Plautus engages in self-reflexive humor in several ways. Some of his techniques stay within the bounds of the play, but others extend further to the concept of drama itself. By encouraging the audience to go along with him in both regards, Plautus highlights the humor of the situation, as if...
Plautus engages in self-reflexive humor in several ways. Some of his techniques stay within the bounds of the play, but others extend further to the concept of drama itself. By encouraging the audience to go along with him in both regards, Plautus highlights the humor of the situation, as if to say "You are all watching a play. You are all participating in allowing me, as the playwright, to fool you." In the latter regard, the audience empathizes with the characters of the comedy, who are often fooled.
In Pseudolus's first monologue, before the action starts, he compares himself to the playwright, or poet, and tells the audience outright that the whole thing is a fabrication:
...like a poet, when he has taken his tablets, he searches for that which is nowhere in the world. Still he finds it. He makes that which is a lie similar to the truth. Now I will become a poet.
Another self-conscious aspect is the difference between scripted and improvisational aspects of the play. In addition to reminding the audience that they are watching a play, Plautus winks at the fixed character of the script itself. In what might seem a very modern approach to performance, he insinuates that the audience is participating in making the play. The actors will be improvising, he makes the audience think, partly in response to what the audience is doing, seizing upon the opportunity of the moment to add a joke. This might well have occurred, in fact, depending on the players' recognition of a particular Roman notable in the audience.
While most of the other characters generally play their roles as scripted with occasional improvisation, the Pseudolus character is given a huge amount of leeway. He is the only one who directly addresses the audience, and he does so frequently.
It’s my suspicion that you now suspect that I am promising these great deeds so as to entice you while I act out this play. You suspect that I may not do what I said I would. I will not budge, and I still know for sure that I still have no clue how I might do this, except it is just going to happen.
By constantly reminding them of his ambivalent role and his limited ability to affect the action, he increases their awareness of the humor of the play's situation.