Amphitryon Essay - Critical Essays

Critical Evaluation

When the Roman writers adapted Greek comedies, as Plautus almost certainly did in the case of this play, they eliminated the chorus completely, thereby making the action continuous. They also made song and dance an integral part of the play, much like contemporary musical comedies. Tradition says that Plautus learned stagecraft early in life, put his earnings into trade, went bankrupt, had to work in a flour mill, and there began writing his comedies, of which more than a hundred were attributed to him. Twenty have survived, and from these readers can see that Plautus was very experienced in stage technique. He knew the value of timing, of comic repetition, of puns, of double entendre, of idiomatic speech, and of varying his poetic meters. His humor was suggestive rather than lewd. He was a master at simply being funny. In reading his plays it is essential to visualize the action as taking place on the stage in front of a backdrop of a house or two. Imagination is necessary to re-create the humor of Plautus. Otherwise, his jokes seem stale, particularly in translation. His plays were performed outdoors at public festivals in a carnival atmosphere, and they had to compete with other entertainments. The audiences were restive, unsophisticated, and straitlaced in that period of Roman history. Under such conditions a dramatist had to be continuously interesting, and a comic dramatist had to be amusing at all costs. Plautus knew his audience thoroughly. He took the threadbare formulas of Greek New Comedy and inspirited them with his own vivacity.

Amphitryon is the only extant Roman comedy to treat Greek mythology. The story derives from a myth in which Zeus (Jupiter) lengthened a night into seventy-two hours and, disguised as Amphitryon, made love to Amphitryon’s wife Alcmena. The supreme god did this in order to engender the...

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