Summary (Masterplots, Definitive Revised Edition)
During the reign of Domitian, there was little public support for the theater. The people, accustomed to circuses and involved in their own licentious practices, found the drama tame by comparison; thus most actors made a bare livelihood. One troupe of actors, however, prospered, because of the special affection Domitian had for its leading member, Paris. But Paris also had his enemies in the inner circles around the emperor, the most notable being Aretinus, Domitian’s spy, who believed he and other leaders had been satirized in a production by the players. While Domitian was involved in a military campaign, Aretinus took the opportunity to have Paris and his fellow actors arrested.
At a session of the Senate they were charged with treason. Paris’ defense was in the form of a general vindication of the theater, in which he eloquently testified to the uplifting effect of drama through its revelation of evil and its attempt to inspire honorable action. As he finished his speech, news was brought of Domitian’s return from his conquest of the Chatti and the Daci; thus the release of the actors was assured.
The people’s praise of Domitian for his victory was exceeded only by his self-praise. In a characteristic gesture, he celebrated his return by having his captives tortured and slain. Although his despotism and his brutality were causing unrest among the people, few dared speak against him.
Among those who welcomed the emperor...
(The entire section is 1219 words.)
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