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Last Updated on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 479

I'll convert this same play from tragedy to comedy, if you like, and never change a line. Do you wish me to do it, or not? But there! how stupid of me! As if I didn't know that you do wish it, when I'm a deity. I understand your feelings in the matter perfectly. I shall mix things up: let it be tragi-comedy.

Here, the god Mercury in the prologue is warming up the audience for the play. The playwright Plautus knows that his Roman audience will contain a lot of groundlings who prefer comedy over tragedy, so he has Mercury show his divine omniscience by anticipating the taste of the common crowd and pleasing them by promising a tragi-comedy. That way, the classical Greek story of gods and kings for the educated can be livened up for the masses with the comedy of the ridiculous slave Sosia. The ensuing dialogue between Mercury and Sosia and between Sosia and Amphitryon delivers the promised comedy.

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Oh, are not the pleasures in life, in this daily round, trifling compared with the pains! It is our common human lot, it is heaven's will, for sorrow to come following after joy: yes, yes, and to have a larger share of trouble and distress the moment something nice has happened.

Here, following many comic scenes, Alcmena strikes a more serious philosophical note about the sorrows of life, which always seem to follow on the heels of the joys. The theme of the turning wheel of fortune delivering sorrows and joys in succession would have been familiar to most Romans. Jove, in the guise of her husband, has visited Alcmena at midnight and left before dawn, causing her to complain. Jove has to use his wits to get out of trouble with her by explaining that he must be back with his troops before dawn, lest they think he put his private interests ahead of the public good.

I will bear his going, yes, and keep on bearing it to the end firmly and unflinchingly, only let me have the reward of hearing my husband hailed conqueror. That is enough for me! Courage is the very best gift of all; courage stands before everything, it does, it does! It is what maintains and preserves our liberty, safety, life, and our homes and parents, our country and children.

Here, Alcmena gives voice to the honor system of the Roman aristocracy, where courage in feats of arms in defense of liberty, country, and family is considered "the very best gift of all." The comedy that has entertained and loosened up the audience is now more frequently interspersed with philosophical and patriotic themes that the educated aristocracy and gentry in the audience would appreciate. The playwright Plautus, like Shakespeare much later, uses comic entertainment to hook the audience into the story before delivering the more weighty subject matter.

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"A Knock-down Argument"