Plautus’s comedy is a biting satire of Roman society that is partly softened by his use of a Greek setting and characters. The conventional class divisions that keep lovers apart and particularly the unfairness of the slave system are two aspects to which he draws attention. However, Plautus is not necessarily anti-slavery; like most people of his time, he seems to consider it socioeconomically inevitable. The patriarchal control of fathers over their children is another standard fact of Roman society, which the lovers try to manipulate rather than challenge outright.
The excesses of particular characters’ behavior are what give the satire its bite. Pseudolus establishes the Roman norms by focusing on the villains’ misuse of Roman institutions. Calidorus goes behind his father’s back to arrange a way to be with his beloved, Phoenicium. He loves her although she is a slave, but his father does not approve. This probably reflected common Roman beliefs and practices. However, Phoenicium’s owner, Ballio, violates social conventions by selling her to a man who is unlikely to be a good master. Calidorus, being of good family, tries to be noble; Roman audiences would have understood his plan to purchase his girlfriend as a valid way to rescue her from the evil Ballio and then from slavery.