Dionysus?: Athenian Drama in Its Social Context (Princeton: Princeton University Press) 60.

Further reading

  • Hall, Edith (2010). Greek Tragedy: Suffering Under the Sun. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0199232512. Further reading section includes extensive references to commentaries and interpretations for all extant ancient Greek tragedies.

C.f,  BBC Radio 4 "In Our Time" programme on ancient Greek Tragedy 2 Dec 1999 (30 minute radio broadcast)


3  Ancient Greek comedy

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Detail, side A from a Sicilian red-figured calyx-krater (c. 350 BC – 340 BC).

Ancient Greek comedy was one of the final three principal dramatic forms in the theatre of classical Greece (the others being tragedy and the satyr play). Athenian comedy is conventionally divided into three periods, Old Comedy, Middle Comedy, and New Comedy. Old Comedy survives today largely in the form of the eleven surviving plays of Aristophanes, while Middle Comedy is largely lost, i.e. preserved only in relatively short fragments by authors such as Athenaeus of Naucratis. New Comedy is known primarily from the substantial papyrus fragments of Menander.

The philosopher Aristotle wrote in his Poetics (c. 335 BC) that comedy is a representation of laughable people and involves some kind of blunder or ugliness which does not cause pain or disaster.[1] C. A. Trypanis wrote that comedy is the last of the great species of poetry Greece gave to the world.[2]



The Alexandrine grammarians, and most likely Aristophanes of Byzantium in particular, seem to have been the first to divide Greek comedy into what became the canonical three periods:[3] Old Comedy (ἀρχαία archaia), Middle Comedy (μέση mese) and New Comedy (νέα nea). These divisions appear to be largely arbitrary, and ancient comedy almost certainly developed constantly over the years.[4]

Old Comedy (archaia)

Main article: Old Comedy

The most important Old Comic dramatist is Aristophanes Born in 446 B.C., whose works, with their pungent political satire and abundance of sexual and scatological innuendo, effectively define the genre today. Aristophanes lampooned the most important personalities and institutions of his day, as can be seen, for example, in his buffoonish portrayal of Socrates in The Clouds, and in his racy anti-war farce Lysistrata. It is nonetheless important to realize that he was only one of a large number of comic poets working in Athens in the late 5th century, his most important contemporary rivals being Hermippus and Eupolis.

The Old Comedy subsequently influenced later European writers such as Rabelais, Cervantes, Swift, and Voltaire. In particular, they copied the technique of disguising a political attack as buffoonery. The legacy of Old Comedy can be seen today in political satires such as Dr. Strangelove and in the televised buffoonery of Monty Python and Saturday Night Live.[5][6][need quotation to verify]

Terracotta comic theatre mask, 4th/3rd century BC (Stoa of Attalus, Athens)

Middle Comedy (mese)

The line between Old and Middle Comedy is not clearly marked chronologically, Aristophanes and others of the latest writers of the Old Comedy being sometimes regarded as the earliest Middle Comic poets. For ancient scholars, the term may have meant little more than "later than Aristophanes and his contemporaries, but earlier than Menander". Middle Comedy is generally seen as differing from Old Comedy in three essential particulars: the role of the chorus was diminished to the point where it had no influence on the plot; public characters were not impersonated or personified onstage; and the objects of ridicule were general rather than personal, literary rather than political. For at least a time, mythological burlesque was popular among the Middle Comic poets. Stock characters of all sorts also emerge: courtesans, parasites, revellers, philosophers, boastful soldiers, and especially the conceited cook with his parade of culinary science.

Because no complete Middle Comic plays have been preserved, it is impossible to offer any real assessment of their literary value or "genius". But many Middle Comic plays appear to have been revived in Sicily and Magna Graecia in this period, suggesting that they had considerable widespread literary and social influence.

New Comedy (nea)

Figurine of an actor wearing the mask of a bald-headed man, 2nd century BC.

New Comedy followed the death of Alexander the Great in 323 and lasted throughout the reign of the Macedonian rulers, ending about 260 BC.[7] It is comparable to situation comedy and comedy of manners.[4] The three best-known playwrights belonging to this genre are Menander, Philemon and Diphilus.

Menander was the most successful of the three comedians. His comedies not only provided their audience with a brief respite from reality, they also gave them an accurate but not too detailed picture of life. This led an ancient critic to ask if life influenced Menander in the writing of his plays or if it was vice versa. Unlike his predecessors like Aristophanes, Menander's comedies tended to be more about the fears and foibles of the ordinary man, his personal relationships, family life and social mishaps rather than politics and public life. They were supremely civilized and sophisticated plays which were less farcical and satirical than the plays before them. This sophistication was what made him more successful than the other Greek comedians who wrote in the same genre.

The other two comedians are Philemon and Diphilus. Philemon was a comedian whose comedies dwelt on philosophical issues and Diphilus was a comedian whose comedies were noted for their broad comedy and farcical violence. Philemon's comedies have come down to us in fragments but Diphilus' comedies were translated and adapted by Plautus. Examples of these comedies are Plautus' Asinaria and Rudens. Based on the translation and adaptation of Diphilus' comedies by Plautus, one can conclude that he was skilled in the construction of his plots.

Roman, Republican or Early Imperial, Relief of a seated poet (Menander) with masks of New Comedy, 1st century B.C. – early 1st century A.D., Princeton University Art Museum

Substantial fragments of New Comedy have survived, but no complete plays. The most substantially preserved text is the Dyskolos ("Difficult Man, Grouch") by Menander, discovered on a papyrus, and first published in 1958. The Cairo Codex (found in 1907) also preserves long sections of plays including Epitrepontes ("Men at Arbitration"), Samia ("The Girl from Samos"), and Perikeiromene ("The Girl who had her Hair Shorn"). Much of the rest of our knowledge of New Comedy is derived from the Latin adaptations by Plautus and Terence.

The playwrights of the Greek New Comedy genre built on a considerable legacy from their predecessors, drawing upon a vast array of dramatic devices, characters and situations their predecessors had developed. Prologues to shape the audience's understanding of events, messengers' speeches to announce offstage action, descriptions of feasts, sudden recognitions, ex machina endings were all established techniques which playwrights exploited and evoked in their comedies.

The satirical and farcical element which featured so strongly in Aristophanes' comedies increasingly diminished in importance as time went on. It was eventually given up more or less completely and was not to be revived. The de-emphasis of the grotesque, whether in the form of choruses, humour or spectacle opened the way for increased representation of daily life and the foibles of recognisable character types.

Unlike their predecessor, Aristophanes, some of whose comedies departed from the Athenian setting or covered mythological themes and subjects, their plays were seldom placed in a setting other than their everyday world (Diphilus was a notable exception). Gods and goddesses in New Comedy were personified abstractions who seldom appeared in their plays. There are generally no miracles or metamorphoses.

The Greek playwrights of this period not only developed a literary style that differed from their predecessors in multiple ways, they also made considerable innovations in literature. Examples of their innovations were the development of a whole series of distinct stereotype characters which were to become the stock characters of Western comedy and the contributions they made to the development of the play.

The cast of Menander's plays included a number of minor characters drawn from a limited number of one-dimensional stock types such as cooks or parasites who introduced familiar jokes and recognisable patterns of speech. Other stock characters in Menander's plays were the senex iratus, or "angry old man", the domineering parent who tries to thwart his son or daughter from achieving wedded happiness, and who is often led into the same vices and follies for which he has reproved his children,the bragging soldier who talked about the number of enemies he killed and how well they'll treat their woman and the kind shrewd prostitute who hid her heart behind a facade of fierce commercialism.

Menander gave stereotype characters a sense that they were character types. In his comedies, they were expected to react the way they were supposed to behave but some resist. These stock characters appear as rich unlayered humans in a new dimension. It was this human dimension that was one of the strengths of Menander's plays. He used these stereotype characters to comment on human life and depict human folly and absurdity compassionately, with wit and subtlety.

An example of such a character is Cnemon from Menander's play Dyskolos. He was an insufferably rude and objectionable character who showed how foolish and absurd humans could be. However rude and objectionable he was, he proved ultimately to be a character who was not necessarily closed to reason. He accepted that other views were possible, proving willing to compromise with life after he was rescued from a well. The fact that this character was not necessarily closed to reason makes him a character whom people can give compassion to.

For the first time, love became a principal element in the drama. The new comedy depicted Athenian society and the social morality of the period, presenting it in attractive colors but making no attempt to criticize or improve it.

The New Comedy influenced much of Western European literature, primarily through Plautus: in particular the comic drama of Shakespeare and Ben Jonson, Congreve, and Wycherley.[8]

The 5-act structure later to be found in modern plays can first be seen in Menander's comedies. Where in comedies of previous generations there were choral interludes, there was dialogue with song. The action of his plays had breaks, the situations in them were conventional and coincidences were convenient, thus showing the smooth and effective development of his plays.

Much of contemporary romantic and situational comedy descends from the New Comedy sensibility, in particular generational comedies such as All in the Family and Meet the Parents.


Some dramatists overlap into more than one period.

Old Comedy

Middle Comedy

New Comedy

  • Theophilus, contemporary with Callimedon
  • Sosippus, contemporary with Diphillus
  • Anaxippus, 303 BC
  • Demetrius, 299 BC
  • Archedicus, 302 BC
  • Sopater, 282 BC
  • Hegesippus
  • Plato Junior

Poets of uncertain date

  • Lexiphanes (either Middle Comic or New)

See also


  1. Aristotle, Poetics, line 1449a: "Comedy, as we have said, is a representation of inferior people, not indeed in the full sense of the word bad, but the laughable is a species of the base or ugly. It consists in some blunder or ugliness that does not cause pain or disaster, an obvious example being the comic mask which is ugly and distorted but not painful."
  2. Cf. Trypanis, Greek Poetry from Homer to Seferis, Chapter 4, p. 201
  3. Mastromarco (1994) p. 12
  4. Winkler, Martin M. (2001), Classical Myth & Culture in the Cinema, p. 173
  5. Film criticism, Volumes 13–14, 1988, p. 5, quotation:   Old Comedy may be ruthlessly satiric in spirit, often with biting invective directed against actual people to a degree that has only recently been equalled with Dennis Miller's newscasts on Saturday Night Live.
  6. Seth Lerer, Comedy through the Ages (recorded lecture series), Springfield, Virginia: The Teaching Company, 2000.
  8. The Drama: Its History, Literature and Influence on Civilization, vol. 1. ed. Alfred Bates. London: Historical Publishing Company, 1906. pp. 30–31.
  10. Won a second prize with his Κόυνος in 423 BC and won a first prize in 414 BC with his Κωμασταί.
  15. Sir Edwin Arnold, The Poets of Greece p. 221.
  17. Wrote two plays, Σύντροφοι and Ἐαυτὸν πενθῶν. Athenaeus quotes one long fragment from the former and one short fragment from the latter. He is comtempoary with Epicurus, who mentions him.
  18. Google Books


Further reading

External links

The Trojan Women

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
For a 1971 film starring Katharine Hepburn, see The Trojan Women (film).
"Women of Troy" redirects here. For the University of Southern California athletic teams, see USC Trojans.
The Trojan Women
An engraving of the death of Astyanax
Written by Euripides
Chorus Trojan women
Characters Hecuba
Place premiered Athens
Original language Ancient Greek
Genre Tragedy
Setting Near the walls of Troy

The Trojan Women (Ancient Greek: Τρῳάδες, Trōiades), also known as Troades, is a tragedy by the Greek playwright Euripides. Produced in 415 BC during the Peloponnesian War, it is often considered a commentary on the capture of the Aegean island of Melos and the subsequent slaughter and subjugation of its populace by the Athenians earlier that year (see History of Milos).[1] 415 BC was also the year of the scandalous desecration of the hermai and the Athenians' second expedition to Sicily, events which may also have influenced the author.

The Trojan Women was the third tragedy of a trilogy of dealing with the Trojan War. The first tragedy, Alexandros, was about the recognition of the Trojan prince Paris who had been abandoned in infancy by his parents and rediscovered in adulthood. The second tragedy, Palamedes, dealt with Greek mistreatment of their fellow Greek Palamedes. This trilogy was presented at the Dionysia along with the comedic satyr play Sisyphos. The plots of this trilogy were not connected in the way that Aeschylus' Oresteia was connected. Euripides did not favor such connected trilogies.

Euripides won second prize at the City Dionysia for his effort, losing to the obscure tragedian Xenocles.[2]

The four Trojan women of the play are the same that appear in the final book of the Iliad lamenting over the corpse of Hector. Taking place near the same time is Hecuba, another play by Euripides.


Hecuba: Alas! Alas! Alas! Ilion is ablaze; the fire consumes the citadel, the roofs of our city, the tops of the walls!

Chorus: Like smoke blown to heaven on the wings of the wind, our country, our conquered country, perishes. Its palaces are overrun by the fierce flames and the murderous spear.
Hecuba: O land that reared my children!

Euripides's play follows the fates of the women of Troy after their city has been sacked, their husbands killed, and as their remaining families are about to be taken away as slaves. However, it begins first with the gods Athena and Poseidon discussing ways to punish the Greek armies because they condoned that Ajax the Lesser raped Cassandra, the eldest daughter of King Priam and Queen Hecuba, after dragging her from a statue of Athena. What follows shows how much the Trojan women have suffered as their grief is compounded when the Greeks dole out additional deaths and divide their shares of women.

The Greek herald Talthybius arrives to tell the dethroned queen Hecuba what will befall her and her children. Hecuba will be taken away with the Greek general Odysseus, and Cassandra is destined to become the conquering general Agamemnon's concubine.

Karen Tiegren (Cassandra) in The Trojan Women, directed by Brad Mays at the ARK Theatre Company in Los Angeles, 2003

Cassandra, who can see the future, is morbidly delighted by this news: she sees that when they arrive in Argos, her new master's embittered wife Clytemnestra will kill both her and her new master. However, Cassandra is also cursed so that her visions of the future are never believed, and she is carried off.

The widowed princess Andromache arrives and Hecuba learns from her that her youngest daughter, Polyxena, has been killed as a sacrifice at the tomb of the Greek warrior Achilles.

Aomawa Baker (Andromache) in The Trojan Women, directed by Brad Mays at the ARK Theatre Company in Los Angeles, 2003

Andromache's lot is to be the concubine of Achilles' son Neoptolemus, and more horrible news for the royal family is yet to come: Talthybius reluctantly informs her that her baby son, Astyanax, has been condemned to die. The Greek leaders are afraid that the boy will grow up to avenge his father Hector, and rather than take this chance, they plan to throw him off from the battlements of Troy to his death.

Helen, though not one of the Trojan women, is supposed to suffer greatly as well: Menelaus arrives to take her back to Greece with him where a death sentence awaits her. Helen begs and tries to seduce her husband into sparing her life. Menelaus remains resolved to kill her, but the audience watching the play knows that he will let her live and take her back. At the end of the play it is revealed that she is still alive; moreover, the audience knows from Telemachus' visit of Sparta in Homer's Odyssey that Menelaus continued to live with Helen as his wife after the Trojan War.

Shelley DeLane (Helen) and Pab Schwendimann (Menelaus) in The Trojan Women, directed by Brad Mays at the ARK Theatre Company in Los Angeles, 2003

In the end, Talthybius returns, carrying with him the body of little Astyanax on Hector's shield. Andromache's wish had been to bury her child herself, performing the proper rituals according to Trojan ways, but her ship had already departed. Talthybius gives the corpse to Hecuba, who prepares the body of her grandson for burial before they are finally taken off with Odysseus.

Throughout the play, many of the Trojan women lament the loss of the land that reared them. Hecuba in particular lets it be known that Troy had been her home for her entire life, only to see herself as an old grandmother watching the burning of Troy, the death of her husband, her children, and her grandchildren before she will be taken as a slave to Odysseus.

Modern treatments

The French public intellectual, Jean-Paul Sartre wrote a version of The Trojan Women that mostly is faithful to the original Greek text, yet includes veiled references to European imperialism in Asia, and emphases of existentialist themes. The Israeli playwright Hanoch Levin also wrote his own version of the play, adding more disturbing scenes and scatological details.

A 1905 stage version, translated by Gilbert Murray, starred Gertrude Kingston as Helen at the Royal Court Theatre in London.[3]

The Mexican film Las Troyanas (1963) directed by Sergio Véjar, adapted by writer Miguel Angel Garibay and Véjar, is faithful to the Greek text and setting; Ofelia Guilmain portrays Hecuba, the black&white photography is by Agustín Jimenez.

Cypriot-Greek director Mihalis Kakogiannis used Euripides' play (in the famous Edith Hamilton translation) as the basis for his 1971 film The Trojan Women. The movie starred American actress Katharine Hepburn as Hecuba, British actors Vanessa Redgrave and Brian Blessed as Andromache and Talthybius, French-Canadian actress Geneviève Bujold as Cassandra, Greek actress Irene Papas as Helen, and Patrick Magee, an actor born in Northern Ireland, as Menelaus. [tkw note:  the next part of this document concerns this film.]

Willow Hale (Hecuba) and Sterling Wolfe (Talthybius) in The Trojan Women, directed by Brad Mays at the ARK Theatre Company in Los Angeles, 2003

Another movie based on the play came out in 2004, directed by Brad Mays.[4][5] The production was actually a documentary film of the stage production Mays directed for the ARK Theatre Company in 2003. In anticipation of his soon-to-come multimedia production of A Clockwork Orange, Mays utilized a marginal multimedia approach to the play, opening the piece with a faux CNN report intended to echo the then-current war in Iraq.

Charles L. Mee adapted The Trojan Women to have a more modern, updated outlook on war. He included original interviews with Holocaust and Hiroshima survivors. His play is called The Trojan Women 2.0.

The Women of Troy, directed by Katie Mitchell, was performed at the National Theatre in London in 2007/08. The cast included Kate Duchêne as Hecuba, Sinead Matthews as Cassandra and Anastasia Hille as Andromache.

The Trojan Women, directed by Marti Maraden, was performed at the Stratford Shakespeare Festival at the Tom Patterson Theatre in Stratford, Ontario, Canada, from May 14 to October 5, 2008 with Canadian actress Martha Henry as Hecuba.

Sheri Tepper wove The Trojan Women into her feminist science fiction novel The Gate to Women's Country.


Translator Year Style Full text
Edward Philip Coleridge 1891 Prose Wikisource, [2]
Gilbert Murray 1911 Verse [3]
Edith Hamilton 1937 Verse
Richmond Lattimore 1947 Verse
Isabelle K. Raubitschek and Anthony E. Raubitschek 1954 Prose
Philip Vellacott 1954 Prose and verse
Gwendolyn MacEwen 1981 Prose Gwendolyn MacEwen#cite note-jrank-8
David Kovacs 1999 Prose
James Morwood 2000 Prose
Howard Rubenstein 2002 Verse
George Theodoridis 2008 Prose [4]
Ellen McLaughlin 200? Prose

See also


  1. See Croally 2007.
  2. Photo gallery and video from the Brad Mays stage play based on Philip Vellacott's translation
  3. Claudius Aelianus: Varia Historia 2.8. (page may cause problems with Internet Explorer)
  4. [1] MacCarthy, Desmond The Court Theatre, 1904-1907; a Commentary and Criticism
  5. Troy: From Homer's Iliad to Hollywood Epic, by Martin M. Winkler, 2007, Blackwell Publishing


Additional resources

External links

5  The Trojan Women (film)

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
The Trojan Women
Promotional posterTrojanhepburn.jpg
Directed by Michael Cacoyannis
Produced by Michael Cacoyannis
Anis Nohra
Josef Shaftel
Written by Euripides
Edith Hamilton
Mihalis Kakogiannis
Starring Katharine Hepburn
Vanessa Redgrave
Geneviève Bujold
Irene Papas
Brian Blessed
Music by Mikis Theodorakis
Cinematography Alfio Contini
Edited by Michael Cacoyannis
Release dates
September 27, 1971
Running time
105 min
Country United States
United Kingdom
Language English

The Trojan Women (Greek: Τρωάδες) is a 1971 film, directed by Michael Cacoyannis and starring Katharine Hepburn and Vanessa Redgrave. The film was made with the minimum of changes to Edith Hamilton's translation of Euripides' original play, save for the omission of deities, as Cacoyannis said they were "hard to film and make realistic."



The Trojan Women was one of a trilogy of plays dealing with the suffering created by the Trojan Wars. Hecuba (Katharine Hepburn), Queen of the Trojans and mother of Hector, one of Troy's most fearsome warriors, looks upon the remains of her kingdom; Andromache (Vanessa Redgrave), widow of the slain Hector and mother of his son Astyanax, must raise her son in the war's aftermath; Cassandra (Geneviève Bujold), Hecuba's daughter who has been driven insane by the ravages of war, waits to see if King Agamemnon will drive her into concubinage; Helen of Troy (Irene Papas), waits to see if she will live. But the most awful truth is unknown to them until Talthybius (Brian Blessed), the messenger of the Greek king, comes to the ruined city and tells them that King Agamemnon and his brother Menelaus have decreed that Hector's son Astyanax must die — the last of the male royalty of Troy must be executed to ensure the extinction of the line.



When filming began in the Spanish village of Atienza, 80 miles north-east of Madrid, sections of the press were speculating that there might be fireworks between the lead actresses. Hepburn had recently gone on record deploring the moral squalor and carelessness of the modern generation, and the impulsive and radical Redgrave was thought by some of the press to be a symbol to that 'sloppy' generation. In fact the actresses got on well, talking about painting, politics, and acting —Hepburn expressed enthusiasm for Redgrave's 1966 Rosalind in As You Like It— and both actresses began to learn Spanish.[1]

Cacoyannis first staged The Trojan Women in Italy in 1963, with Rod Steiger, Claire Bloom, and Mildred Dunnock in the leading roles. Later in the same year he took the production to New York and in 1965, to Paris. "For me", he said in a 1971 magazine interview, "the play is particularly pertinent and real. What the play is saying is as important today as it was when it was written. I feel very strongly about war, militarism, killing people ... and I haven't found a better writer who makes that point more clearly than Euripides. The play is about the folly of war, the folly of people killing others and forgetting that they are going to die themselves."[1]

Katharine Hepburn's costume was designed by Nicholas Georgiadis of Covent Garden. Cacoyannis hand-picked Italy's Franco Freda and Adalgisa Favella as make-up artist and hair stylist respectively for the film. Both were veterans of the films of Federico Fellini, Michelangelo Antonioni and Luchino Visconti.

Hepburn said of her acting for this part: "My acting has always been a little flamboyant and rococo. But for this part, I've had to pare right down to the bare essentials." Her acting voice dropped, after special training, by an octave and was almost accentless, the familiar twanging pitch and East Coast rhythms almost vanished.[1]


Kansas City Film Critics Circle

National Board of Review of Motion Pictures


  1. Photoplay Film Monthly February 1971

External links

6  Plautus (who made Roman comedy out of Greek comedy)

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
For the Roman noble, see Rubellius Plautus. For the monospecific (Plautus impennis) bird gender, see Great auk.
Tito Maccio
Bust of Plautus
Born c. 254 BC
Died 184 BC
Nationality Roman
Period Ancient Rome
Genre comedy
Dramatic devices stock characters

Titus Maccius Plautus (c. 254 – 184 BC), commonly known as Plautus, was a Roman playwright of the Old Latin period. His comedies are the earliest Latin literary works to have survived in their entirety. He wrote Palliata comoedia, the genre devised by the innovator of Latin literature, Livius Andronicus. The word Plautine /ˈplɔːtn/ refers to both Plautus's own works and works similar to or influenced by his.



Not much is known about Titus Maccius Plautus' early life. It is believed that he was born in Sarsina, a small town in Emilia Romagna in northern Italy, in around 254 BC.[1] According to Morris Marples, Plautus worked as a stage-carpenter or scene-shifter in his early years.[2] It is from this work, perhaps, that his love of the theater originated. His acting talent was eventually discovered; and he adopted the names "Maccius" (a clownish stock-character in popular farces) and "Plautus" (a term meaning either "flat-footed" or "flat-eared," like the ears of a hound).[3] Tradition holds that he made enough money to go into the nautical business, but that the venture collapsed. He is then said to have worked as a manual laborer and to have studied Greek drama—particularly the New Comedy of Menander—in his leisure. His studies allowed him to produce his plays, which were released between c. 205 and 184 BC. Plautus attained such a popularity that his name alone became a hallmark of theatrical success.

Plautus's comedies are mostly adapted from Greek models for a Roman audience, and are often based directly on the works of the Greek playwrights. He reworked the Greek texts to give them a flavour that would appeal to the local Roman audiences. They are the earliest surviving intact works in Latin literature.

Plautus's epitaph read:

postquam est mortem aptus Plautus, Comoedia luget,
scaena est deserta, dein Risus, Ludus Iocusque
et Numeri innumeri simul omnes conlacrimarunt.

Since Plautus is dead, Comedy mourns,
Deserted is the stage; then Laughter, Jest and Wit,
And Melody's countless numbers all together wept.

Manuscript tradition

Plautus wrote around 130 plays,[4] of which 20 have survived, making him the most prolific ancient dramatist in terms of surviving work. Despite this, the manuscript tradition of Plautus is poorer than that of any other ancient dramatist, something not helped by the failure of scholia on Plautus to survive. The chief manuscript of Plautus is a palimpsest, in which Plautus' plays had been scrubbed out to make way for Augustine's Commentary on the Psalms. The monk who performed this was more successful in some places than others. He seems to have begun furiously, scrubbing out Plautus' alphabetically arranged plays with zest before growing lazy, then finally regaining his vigour at the end of the manuscript to ensure not a word of Plautus was legible. Although modern technology has allowed classicists to view much of the effaced material, plays beginning in letters early in the alphabet have very poor texts (e.g. the end of Aulularia and start of Bacchides are lost), plays with letters in the middle of the alphabet have decent texts, while only traces survive of the play Vidularia.

Historical context

The historical context within which Plautus wrote can be seen, to some extent, in his comments on contemporary events and persons. Plautus was a popular comedic playwright while Roman theatre was still in its infancy and still largely undeveloped. At the same time, the Roman Republic was expanding in power and influence.

Roman society deities

Plautus was sometimes accused of teaching the public indifference and mockery of the gods. Any character in his plays could be compared to a god. Whether to honour a character or to mock him, these references were demeaning to the gods. These references to the gods include a character comparing a mortal woman to a god, or saying he would rather be loved by a woman than by the gods. Pyrgopolynices from Miles Gloriosus (vs. 1265), in bragging about his long life, says he was born one day later than Jupiter. In Curculio, Phaedrome says "I am a God" when he first meets with Planesium. In Pseudolus, Jupiter is compared to Ballio the pimp. It is not uncommon, too, for a character to scorn the gods, as seen in Poenulus and Rudens.

However, when a character scorns a god, it is usually a character of low standing, such as a pimp. Plautus perhaps does this to demoralize the characters. Soldiers often bring ridicule among the gods. Young men, meant to represent the upper social class, often belittle the gods in their remarks. Parasites, pimps, and courtesans often praise the gods with scant ceremony. Tolliver argues that drama both reflects and foreshadows social change. It is likely that there was already much skepticism about the gods in Plautus’ era. Plautus did not make up or encourage irreverence to the gods, but reflected ideas of his time. The state controlled stage productions, and Plautus’ plays would have been banned, had they been too risqué.[5]

Second Punic War and Macedonian War

The Second Punic War occurred from 218–201 BC; its central event was Hannibal's invasion of Italy. M. Leigh has devoted an extensive chapter about Plautus and Hannibal in his 2004 book, Comedy and the Rise of Rome. He says that “the plays themselves contain occasional references to the fact that the state is at arms...”[6] One good example is a piece of verse from the Miles Gloriosus, the composition date of which is not clear but which is often placed in the last decade of the 3rd century BC.[7] A. F. West believes that this is inserted commentary on the Second Punic War. In his article “On a Patriotic Passage in the Miles Gloriosus of Plautus”, he states that the war “engrossed the Romans more than all other public interests combined”.[8] The passage seems intended to rile up the audience, beginning with hostis tibi adesse, or “the foe is near at hand”.[9]

At the time, the general Scipio Africanus wanted to confront Hannibal, a plan “strongly favored by the plebs”.[10] Plautus apparently pushes for the plan to be approved by the senate, working his audience up with the thought of an enemy in close proximity and a call to outmaneuver him. Therefore, it is reasonable to say that Plautus, according to P.B. Harvey, was “willing to insert [into his plays] highly specific allusions comprehensible to the audience”.[11] M. Leigh writes in his chapter on Plautus and Hannibal that “the Plautus who emerges from this investigation is one whose comedies persistently touch the rawest nerves in the audience for whom he writes”.[12]

Later, coming off the heels of the conflict with Hannibal, Rome was preparing to embark on another military mission, this time in Greece. While they would eventually move on Philip V in the Second Macedonian War, there was considerable debate beforehand about the course Rome should take in this conflict. In the article “Bellum Philippicum: Some Roman and Greek Views Concerning the Causes of the Second Macedonian War”, E. J. Bickerman writes that “the causes of the fateful war … were vividly debated among both Greeks and Romans”.[13] Under the guise of protecting allies, Bickerman tells us, Rome was actually looking to expand its power and control eastward now that the Second Punic War was ended.[14] But starting this war would not be an easy task considering those recent struggles with Carthage—many Romans were too tired of conflict to think of embarking on another campaign. As W. M. Owens writes in his article “Plautus’ Stichus and the Political Crisis of 200 B.C.”, “There is evidence that antiwar feeling ran deep and persisted even after the war was approved."[15] Owens contends that Plautus was attempting to match the complex mood of the Roman audience riding the victory of the Second Punic War but facing the beginning of a new conflict.[16] For instance, the characters of the dutiful daughters and their father seem obsessed over the idea of officium, the duty one has to do what is right. Their speech is littered with words such as pietas and aequus, and they struggle to make their father fulfill his proper role.[17] The stock parasite in this play, Gelasimus, has a patron-client relationship with this family and offers to do any job in order to make ends meet; Owens puts forward that Plautus is portraying the economic hardship many Roman citizens were experiencing due to the cost of war.[18]

With the repetition of responsibility to the desperation of the lower class, Plautus establishes himself firmly on the side of the average Roman citizen. While he makes no specific reference to the possible war with Greece or the previous war (that might be too dangerous), he does seem to push the message that the government should take care of its own people before attempting any other military actions.


Greek Old Comedy

In order to understand the Greek New Comedy of Menander and its similarities to Plautus, it is necessary to discuss, in juxtaposition with it, the days of Greek Old Comedy and its evolution into New Comedy. The ancient Greek playwright who best embodies Old Comedy is Aristophanes. A playwright of 5th century Athens, he wrote works of political satire such as The Wasps, The Birds, and The Clouds. Aristophanes' work is noted for its critical commentary on politics and societal values,[19] which is the key component of Old Comedy: consciousness of the world in which it is written, and analysis of this world. Comedy and theater were means for the political commentary of the time – the public conscience.

In The Wasps, the playwright’s commentary is unexpectedly blunt and forward. For example, he names his two main characters “Philocleon” and “Bdelycleon”, which mean “pro-Cleon” and “anti-Cleon”, respectively. In this particular play, so much as the characters' names call attention to contemporary politics: Cleon was a major political figure of the time, and through these characters, Aristophanes freely criticizes the actions of this prominent politician in public. This, of course, means Old Comedy was more controversial; Aristophanes even underwent persecution for his depiction of Athens in the now-fragmentary The Babylonians.

Unlike Aristophanes, Plautus avoided discussion of current events (in a narrow sense of the term) in his comedies.[20]

Greek New Comedy

Greek New Comedy greatly differs from those plays of Aristophanes. The most notable difference, according to Dana F. Sutton, is that New Comedy, in comparison to Old Comedy, is “devoid of a serious political, social or intellectual content” and “could be performed in any number of social and political settings without risk of giving offense”.[21] The risk-taking for which Aristophanes is known is noticeably lacking in the New Comedy plays of Menander. Instead, there is much more of a focus on the home and the family unit—something that the Romans, including Plautus, could easily understand and adopt for themselves later in history.

Father–son relationships

One main theme of Greek New Comedy is the father–son relationship. For example, in Menander’s Dis Exapaton there is a focus on the betrayal between age groups and friends. The father-son relationship is very strong and the son remains loyal to the father. The relationship is always a focus, even if it’s not the focus of every action taken by the main characters. In Plautus, on the other hand, the focus is still on the relationship between father and son, but we see betrayal between the two men that wasn’t seen in Menander. There is a focus on the proper conduct between a father and son that, apparently, was so important to Roman society at the time of Plautus.

This becomes the main difference and, also, similarity between Menander and Plautus. They both address “situations that tend to develop in the bosom of the family.”[21] Both authors, through their plays, reflect a patriarchal society in which the father-son relationship is essential to proper function and development of the household.[22] It is no longer a political statement, as in Old Comedy, but a statement about household relations and proper behavior between a father and his son. But the attitudes on these relationships seem much different – a reflection of how the worlds of Menander and Plautus differed.


For the Italian tradition of farce, see Atellan farce.

There are differences not just in how the father-son relationship is presented, but also in the way in which Menander and Plautus write their poetry. William S. Anderson discusses the believability of Menander versus the believability of Plautus and, in essence, says that Plautus’ plays are much less believable than those plays of Menander because they seem to be such a farce in comparison. He addresses them as a reflection of Menander with some of Plautus’ own contributions. Anderson claims that there is unevenness in the poetry of Plautus that results in “incredulity and refusal of sympathy of the audience.”[23]


The poetry of Menander and Plautus is best juxtaposed in their prologues. Robert B. Lloyd makes the point that “albeit the two prologues introduce plays whose plots are of essentially different types, they are almost identical in form…”[24] He goes on to address the specific style of Plautus that differs so greatly from Menander. He says that the “verbosity of the Plautine prologues has often been commented upon and generally excused by the necessity of the Roman playwright to win his audience.”[24] However, in both Menander and Plautus, word play is essential to their comedy. Plautus might seem more verbose, but where he lacks in physical comedy he makes up for it with words, alliteration and paronomasia (punning).[25] See also "jokes and wordplay" below.

Plautus is well known for his devotion to puns, especially when it comes to the names of his characters. In Miles Gloriosus, for instance, the female concubine’s name, Philocomasium, translates to “lover of a good party”—which is quite apt when we learn about the tricks and wild ways of this prostitute.


Plautus’ characters—many of which seem to crop up in quite a few of his plays—also came from Greek stock, though they too received some Plautine innovations. Indeed, since Plautus was adapting these plays it would be difficult not to have the same kinds of characters—roles such as slaves, concubines, soldiers, and old men. By working with the characters that were already there but injecting his own creativity, as J.C.B. Lowe wrote in his article “Aspects of Plautus’ Originality in the Asinaria”, “Plautus could substantially modify the characterization, and thus the whole emphasis of a play.”[26]

The Clever Slave

One of the best examples of this method is the Plautine slave, a form that plays a major role in quite a few of Plautus’ works. The “clever slave” in particular is a very strong character; he not only provides exposition and humor, but also often drives the plot in Plautus’ plays. C. Stace argues that Plautus took the stock slave character from New Comedy in Greece and altered it for his own purposes. In New Comedy, he writes, “the slave is often not much more than a comedic turn, with the added purpose, perhaps, of exposition”.[27] This shows that there was precedent for this slave archetype, and obviously some of its old role continues in Plautus (the expository monologues, for instance). However, because Plautus found humor in slaves tricking their masters or comparing themselves to great heroes, he took the character a step further and created something distinct.[28]

Understanding of Greek by Plautus’ audience

Of the approximate 270 proper names in the surviving plays of Plautus, about 250 names are Greek.[29] William M. Seaman proposes that these Greek names would have delivered a comic punch to the audience because of its basic understanding of the Greek language.[30] This previous understanding of Greek language, Seaman suggests, comes from the “experience of Roman soldiers during the first and second Punic wars. Not only did men billeted in Greek areas have opportunity to learn sufficient Greek for the purpose of everyday conversation, but they were also able to see plays in the foreign tongue.”[31] Having an audience with knowledge of the Greek language, whether limited or more expanded, allowed Plautus more freedom to use Greek references and words. Also, by using his many Greek references and showing that his plays were originally Greek, “It is possible that Plautus was in a way a teacher of Greek literature, myth, art and philosophy; so too was he teaching something of the nature of Greek words to people, who, like himself, had recently come into closer contact with that foreign tongue and all its riches.”[32]

At the time of Plautus, Rome was expanding, and having much success in Greece. W.S. Anderson has commented that Plautus “is using and abusing Greek comedy to imply the superiority of Rome, in all its crude vitality, over the Greek world, which was now the political dependent of Rome, whose effete comic plots helped explain why the Greeks proved inadequate in the real world of the third and second centuries, in which the Romans exercised mastery".[33]

Disputed originality

Plautus was known for the use of Greek style in his plays, as part of the tradition of the variation on a theme. This has been a point of contention among modern scholars. One argument states that Plautus writes with originality and creativity—the other, that Plautus is a copycat of Greek New Comedy and that he makes no original contribution to playwriting.[citation needed]

A single reading of the Miles Gloriosus leaves the reader with the notion that the names, place, and play are all Greek, but one must look beyond these superficial interpretations. W.S. Anderson would steer any reader away from the idea that Plautus’ plays are somehow not his own or at least only his interpretation. Anderson says that, “Plautus homogenizes all the plays as vehicles for his special exploitation. Against the spirit of the Greek original, he engineers events at the end... or alter[s] the situation to fit his expectations.”[34] Anderson’s vehement reaction to the co-opting of Greek plays by Plautus seems to suggest that they are in no way like their originals were. It seems more likely that Plautus was just experimenting putting Roman ideas in Greek forms.

Greece and Rome, although often put into the same category,[citation needed] were different societies with different paradigms and ways of life. W. Geoffrey Arnott says that “we see that a set of formulae [used in the plays] concerned with characterization, motif, and situation has been applied to two dramatic situations which possess in themselves just as many difference as they do similarities.”[35] It is important to compare the two authors and the remarkable similarities between them because it is essential in understanding Plautus. He writes about Greeks like a Greek. However, Plautus and the writers of Greek New Comedy, such as Menander, were writing in two completely different contexts.


One idea that is important to recognize is that of contaminatio, which refers to the mixing of elements of two or more source plays. Plautus, it seems, is quite open to this method of adaptation, and quite a few of his plots seem stitched together from different stories. One excellent example is his Bacchides and its supposed Greek predecessor, Menander’s Dis Exapaton. The original Greek title translates as “The Man Deceiving Twice”, yet the Plautine version has three tricks.[36] V. Castellani commented that:

Plautus’ attack on the genre whose material he pirated was, as already stated, fourfold. He deconstructed many of the Greek plays’ finely constructed plots; he reduced some, exaggerated others of the nicely drawn characters of Menander and of Menander’s contemporaries and followers into caricatures; he substituted for or superimposed upon the elegant humor of his models his own more vigorous, more simply ridiculous foolery in action, in statement, even in language.[37]

By exploring ideas about Roman loyalty, Greek deceit, and differences in ethnicity, “Plautus in a sense surpassed his model.”[38] He was not content to rest solely on a loyal adaptation that, while amusing, was not new or engaging for Rome. Plautus took what he found but again made sure to expand, subtract, and modify. He seems to have followed the same path that Horace did, though Horace is much later, in that he is putting Roman ideas in Greek forms. He not only imitated the Greeks, but in fact distorted, cut up, and transformed the plays into something entirely Roman. In essence it is Greek theater colonized by Rome and its playwrights.


In Ancient Greece during the time of New Comedy, from which Plautus drew so much of his inspiration, there were permanent theaters that catered to the audience as well as the actor. The greatest playwrights of the day had quality facilities in which to present their work and, in a general sense, there was always enough public support to keep the theater running and successful. However, this was not the case in Rome during the time of the Republic, when Plautus wrote his plays. While there was public support for theater and people came to enjoy tragedy and comedy alike, there was also a notable lack of governmental support. No permanent theater existed in Rome until Pompey dedicated one in 55 BCE in the Campus Martius.[39] The lack of a permanent space was a key factor in Roman theater and Plautine stagecraft.

This lack of permanent theaters in Rome until 55 BCE has puzzled contemporary scholars of Roman drama. In their introduction to the Miles Gloriosus, Hammond, Mack and Moskalew say that “the Romans were acquainted with the Greek stone theater, but, because they believed drama to be a demoralizing influence, they had a strong aversion to the erection of permanent theaters.”[40] This worry rings true when considering the subject matter of Plautus’ plays. The unreal becomes reality on stage in his work. T. J. Moore notes that, “all distinction between the play, production, and ‘real life’ has been obliterated [Plautus’ play Curculio]”.[41] A place where social norms were upended was inherently suspect. The aristocracy was afraid of the power of the theater. It was merely by their good graces and unlimited resources that a temporary stage would have been built during specific festivals.

The importance of the ludi

Main article: Ludi

Roman drama, specifically Plautine comedy, was acted out on stage during the ludi or festival games. In his discussion of the importance of the ludi Megalenses in early Roman theater, John Arthur Hanson says that this particular festival “provided more days for dramatic representations than any of the other regular festivals, and it is in connection with these ludi that the most definite and secure literary evidence for the site of scenic games has come down to us”.[42] Because the ludi were religious in nature, it was appropriate for the Romans to set up this temporary stage close to the temple of the deity being celebrated. S.M. Goldberg notes that “ludi were generally held within the precinct of the particular god being honored.”[43]

T. J. Moore notes that “seating in the temporary theaters where Plautus’ plays were first performed was often insufficient for all those who wished to see the play, that the primary criterion for determining who was to stand and who could sit was social status”.[44] This is not to say that the lower classes did not see the plays; but they probably had to stand while watching. Plays were performed in public, for the public, with the most prominent members of the society in the forefront.

The wooden stages on which Plautus' plays appeared were shallow and long with three openings in respect to the scene-house. The stages were significantly smaller than any Greek structure familiar to modern scholars. Because theater was not a priority during Plautus' time, the structures were built and dismantled within a day. Even more practically, they were dismantled quickly due to their potential as fire-hazards.[45]

Geography of the stage

Often the geography of the stage and more importantly the play matched the geography of the city so that the audience would be well oriented to the locale of the play. Moore says that, “references to Roman locales must have been stunning for they are not merely references to things Roman, but the most blatant possible reminders that the production occurs in the city of Rome.”[46] So, Plautus seems to have choreographed his plays somewhat true-to-life. To do this, he needed his characters to exit and enter to or from whatever area their social standing would befit.

Two scholars, V. J. Rosivach and N. E. Andrews, have made interesting observations about stagecraft in Plautus: V. J. Rosivach writes about identifying the side of the stage with both social status and geography. He says that, for example, “the house of the medicus lies offstage to the right. It would be in the forum or thereabouts that one would expect to find a medicus.”[47] Moreover, he says that characters that oppose one another always have to exit in opposite directions. In a slightly different vein, N.E. Andrews discusses the spatial semantics of Plautus; she has observed that even the different spaces of the stage are thematically charged. She states:

Plautus’ Casina employs these conventional tragic correlations between male/outside and female/inside, but then inverts them in order to establish an even more complex relationship among genre, gender and dramatic space. In the Casina, the struggle for control between men and women... is articulated by characters’ efforts to control stage movement into and out of the house.[48]

Andrews makes note of the fact that power struggle in the Casina is evident in the verbal comings and goings. The words of action and the way that they are said are important to stagecraft. The words denoting direction or action such as abeo (“I go off”), transeo (“I go over”), fores crepuerunt (“the doors creak”), or intus (“inside”), which signal any character’s departure or entrance, are standard in the dialogue of Plautus’ plays. These verbs of motion or phrases can be taken as Plautine stage directions since no overt stage directions are apparent. Often, though, in these interchanges of characters, there occurs the need to move on to the next act. Plautus then might use what is known as a “cover monologue”. About this S.M. Goldberg notes that, “it marks the passage of time less by its length than by its direct and immediate address to the audience and by its switch from senarii in the dialogue to iambic septenarii. The resulting shift of mood distracts and distorts our sense of passing time.”[49]

Relationship with the audience

The small stages had a significant effect on the stagecraft of ancient Roman theater. Because of this limited space, there was also limited movement. Greek theater allowed for grand gestures and extensive action to reach the audience members who were in the very back of the theater. However the Romans would have had to depend more on their voices than large physicality. There was not an orchestra available as there was for the Greeks and this is reflected in the notable lack of a chorus in Roman drama. The replacement character that acts as the chorus would in Greek drama is often called the “prologue.”[50]

Goldberg says that, “these changes fostered a different relationship between actors and the space in which they performed and also between them and their audiences.”[51] Actors were thrust into much closer audience interaction. Because of this, a certain acting style became required that is more familiar to modern audiences. Because they would have been in such close proximity to the actors, ancient Roman audiences would have wanted attention and direct acknowledgement from the actors.[52]

Because there was no orchestra, there was no space separating the audience from the stage. The audience could stand directly in front of the elevated wooden platform. This gave them the opportunity to look at the actors from a much different perspective. They would have seen every detail of the actor and hear every word he said. The audience member would have wanted that actor to speak directly to them. It was a part of the thrill of the performance, as it is to this day.[53]

Stock characters

Plautus’ range of characters was created through his use of various techniques, but probably the most important is his use of stock characters and situations in his various plays. He incorporates the same stock characters constantly, especially when the character type is amusing to the audience. As Walter Juniper wrote, “Everything, including artistic characterization and consistency of characterization, were sacrificed to humor, and character portrayal remained only where it was necessary for the success of the plot and humor to have a persona who stayed in character, and where the persona by his portrayal contributed to humor.”[54]

For example, in Miles Gloriosus, the titular “braggart soldier” Pyrgopolynices only shows his vain and immodest side in the first act, while the parasite Artotrogus exaggerates Pyrgopolynices’ achievements, creating more and more ludicrous claims that Pyrgopolynices agrees to without question. These two are perfect examples of the stock characters of the pompous soldier and the desperate parasite that appeared in Plautine comedies. In disposing of highly complex individuals, Plautus was supplying his audience with what it wanted, since “the audience to whose tastes Plautus catered was not interested in the character play,”[55] but instead wanted the broad and accessible humor offered by stock set-ups. The humor Plautus offered, such as “puns, word plays, distortions of meaning, or other forms of verbal humor he usually puts them in the mouths of characters belonging to the lower social ranks, to whose language and position these varieties of humorous technique are most suitable,”[56] matched well with the stable of characters.

The clever slave

In his article "The Intriguing Slave in Greek Comedy," Philip Harsh gives evidence to show that the clever slave is not an invention of Plautus. While previous critics such as A. W. Gomme believed that the slave was “[a] truly comic character, the devisor of ingenious schemes, the controller of events, the commanding officer of his young master and friends, is a creation of Latin comedy,” and that Greek dramatists such as Menander did not use slaves in such a way that Plautus later did, Harsh refutes these beliefs by giving concrete examples of instances where a clever slave appeared in Greek comedy.[57] For instance, in the works of Athenaeus, Alciphron, and Lucian there are deceptions that involve the aid of a slave, and in Menander’s Dis Exapaton there was an elaborate deception executed by a clever slave that Plautus mirrors in his Bacchides. Evidence of clever slaves also appears in Menander’s Thalis, Hypobolimaios, and from the papyrus fragment of his Perinthia. Harsh acknowledges that Gomme’s statement was probably made before the discovery of many of the papyri that we now have. While it was not necessarily a Roman invention, Plautus did develop his own style of depicting the clever slave. With larger, more active roles, more verbal exaggeration and exuberance, the slave was moved by Plautus further into the front of the action.[58] Because of the inversion of order created by a devious or witty slave, this stock character was perfect for achieving a humorous response and the traits of the character worked well for driving the plot forward.

The lustful old man

Another important Plautine stock character, discussed by K.C. Ryder, is the senex amator. A senex amator is classified as an old man who contracts a passion for a young girl and who, in varying degrees, attempts to satisfy this passion. In Plautus these men are Demaenetus (Asinaria), Philoxenus and Nicobulus (Bacchides), Demipho (Cistellaria), Lysidamus (Casina), Demipho (Mercator), and Antipho (Stichus). Periplectomenos (Miles Gloriosus) and Daemones (Rudens) are regarded as senes lepidi because they usually keep their feelings within a respectable limit. All of these characters have the same goal, to be with a younger woman, but all go about it in different ways, as Plautus could not be too redundant with his characters despite their already obvious similarities. What they have in common is the ridicule with which their attempts are viewed, the imagery that suggests that they are motivated largely by animal passion, the childish behavior, and the reversion to the love-language of their youth.[59]

Female characters

In examining the female role designations of Plautus's plays, Z.M. Packman found that they are not as stable as their male counterparts: a senex will usually remain a senex for the duration of the play but designations like matrona, mulier, or uxor at times seem interchangeable. Most free adult women, married or widowed, appear in scene headings as mulier, simply translated as “woman”. But in Plautus’ Stichus the two young women are referred to as sorores, later mulieres, and then matronae, all of which have different meanings and connotations. Although there are these discrepancies, Packman tries to give a pattern to the female role designations of Plautus. Mulier is typically given to a woman of citizen class and of marriageable age or who has already been married. Unmarried citizen-class girls, regardless of sexual experience, were designated virgo. Ancilla was the term used for female household slaves, with Anus reserved for the elderly household slaves. A young woman who is unwed due to social status is usually referred to as meretrix or “courtesan.” A lena, or adoptive mother, may be a woman who owns these girls.[60]

Unnamed characters

Like Packman, George Duckworth uses the scene headings in the manuscripts to support his theory about unnamed Plautine characters. There are approximately 220 characters in the 20 plays of Plautus. Thirty are unnamed in both the scene headings and the text and there are about nine characters who are named in the ancient text but not in any modern one. This means that about 18% of the total number of characters in Plautus are nameless. Most of the very important characters have names while most of the unnamed characters are of less importance. However, there are some abnormalities—the main character in Casina is not mentioned by name anywhere in the text. In other instances, Plautus will give a name to a character that only has a few words or lines. One explanation is that some of the names have been lost over the years; and for the most part, major characters do have names.[61]

Language and style


The language and style of Plautus are not easy or simple. He wrote in a colloquial style far from the codified form of Latin that is found in Ovid or Virgil. This colloquial style is the everyday speech that Plautus would have been familiar with, yet that means that most students of Latin are unfamiliar with it. Adding to the unfamiliarity of Plautine language is the inconsistency of the irregularities that occur in the texts. In one of his prolific word-studies, A.W. Hodgman noted that:

the statements that one meets with, that this or that form is "common," or "regular," in Plautus, are frequently misleading, or even incorrect, and are usually unsatisfying.... I have gained an increasing respect for the manuscript tradition, a growing belief that the irregularities are, after all, in a certain sense regular. The whole system of inflexion—and, I suspect, of syntax also and of versification—was less fixed and stable in Plautus’ time than it became later.[62]

Archaic features

The diction of Plautus, who used the colloquial speech of his own day, is distinctive and non-standard from the point of view of the later, classical period. M. Hammond, A.H. Mack, and W. Moskalew have noted in the introduction to their edition of the Miles Gloriosus that Plautus was “free from convention... [and] sought to reproduce the easy tone of daily speech rather than the formal regularity of oratory or poetry. Hence, many of the irregularities which have troubled scribes and scholars perhaps merely reflect the everyday usages of the careless and untrained tongues which Plautus heard about him.”[63] Looking at the overall use of archaic forms in Plautus, one notes that they commonly occur in promises, agreements, threats, prologues, or speeches. Plautus's archaic forms are metrically convenient, but may also have had a stylistic effect on his original audience.

These forms are frequent and of too great a number for a complete list here,[64] but some of the most noteworthy features which from the classical perspective will be considered irregular or obsolete are:

  • the use of uncontracted forms of some verbs such as mavolo ("prefer") for later malo[65]
  • the emendation of the final -e of singular imperatives
  • the retention of -u- in place of the later -i- in words such as maxumus, proxumus, lacrumare etc. (see Latin spelling and pronunciation §Sonus medius), and of -vo- before r, s or t, where the use after ca. 150 BC[66] would favor -ve- (as vostrum for later vestrum)
  • the use of the -ier ending for the present passive and deponent infinitive
  • the forms of sum often joined to the preceding word, which is called prodelision (as bonumst "it's good" for bonum est "it is good")
  • the dropping of the final -s of 2nd-singular verb forms and the final -e of the question-particle -ne when the two are joined (as viden? for videsne? "you see? you get it?")
  • the retention of short -ǒ in noun endings in the second declension for later -ŭ
  • the retention in many words of qu- instead of later c- (as in quom instead of cum)
  • the use of the -āī genitive singular ending, dissyllabic, besides -ae
  • the retention of final -d after long vowel in the pronouns mēd, tēd, sēd (accusative and ablative, forms without -d also occur)
  • the occasional addition of a final -pte, -te, or -met to pronouns
  • the use of -īs as an accusative plural and occasionally nominative plural ending.[67]

These are the most common linguistic peculiarities (from the later perspective) in the plays of Plautus, some of them being also found in Terence, and noting them helps in the reading of his works and gives insight into early Roman language and interaction.

Means of expression

There are certain ways in which Plautus expressed himself in his plays, and these individual means of expression give a certain flair to his style of writing. The means of expression are not always specific to the writer, i.e., idiosyncratic, yet they are characteristic of the writer. Two examples of these characteristic means of expression are the use of proverbs and the use of Greek language in the plays of Plautus.

Plautus employed the use of proverbs in many of his plays. Proverbs would address a certain genre such as law, religion, medicine, trades, crafts, and seafaring. Plautus’ proverbs and proverbial expressions number into the hundreds. They sometimes appear alone or interwoven within a speech. The most common appearance of proverbs in Plautus appears to be at the end of a soliloquy. Plautus does this for dramatic effect to emphasize a point.

Further interwoven into the plays of Plautus and just as common as the use of proverbs is the use of Greek within the texts of the plays. J. N. Hough suggests that Plautus’s use of Greek is for artistic purposes and not simply because a Latin phrase will not fit the meter. Greek words are used when describing foods, oils, perfumes, etc. This is similar to the use of French terms in the English language such as garçon or rendezvous. These words give the language a French flair just as Greek did to the Latin-speaking Romans. Slaves or characters of low standing speak much of the Greek. One possible explanation for this is that many Roman slaves were foreigners of Greek origin.

Plautus would sometimes incorporate passages in other languages as well in places where it would suit his characters. A noteworthy example is the use of two prayers in Punic in Poenulus, spoken by the Carthaginian elder Hanno, which are significant to Semitic linguistics because they preserve the Carthaginian pronunciation of the vowels. Unlike Greek, Plautus most probably did not speak Punic himself, nor was the audience likely to understand it. The text of the prayers themselves was probably provided by a Carthaginian informant, and Plautus incorporated it to emphasize the authenticity and foreignness of Hanno's character.[68]

Poetic devices

Plautus also used more technical means of expression in his plays. One tool that Plautus used for the expression of his servus callidus stock character was alliteration. Alliteration is the repetition of sounds in a sentence or clause; those sounds usually come at the beginning of words. In the Miles Gloriosus, the servus callidus is Palaestrio. As he speaks with the character, Periplectomenus, he uses a significant amount of alliteration in order to assert his cleverness and, therefore, his authority. Plautus uses phrases such as “falsiloquom, falsicum, falsiiurium” (MG l. 191). These words express the deep and respectable knowledge that Palaestrio has of the Latin language. Alliteration can also happen at the endings of words as well. For example, Palaestrio says, “linguam, perfidiam, malitiam atque audaciam, confidentiam, confirmitatem, fraudulentiam” (MG ll. 188-9). Also used, as seen above, is the technique of assonance, which is the repetition of similar sounding syllables.

Jokes and wordplay

Plautus' comedies abound in puns and word play, which is an important component of his poetry. One well known instance in the Miles Gloriosus is Sceledre, scelus. Some examples stand in the text in order to accentuate and emphasize whatever is being said, and others to elevate the artistry of the language. But a great number are made for jokes, especially riddle jokes, which feature a "knock knock - who's there?" pattern. Plautus is especially fond of making up and changing the meaning of words, as Shakespeare does later.[69]


Further emphasizing and elevating the artistry of the language of the plays of Plautus is the use of meter, which simply put is the rhythm of the play. There seems to be great debate over whether Plautus found favor in strong word accent or verse ictus, stress. Plautus did not follow the meter of the Greek originals that he adapted for the Roman audience. Plautus used a great number of meters, but most frequently he used the trochaic septenarius. Iambic words, though common in Latin, are difficult to fit in this meter, and naturally occur at the end of verses. G.B. Conte has noted that Plautus favors the use of cantica instead of Greek meters. This vacillation between meter and word stress highlights the fact that Latin literature was still in its infancy, and that there was not yet a standard way to write verse.

Vigor and immediacy

The servus callidus functions as the exposition in many of Plautus' plays. According to C. Stace, "slaves in Plautus account for almost twice as much monologue as any other character... [and] this is a significant statistic; most of the monologues being, as they are, for purposes of humor, moralizing, or exposition of some kind, we can now begin to see the true nature of the slave's importance."[70] Because humor, vulgarity,[71] and "incongruity" are so much a part of the Plautine comedies, the slave becomes the essential tool to connect the audience to the joke through his monologue and direct connection to the audience. He is, then, not only a source for exposition and understanding, but connection—specifically, connection to the humor of the play, the playfulness of the play. The servus callidus is a character that, as McCarthy says, "draws the complete attention of the audience, and, according to C. Stace, 'despite his lies and abuse, claims our complete sympathy.'"[72] He does this, according to some scholarship, using monologue, the imperative mood and alliteration—all of which are specific and effective linguistic tools in both writing and speaking.

The specific type of monologue (or soliloquy) in which a Plautine slave engages is the prologue. As opposed to simple exposition, according to N.W. Slater, “these…prologues…have a far more important function than merely to provide information.”[73] Another way in which the servus callidus asserts his power over the play—specifically the other characters in the play—is through his use of the imperative mood. This type of language is used, according to E. Segal, for “the forceful inversion, the reduction of the master to an abject position of supplication … the master-as-suppliant is thus an extremely important feature of the Plautine comic finale.”[74] The imperative mood is therefore used in the complete role-reversal of the normal relationship between slave and master, and “those who enjoy authority and respect in the ordinary Roman world are unseated, ridiculed, while the lowliest members of society mount to their pedestals…the humble are in face exalted”.[75]

The influence of Plautus

Intellectual and academic critics have often judged Plautus's work as crude; yet his influence on later literature is impressive—especially on two literary giants, Shakespeare and Molière.

Playwrights throughout history have looked to Plautus for character, plot, humor, and other elements of comedy. His influence ranges from similarities in idea to full literal translations woven into plays. The playwright’s apparent familiarity with the absurdity of humanity and both the comedy and tragedy that stem from this absurdity have inspired succeeding playwrights centuries after his death. The most famous of these successors is Shakespeare—Plautus had a major influence on the Bard’s early comedies.

The Middle Ages and early Renaissance

Plautus was apparently read in the 9th century. His form was too complex to be fully understood, however, and, as indicated by the Terentius et delusor, it was unknown at the time if Plautus was writing in prose or verse.

W. B. Sedgwick has provided a record of the Amphitruo, perennially one of Plautus’ most famous works. It was the most popular Plautine play in the Middle Ages, and publicly performed at the Renaissance; it was the first Plautine play to be translated into English.

The influence of Plautus's plays was felt in the early 16th century. Limited records suggest that the first known university production of Plautus in England was of Miles Gloriosus at Oxford in 1522-3. The magnum jornale of Queens College contains a reference to a comoedia Plauti in either 1522 or 1523. This fits directly with comments made in the poems of Leland about the date of the production. The next production of Miles Gloriosus that is known from limited records was given by the Westminster School in 1564.[76] Other records also tell us about performances of the Menaechmi. From our knowledge, performances were given in the house of Cardinal Wolsey by boys of St. Paul’s School as early as 1527.[77]

Plautus and Shakespeare

Shakespeare borrowed from Plautus as Plautus borrowed from his Greek models. C.L. Barber says that “Shakespeare feeds Elizabethan life into the mill of Roman farce, life realized with his distinctively generous creativity, very different from Plautus’ tough, narrow, resinous genius.”[78]

The Plautine and Shakespearean plays that most parallel each other are, respectively, The Menaechmi and The Comedy of Errors. According to Marples, Shakespeare drew directly from Plautus “parallels in plot, in incident, and in character,”[79] and was undeniably influenced by the classical playwright’s work. H. A. Watt stresses the importance of recognizing the fact that the “two plays were written under conditions entirely different and served audiences as remote as the poles.”[80]

The differences between The Menaechmi and The Comedy of Errors are clear. In The Menaechmi, Plautus uses only one set of twins—twin brothers. Shakespeare, on the other hand, uses two sets of twins, which, according to William Connolly, “dilutes the force of [Shakespeare’s] situations.”[80] One suggestion is that Shakespeare got this idea from Plautus’ Amphitruo, in which both twin masters and twin slaves appear.

It can be noted that the doubling is a stock situation of Elizabethan comedy. On the fusion between Elizabethan and Plautine techniques, T. W. Baldwin writes, “…Errors does not have the miniature unity of Menaechmi, which is characteristic of classic structure for comedy.”[81] Baldwin notes that Shakespeare covers a much greater area in the structure of the play than Plautus does. Shakespeare was writing for an audience whose minds weren’t restricted to house and home, but looked toward the greater world beyond and the role that they might play in that world.

Another difference between the audiences of Shakespeare and Plautus is that Shakespeare’s audience was Christian. At the end of Errors, the world of the play is returned to normal when a Christian abbess interferes with the feuding. Menaechmi, on the other hand, “is almost completely lacking in a supernatural dimension.”[82] A character in Plautus’ play would never blame an inconvenient situation on witchcraft—something that is quite common in Shakespeare.

The relationship between a master and a clever servant is also a common element in Elizabethan comedy. Shakespeare often includes foils for his characters to have one set off the other. In Elizabethan romantic comedy, it is common for the plays to end with multiple marriages and couplings of pairs. This is something that is not seen in Plautine comedy. In the Comedy of Errors, Aegeon and Aemilia are separated, Antipholus and Adriana are at odds, and Antipholus and Luciana have not yet met. At the end, all the couples are happily together. By writing his comedies in a combination of Elizabethan and Plautine styles, Shakespeare helps to create his own brand of comedy, one that uses both styles.[80]

Also, Shakespeare uses the same kind of opening monologue so common in Plautus’s plays. He even uses a “villain” in The Comedy of Errors of the same type as the one in Menaechmi, switching the character from a doctor to a teacher but keeping the character a shrewd, educated man.[80] Watt also notes that some of these elements appear in many of his works, such as Twelfth Night or A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and had a deep impact on Shakespeare’s writing.[80]

Later playwrights also borrowed Plautus's stock characters. One of the most important echoes of Plautus is the stock character of the parasite. Certainly the best example of this is Falstaff, Shakespeare's portly and cowardly knight. As J. W. Draper notes, the gluttonous Falstaff shares many characteristics with a parasite such as Artotrogus from Miles Gloriosus. Both characters seem fixated on food and where their next meal is coming from. But they also rely on flattery in order to gain these gifts, and both characters are willing to bury their patrons in empty praise.[83] Of course, Draper notes that Falstaff is also something of a boastful military man, but notes, “Falstaff is so complex a character that he may well be, in effect, a combination of interlocking types.”[83]

As well as appearing in Shakespearean comedy, the Plautine parasite appears in one of the first English comedies. In Ralph Roister Doister, the character of Matthew Merrygreeke follows in the tradition of both Plautine Parasite and Plautine slave, as he both searches and grovels for food and also attempts to achieve his master’s desires.[83] Indeed, the play itself is often seen as borrowing heavily from or even being based on the Plautine comedy Miles Gloriosus.[84]

H. W. Cole discusses the influence of Plautus and Terence on the Stonyhurst Pageants. The Stonyhurst Pageants are manuscripts of Old Testament plays that were probably composed after 1609 in Lancashire. Cole focuses on Plautus’ influence on the particular Pageant of Naaman. The playwright of this pageant breaks away from the traditional style of religious medieval drama and relies heavily on the works of Plautus. Overall, the playwright cross-references eighteen of the twenty surviving plays of Plautus and five of the six extant plays by Terence. It is clear that the author of the Stonyhurst Pageant of Naaman had a great knowledge of Plautus and was significantly influenced by this.[85]

There is evidence of Plautine imitation in Edwardes’ Damon and Pythias and Heywood’s Silver Age as well as in Shakespeare's Errors. Heywood sometimes translated whole passages of Plautus. By being translated as well as imitated, Plautus was a major influence on comedy of the Elizabethan era. n terms of plot, or perhaps more accurately plot device, Plautus served as a source of inspiration and also provided the possibility of adaptation for later playwrights. The many deceits that Plautus layered his plays with, giving the audience the feeling of a genre bordering on farce, appear in much of the comedy written by Shakespeare and Molière. For instance, the clever slave has important roles in both L’Avare and L’Etourdi, two plays by Molière, and in both drives the plot and creates the ruse just like Palaestrio in Miles Gloriosus.[86] These similar characters set up the same kind of deceptions in which many of Plautus’ plays find their driving force, which is not a simple coincidence.

Later periods

20th century musicals based on Plautus include A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum (Larry Gelbart and Burt Shevelove, book, Stephen Sondheim, music and lyrics).

The British TV sitcom Up Pompeii uses situations and stock characters from Plautus's plays.

Surviving plays

Fragmentary plays

Only the titles and various fragments of these plays have survived.

  • Addictus
  • Ambroicus, or Agroicus ("The Rustic Man")
  • Artamon ("The Mainsail")
  • Baccharia
  • Bis Compressa ("The Twice-Seduced Woman")
  • Caecus ("The Blind Man"), or Praedones ("Plunderers")
  • Calceolus ("The Little Shoe")
  • Carbonaria ("The Female Charcoal-Burner")
  • Clitellaria, or Astraba
  • Colax ("The Flatterer")
  • Commorientes ("Those Dying Together")
  • Condalium
  • Cornicularia
  • Dyscolus ("The Grouch")
  • Foeneratrix ("The Lady Moneylender")
  • Fretum ("The Strait," or "Channel")
  • Frivolaria ("Trifles")
  • Fugitivi ("The Runaways"—possibly by Turpilius (la))
  • Gastrion, or Gastron
  • Hortulus ("Little Garden")
  • Kakistus (possibly by Accius)
  • Lenones Gemini ("The Twin Pimps")
  • Medicus ("The Physician")
  • Nervolaria
  • Parasitus Piger ("The Lazy Parasite"), or Lipargus
  • Phagon ("The Glutton")
  • Plociona
  • Saturio
  • Scytha Liturgus
  • Trigemini ("Triplets")
  • Vidularia

See also


  1. The Concise Oxford Companion to Classical Literature (1996) Ed. M.C. Howatson and Ian Chilvers, Oxford University Press, Oxford Reference Online
  2. M. Marples. “Plautus,” Greece & Rome 8.22(1938), p. 1.
  3. S. O'Bryhim. Greek and Roman Comedy (University of Texas Press, 2001), p. 149.
  4. "FJCL Latin Literature Study Guide" (PDF). Florida Junior Classical League. Retrieved 2 March 2014.
  5. H.M. Tolliver. "Plautus and the State Gods of Rome", The Classical Journal 48.2(1952), pp. 49-57.
  6. M. Leigh. Comedy and the Rise of Rome. New York: Oxford University Press, 2004. p. 24.
  7. A. F. West. “On a Patriotic Passage in the Miles Gloriosus of Plautus,” The American Journal of Philology 8.1(1887), p. 18.
  8. West, 24.
  9. West, 26.
  10. West, 28.
  11. P.B. Harvey. “Historical Topicality in Plautus,” Classical World 79 (1986), pp. 297-304.
  12. Leigh, 26.
  13. E. J. Bickerman. “Bellum Philippicum: Some Roman and Greek Views Concerning the Causes of the Second Macedonian War,” Classical Philology 40.3 (1945), p. 138.
  14. Bickerman, 146.
  15. W. M. Owens. “Plautus’ ‘Stichus’ and the Political Crisis of 200 B.C.,” The American Journal of Philology 121.3 (2000), p. 388.
  16. Owens, 386.
  17. Owens, 392.
  18. Owens, 395-396.
  19. Sutton, D. F., Ancient Comedy: The War of the Generations (New York, 1993), p.56.
  20. Writings and career of Plautus in The Drama: Its History, Literature and Influence on Civilization, vol. 2. ed. Alfred Bates. London: Historical Publishing Company, 1906. pp. 159-165.
  21. Sutton 1993, p. 57.
  22. Sutton 1993, p. 59.
  23. Lloyd, R. F., "Two Prologues: Menander and Plautus," The American Journal of Philology 84.2 (1963, April), p. 141.
  24. Lloyd 1963, p. 149.
  25. Lloyd 1963, p. 150.
  26. Lowe, J.C.B., "Aspects of Plautus’ Originality in the Asinaria," The Classical Quarterly 42 (1992), p. 155.
  27. Stace, C., "The Slaves of Plautus," Greece & Rome 15 (1968), p. 75.
  28. Stace 1968, pp. 73-74.
  29. Seaman, W.M., "The Understanding of Greek by Plautus’ Audience," Classical Journal 50 (1954), p. 115.
  30. Seaman 1954, p. 116.
  31. Seaman 1954, p. 115.
  32. Seaman 1954, p. 119.
  33. W.S. Anderson, “The Roman Transformation of Greek Domestic Comedy,” The Classical World 88.3 (1995), pp. 171-180.
  34. Anderson 1995, p. 178.
  35. Arnott, W. G., "A Note on the Parallels between Menander’s ‘Dyskolos’ and Plautus’ ‘Aulularia," Phoenix 18.3 (1964), p. 236.
  36. Owens, W. M., "The Third Deception in Bacchides: Fides and Plautus' Originality," The American Journal of Philology 115 (1994), pp. 381-382.
  37. V. Castellani. “Plautus versus Komoidia: popular farce at Rome,” in Farce, ed. 5 J. Redmond (Cambridge and New York, 1988), pp. 53-82.
  38. Owens 1994, p. 404.
  39. S. M. Goldberg. “Plautus on the Palatine,” The Journal of Roman Studies 88 (1998), p. 2.
  40. M. Hammond, A.M. Mack, W. Moskalew. “Introduction: The Stage and Production,” in Miles Gloriosus. Ed. M. Hammond, A. Mack, W. Moskalew. London and Cambridge, 1997 repr., pp. 15-29.
  41. T. J. Moore. “Palliata Togata: Plautus, Curculio 462-86,” The American Journal of Philology 112.3 (1991), pp. 343-362.
  42. J. A. Hanson, Roman Theater—Temples, (Princeton, NJ, 1959), p. 13.
  43. Goldberg, 1998, pp. 1-20.
  44. T.J. Moore, “Seats and Social Status in the Plautine Theater,” The Classical Journal 90.2 (1995), pp. 113-123.
  45. M. Bieber, The History of the Greek and Roman Theater, (Princeton, NJ, 1961.), p. 168.
  46. Moore, 1991, p. 347.
  47. V. J. Rosivach, “Plautine Stage Settings,” Transactions and Proceedings of the American Philological Association 101 (1970), pp. 445-461.
  48. N. E. Andrews, “Tragic Re-Presentation and the Semantics of Space in Plautus,” Mnemosyne 57.4 (2004), pp. 445-464.
  49. S.M. Goldberg, “Act to Action in Plautus’ Bacchides,” Classical Philology 85.3 (1990), pp. 191-201.
  50. Goldberg, 1998, p.19.
  51. Goldberg, 1998, p.16.
  52. P.G. Brown, “Actors and Actor–Managers at Rome in the Time of Plautus and Terence,” in Greek and Roman Actors: Aspects of an Ancient Profession, Ed. P. Easterling and E. Hall. (Cambridge, 2002.), p. 228.
  53. Goldberg, 1998, p. 19.
  54. W.H. Juniper, “Character Portrayals in Plautus.” The Classical Journal 31 (1936), p. 279.
  55. Juniper, 1936, p. 278.
  56. J.N. Hough, “The Reverse Comic Foil in Plautus.” The American Philological Association 73 (1942), p. 108.
  57. P.W. Harsh, “The Intriguing Slave in Greek Comedy,” Transactions and Proceedings of the American Philological Association, 86 (1955), pp. 135-142.
  58. Harsh, 1955, p. 135-142.
  59. K.C. Ryder, “The ‘Senex Amator’ in Plautus,” Greece & Rome 31.2. (Oct., 1984), pp.181-189.
  60. Z.M. Packman, “Feminine Role Designations in the Comedies of Plautus,” The American Journal of Philology 120.2. (1999), pp. 245-258.
  61. G.E. Duckworth, “The Unnamed Characters in the Plays of Plautus,” Classical Philology 33.2. (1938), pp. 167-282.
  62. A.W. Hodgman. "Verb Forms in Plautus," The Classical Quarterly 1.1(1907), pp. 42-52.
  63. Ed. M. Hammond, A.H. Mack, & W. Moskalew, Miles Gloriosus (Cambridge and London, 1997 repr.), pp. 39-57.
  64. The reader is directed to the word studies of A.W. Hodgman (Nouns 1902; Verbs 107) to grasp fully the use of archaic forms in Plautine diction.
  65. From magis volo "want more".
  66. R.H. Martin, Terence: Phormio (London: Methuen, 1969). P. 86 n. 29.
  67. This list compiled from a number of word studies and syntactic texts listed in the reference section.
  68. Sznycer, Maurice (1967). Les passages punique en transcription latine dans le Poenulus de Plaute. Paris: Librairie C. Klincksiek.
  69. M. Fontaine, Funny Words in Plautine Comedy, Oxford, 2010.
  70. C. Stace. "The Slaves of Plautus," Greece and Rome 2.15 (1968), pp. 64-77.
  71. Easterling '76, p.12 "the delight in low humour we associate with Plautus"
  72. Stace 1968, pp. 64-77.
  73. N.W. Slater. Plautus in Performance: The Theatre of the Mind. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1985, p. 152
  74. E. Segal. Roman Laughter: The Comedy of Plautus. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1968, p. 122
  75. Segal 1968, p. 136
  76. L. Bradner. “The First Cambridge Production of Miles Gloriosus." Modern Language Notes, 70.6 (1955), pp. 400-403.
  77. H.W. Cole. “The Influence of Plautus and Terence Upon the Stonyhurst Pageants.” Modern Language Notes 38 (1923) 393-399.
  78. C.L. Barber, “Shakespearian Comedy in the Comedy of Errors,” College English 25.7 (1964), p. 493.
  79. M. Marples, “Plautus.” Greece & Rome 8.22 (1938), p. 2.
  80. H. A. Watt. “Plautus and Shakespeare: Further Comments on Menaechmi and The Comedy of Errors.” The Classical Journal 20 (1925), pp. 401-407.
  81. T.W. Baldwin. On the Compositional Genetics of The Comedy of Errors. (Urbana 1965), pp. 200-209.
  82. N. Rudd. The Classical Tradition in Operation. (Toronto 1994), pp. 32-60.
  83. J. W. Draper. “Falstaff and the Plautine Parasite.” The Classical Journal 33(1938), pp. 390-401.
  84. H. W. Cole. “The Influence of Plautus and Terence Upon the Stonyhurst Pageants,” Modern Language Notes 38 (1923), pp. 393-399.
  85. H. W. Cole. “The Influence of Plautus and Terrence Upon the Stonyhurst Pageants,” Modern Language Notes 38.7 (1923), pp. 393-399.
  86. S. V. Cole. “Plautus Up-to-Date.” The Classical Journal 16 (1921), pp. 399-409.


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External links

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum (American comedy from Plautus)

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
This article is about the musical. For the film, see A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum (film).
A Funny Thing Happened
on the Way to the Forum
Revival Cast Recording
Music Stephen Sondheim
Lyrics Stephen Sondheim
Book Burt Shevelove
Larry Gelbart
Productions 1962 Broadway
1963 West End
1966 film
1972 Broadway
1986 West End
1996 Broadway
2004 Royal National Theatre
2009 Hong Kong
2009 Stratford Shakespeare Festival
2012 Melbourne
Awards Tony Award for Best Musical
Tony Award for Best Author (Musical)

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum is a musical with music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim and book by Burt Shevelove and Larry Gelbart.

Inspired by the farces of the ancient Roman playwright Plautus (251–183 BC), specifically Pseudolus, Miles Gloriosus and Mostellaria, the musical tells the bawdy story of a slave named Pseudolus and his attempts to win his freedom by helping his young master woo the girl next door. The plot displays many classic elements of farce, including puns, the slamming of doors, cases of mistaken identity (frequently involving characters disguising themselves as one another), and satirical comments on social class. The title derives from a line often used by vaudeville comedians to begin a story: "A funny thing happened on the way to the theater".

The musical's original 1962 Broadway run won several Tony Awards, including Best Musical and Best Author (Musical). A Funny Thing has enjoyed several Broadway and West End revivals and was made into a successful film starring the original lead of the musical, Zero Mostel.


Original Broadway

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum opened on Broadway on May 8, 1962 at the Alvin Theatre, and then transferred to the Mark Hellinger Theatre and the Majestic Theatre, where the show closed on August 29, 1964, after 964 performances and 8 previews.

The show's creators originally wanted Phil Silvers in the lead role of Pseudolus, but he turned them down, allegedly because he would have to perform onstage without his glasses, and his vision was so poor that he feared tripping into the orchestra pit. He is also quoted as turning down the role for being "Sgt. Bilko in a toga". (Silvers went on to play the role —wearing his glasses—in a 1972 revival. In the film, he played Marcus Lycus.) Milton Berle also passed on the role. Eventually, Zero Mostel was cast.[1]

During the out of town pre-Broadway tryouts the show was attracting little business and not playing well. Jerome Robbins was called in to give advice and make changes. The biggest change Robbins made was a new opening number to replace "Love Is in the Air" and introduce the show as a bawdy, wild comedy. Stephen Sondheim wrote the song "Comedy Tonight" for this new opening.[1] From that point on, the show was a success.

It was directed by George Abbott and produced by Hal Prince, with choreography by Jack Cole and uncredited staging and choreography by Robbins. The scenic and costume design was by Tony Walton. This wardrobe is on display at the Costume World Broadway Collection in Pompano Beach, Florida. The lighting design was by Jean Rosenthal. Along with Mostel, the musical featured a cast of seasoned performers, including Jack Gilford (Mostel's friend and fellow blacklist member), David Burns, John Carradine, Ruth Kobart and Raymond Walburn. The young lovers were played by Brian Davies and Preshy Marker. Karen Black, originally cast as the ingenue, was replaced out of town.

The show won several Tony Awards: Best Musical, Best Actor, Best Supporting Actor (Burns), Best Book, and Best Director. The score, however, was coolly received as it was Sondheim's first musical on Broadway in which he wrote both the music and lyrics, thus not earning him a nomination for Best Original Score.


The show was presented two times in London's West End. The 1963 production and its 1986 revival were staged at the Strand Theatre and the Piccadilly Theatre respectively,[2][3] and featured Frankie Howerd starring as Pseudolus, Kenneth Connor as Hysterium, 'Monsewer' Eddie Gray as Senex, Jon Pertwee as Marcus Lycus and Leon Greene as Miles Gloriosus.

In 2004 there was a limited-run revival at the Royal National Theatre starring Desmond Barrit as Pseudolus, Philip Quast as Miles Gloriosus, Hamish McColl as Hysterium and Isla Blair as Domina (who had previously played Philia in the 1963 production).[4]

Motion picture adaptation

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum was made into a musical film in 1966, directed by Richard Lester, with Zero Mostel and Jack Gilford re-creating their Broadway stage roles, Leon Greene reprising his West End stage role and Phil Silvers starred in an expanded role as "Marcus Lycus". David Burns did not return for the film role of Senex, which was played in the film by Michael Hordern. Buster Keaton made his final film appearance in the role of Erronius.

Broadway revivals

A 1972 revival premiered on Broadway, directed by co-author Burt Shevelove and starring Phil Silvers as Pseudolus (later replaced by Tom Poston), Lew Parker as Senex and Reginald Owen as Erronius. Larry Blyden, who played Hysterium, the role created by Jack Gilford, also co-produced. "Pretty Little Picture" and "That'll Show Him" were dropped from the show, and were replaced with "Echo Song" (sung by Hero and Philia), and "Farewell" (added for Nancy Walker playing the role of Domina as she and Senex depart for the country). "Echo Song" and "Farewell" had been added to a production staged in Los Angeles the previous year and were composed by Sondheim. The production ran 156 performances, but had to close soon after Phil Silvers suffered a stroke. The show won two Tony Awards. Best Leading Actor in a Musical and Best Featured Actor in a Musical for Silvers and Blyden, respectively.

The musical was revived again with great success in 1996, starring Nathan Lane as Pseudolus (replaced by Whoopi Goldberg and later by David Alan Grier), Mark Linn-Baker as Hysterium, Ernie Sabella as Lycus, Jim Stanek as Hero, Lewis J. Stadlen as Senex, and Cris Groenendaal as Miles Gloriosus. The production, directed by Jerry Zaks, closed after 715 performances. Lane won the Tony Award Best Leading Actor.

Every actor who has opened in the role of Pseudolus on Broadway (Zero Mostel, Phil Silvers and Nathan Lane) has won a Best Leading Actor Tony Award for their performance. In addition, Jason Alexander, who performed as Pseudolus in one scene in Jerome Robbins' Broadway, also won a Tony for Best Actor in a Musical.

Other productions

The Stephen Sondheim Center for the Performing Arts produced a limited-run revival of the musical from January 11 to 27, 2008. The production was directed by Randal K. West, with Justin Hill as musical director and Adam Cates as choreographer. The cast featured Richard Kind as Pseudolus, Joel Blum as Senex, Stephen DeRosa as Marcus Lycus, Sean McCall as Hysterium, and Steve Wilson as Miles Gloriosus. It also featured Diana Upton-Hill, Ryan Gaffney, Stephen Mark Crisp, Jack Kloppenborg and Margret Clair.[5][6][7]

The Chung Ying Theatre Company in Hong Kong staged a Cantonese version of the musical at Kwai Tsing Theatre, to celebrate the company's 30th anniversary. It was directed by Chung King Fai and Ko Tin Lung and ran from 14 to 21 March 2009.[8]

The Stratford Shakespeare Festival in Stratford, Ontario, Canada production ran from June 11 to November 7, 2009, with Des McAnuff directing and Wayne Cilento as choreographer.[9] Bruce Dow originally performed the role of Pseudolus, but was forced to withdraw from the entire 2009 season due to an injury, and the role was then performed by Seán Cullen as of September 5, 2009.[10] Stephen Ouimette played Hysterium. Mirvish Productions presented the earlier Stratford production at the Canon Theatre, Toronto, in December 2010 through January 2011. Bruce Dow and Sean Cullen were alternates in the lead role.[11]

In October 2012 the play opened at Her Majesty's Theatre, Melbourne, Australia, with Geoffrey Rush as Pseudolus, Magda Szubanski as Domina and Shane Bourne as Senex.[12] Stephen Sondheim came to Melbourne specifically to watch the show.

"A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum" is currently in production at Two River Theater in Red Bank, N.J. The production is led my an all male cast (Paul Castree, Eddie Cooper, Kevin Isola, David Josefsberg, Max Kumangai, Graham Rowat, Manny Stark, Bobby Conte Thornton, David Turner, Michael Urie, Tom Deckman, and Christopher Fitzgerald (actor).) The show will perform from November 14th, 2015 to December 13th, 2015.


Graphic from the original Broadway cast album

In ancient Rome, some neighbors live in three adjacent houses. In the center is the house of Senex, who lives there with wife Domina, son Hero, and several slaves, including head slave Hysterium and the musical's main character Pseudolus. A slave belonging to Hero, Pseudolus wishes to buy, win, or steal his freedom. One of the neighboring houses is owned by Marcus Lycus, who is a buyer and seller of beautiful women; the other belongs to the ancient Erronius, who is abroad searching for his long-lost children (stolen in infancy by pirates).

One day, Senex and Domina go on a trip and leave Pseudolus in charge of Hero. Hero confides in Pseudolus that he is in love with the lovely Philia, one of the courtesans in the House of Lycus (albeit still a virgin). Pseudolus promises to help him win Philia's love in exchange for his own freedom. Unfortunately (as the two find out when they pay a visit on Lycus), Philia has been sold to the renowned warrior Miles Gloriosus, who is expected to claim her very soon. Pseudolus, an excellent liar, uses Philia's cheery disposition to convince Lycus that she has picked up a plague from Crete, which causes its victims to smile endlessly in its terminal stages. By offering to isolate her in Senex's house, he is able to give Philia and Hero some time alone together, and the two fall in love. But Philia insists that, even though she is in love with Hero, she must honor her contract with the Captain, for "that is the way of a courtesan." To appease her, he tells her to wait ("that's what virgins do best, isn't it?") inside, and that he will have the captain knock three times when he arrives. Pseudolus comes up with a plan to slip Philia a sleeping potion that will render her unconscious. He will then tell Lycus that she has died of the Cretan plague, and will offer to remove the body. Hero will come along, and they will stow away on a ship headed for Greece. Satisfied with his plan, Pseudolus steals Hysterium's book of potions and has Hero read him the recipe for the sleeping potion; the only ingredient he lacks is "mare's sweat," and Pseudolus goes off in search of some.

Unexpectedly, Senex returns home early from his trip, and knocks three times on his own door. Philia comes out of the house, and, thinking that Senex is the Captain, offers herself up to him. Surprised but game, Senex instructs Philia to wait in the house for him, and she does. Hysterium arrives to this confusion, and tells Senex that Philia is the new maid that he has hired. Pseudolus returns, having procured the necessary mare's sweat; seeing that Senex has returned unexpectedly and grasping the need to keep him out of the way, Pseudolus discreetly sprinkles some of the horse-sweat onto him, then suggests that the road trip has left Senex in dire need of a bath. Taking the bait, Senex instructs Hysterium to draw him a bath in the long-abandoned house of Erronius. But while this is happening, Erronius returns home, finally having given up the search for his long-lost children. Hysterium, desperate to keep him out of the house where his master is bathing, tells the old man that his house has become haunted – a story seemingly confirmed by the sound of Senex singing in his bath. Erronius immediately determines to have a soothsayer come and banish the spirit from his house, and Pseudolus obligingly poses as one, telling Erronius that, in order to banish the spirit, he must travel seven times around the seven hills of Rome (thus keeping the old man occupied and out of the way for quite a while).

When Miles Gloriosus arrives to claim his courtesan-bride, Pseudolus hides Philia on the roof of Senex's house; told that she has "escaped," Lycus is terrified to face the Captain's wrath. Pseudolus offers to impersonate Lycus and talk his way out of the mess but, his ingenuity flagging, he ends up merely telling the Captain that Philia has disappeared, and that he, "Lycus," will set out in search of her. Displeased and suspicious, Miles insists that his soldiers accompany Pseudolus, but the wily slave is able to lose them in Rome's winding streets.

Complicating matters further, Domina returns from her trip early, suspicious that her husband Senex is "up to something low." She disguises herself in virginal white robes and a veil (much like Philia's) to try to catch Senex being unfaithful. Pseudolus convinces Hysterium to help him by dressing in drag and pretending to be Philia, "dead" from the plague. Unfortunately, it turns out that Miles Gloriosus has just returned from Crete, where there is of course no actual plague. With the ruse thus revealed, the main characters run for their lives, resulting in a madcap chase across the stage with both Miles and Senex pursuing all three "Philia"s (Domina, Hysterium, and the actual Philia – all wearing identical white robes and veils). Meanwhile, the courtesans from the house of Marcus Lycus – who had been recruited as mourners at "Philia"'s ersatz funeral – have escaped, and Lycus sends his eunuchs out to bring them all back, adding to the general pandemonium.

Finally, the Captain's troops are able to round everyone up. His plot thoroughly unraveled, Pseudolus appears to be in deep trouble – but Erronius, completing his third circuit of the Roman hills, shows up fortuitously to discover that Miles Gloriosus and Philia are wearing matching rings which mark them as his long-lost children. Philia's betrothal to the Captain is obviously nullified by the unexpected revelation that he's her brother. Philia weds Hero; Pseudolus gets his freedom and the lovely courtesan Gymnasia; Gloriosus receives twin courtesans to replace Philia; and Erronius is reunited with his children. A happy ending prevails for all – except for poor Senex, stuck with his shrewish wife Domina.


  • Pseudolus: A Roman slave, owned by Hero, who seeks to win his/her freedom by helping his/her young master win the heart of Philia. His name means "Faker". While originally written as a male role, it has been performed by female cast as well.
  • Hysterium: (Latin for "Hysterical", or "Anxious", the suffix "-um" makes the name neuter, and the character's gender is often mistaken throughout the piece) The chief slave in the house of Senex.
  • Hero: Young son of Senex who falls in love with the virgin, Philia.
  • Philia: (Greek for "love") A virgin in the house of Marcus Lycus, and Hero's love interest. Her name is also a homophone of the Latin word "Filia," which means sister. This foreshadows her status as the sister of Miles Gloriosus.
  • Senex: (Latin for "old man") A henpecked, sardonic Roman senator living in a less fashionable suburb of Rome.
  • Domina: (Latin for "mistress") The wife of Senex. A manipulative, shrewish woman who is loathed by even her husband.
  • Marcus Lycus: A purveyor of courtesans, who operates from the house to the left of Senex. (Name based on Lycus, the pimp in Plautus's Poenulus.)
  • Miles Gloriosus: (Latin for "boastful soldier," the archetype of the braggart soldier in Roman comedies) A captain in the Roman army to whom Marcus Lycus has promised Philia.
  • Erronius: (Latin for "wandering") Senex's elderly neighbor in the house to the right. He has spent the past twenty years searching for his two children, kidnapped in infancy by pirates.
  • Gymnasia: (Greek for "Athletic", with the connotation of nakedness) A courtesan from the house of Lycus with whom Pseudolus falls in love.
  • Tintinabula: (Latin for "Bells") A jingling, bell-wearing courtesan in the house of Lycus.
  • Vibrata: (Latin for "Vibrant") A wild, vibrant courtesan in the house of Lycus.
  • Geminae: (Latin for "Twins") Twin courtesans in the house of Lycus.
  • Panacea: (Greek for "Cure All") A courtesan in the house of Lycus. A face that can hold a thousand promises, and a body that stands behind each promise.
  • Proteans: Choristers who play multiple roles (slaves, citizens, soldiers, and eunuchs). They accompany Pseudolus in "Comedy Tonight". On Broadway, three people played all of these roles.


Notes: The song "Love Is in the Air" was originally intended as the opening number. The song was cut from the show and replaced with "Comedy Tonight".[13] The song was later featured in the film The Birdcage (1996) and performed by Robin Williams and Christine Baranski. Another draft of the opening number, "Invocation and Instructions to the Audience," has been used in subsequent revues of Sondheim songs and was sung by Nathan Lane in the musical The Frogs. "Pretty Little Picture" is frequently dropped from productions of the show, and one verse of "I'm Calm" is also frequently trimmed.

Cultural references

  • The title has been referenced many times as episode titles of various shows over the years.
  • In the second season of the AMC series Mad Men, which takes place in 1962, several characters refer to the musical. For example, Don Draper runs into his former mistress, Rachel Menken, at Sardi's. Rachel and her new husband are on their way to see the show on Broadway.
  • The title is referenced in Marvel One-Shots A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Thor's Hammer and is included on the Captain America: The First Avenger Blu-ray Disc and DVD releases.
  • The musical was referenced in an episode of Glee; Shannon Beiste claims she has musical experience and states that she played The Forum in a production.
  • In the South Park episode Cherokee Hair Tampons, Cartman sings the word "No" to the tune of "Comedy Tonight".


  1. Green, Stanley and Green, Kay."A Funny Thing Happened on the Way To the Forum" Broadway Musicals, Show By Show (1996), ( Hal Leonard Corporation, ISBN 0-7935-7750-0, p. 198
  2. "Listing, 1963 production", retrieved December 9, 2009
  3. "Listing, 1986 production", retrieved December 9, 2009
  4. Inverne, James."Thoroughly Modern Millie Closes in London as New Musicals Prepare to Open", June 7, 2004
  5. "News" gazettonline, January 14, 2008] Archived January 23, 2015 at the Wayback Machine
  6. Lipton, Brian Scott."Richard Kind to Star in Fairfield Center's 'Forum'", January 4, 2008
  7. Gans, Andrew."Tragedy Tomorrow, Comedy Tonight: 'Forum' Begins Run at Sondheim Center", January 11, 2008
  8. "Funny Thing" Archived June 21, 2009 at the Wayback Machine
  9. (no author)."Stratford Production History", accessed August 16, 2011
  10. Bacalzo, Dan."Sean Cullen to Replace Injured Bruce Dow in Stratford 'Forum' ", August 17, 2009
  11. Nestruck, J. Kelly."Theatre Review. 'A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum' still brings the funny, but not as much" The Globe and Mail, December 20, 2010
  12. "A Fvnny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forvm, Australian website
  13. (no author)."Cut songs, 'A Funny Thing Happened'", accessed August 16, 2011