Critical Evaluation

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1090

Although Andria was Terence’s first play, it shows those characteristics for which this dramatist was noted throughout his career. As in all his plays, the action is closely knit, with no digressions, and the comedy is of a more serious turn than popular slapstick humor. The language is natural.

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The plot was not new. Terence admits in his prologue that he adapted his drama from two plays by Menander, a Greek dramatist who wrote in the fourth century b.c.e. The story turns, as it does in so many Greek and Latin comedies, on the theme of mistaken identity. The modern reader will be inclined to compare the play to William Shakespeare’s The Comedy of Errors (pr. c. 1592-1594, pb. 1623), which in turn was freely adapted from Plautus’s Menaechmi (pr. second century b.c.e.; The Menaechmi, 1595). Modern authors have not ceased to adapt from Terence’s Andria: It was the basis of Sir Richard Steele’s The Conscious Lovers (pr. 1722, pb. 1723) and Thornton Wilder’s novel The Woman of Andros (1930).

As Terence’s first play, produced in 166 b.c.e., when the author was in his early twenties, Andria heralds the direction and concerns of the playwright’s later work. Like each of Terence’s dramas, this is adapted from the Greek New Comedy, Menander in particular. Among critics there is wide variance of opinion as to how much Terentian comedy owes to the original sources, and since the original sources have been lost, there is no way of settling the dispute. It seems likely, however, that the tone and the use of the double plot are distinctly those of Terence.

If one compares Terence to his only predecessor whose plays have survived, Plautus, there is striking dissimilarity in these two comic playwrights, even though both adapted from Menander and his contemporaries. Plautus is preeminently a man of the stage, ebullient, funny, always ready to sacrifice the logic of plot for the sake of humor and interest. Terence is more the writer than the playwright; a careful craftsman, he is concerned with polished style, character delineation, and a smooth and elegant plot. If he lacks Plautus’s vivacity, he is always agreeably humane.

Terence’s career itself was remarkable. Born in North Africa, he was brought to Rome as a slave while still a child. His master, Terentius Lucanus, educated him and eventually freed him, which allowed Terence to develop his interest in drama. He was admitted into the aristocratic circle of the Scipios, who were interested in disseminating Greek culture in Rome. As a youthful member, he achieved early success with his plays and encountered the envious spite of the elderly dramatist Lucius Lanuvinus, whom he took pains to answer in his prologues. His career was cut short at about the age of twenty-eight, when he mysteriously disappeared on a trip to Greece. Tradition says that he was lost at sea.

The dramas of Terence, then, are the work of a young man, and they reflect the interests and assumptions of youth. The two primary subjects with which he deals are romance and the relations of sons and fathers, both of these being related in his plots. Generally, his stories center on a double love affair, each of which is thwarted or clandestine usually because of fatherly opposition, and each tends to be resolved satisfactorily. Often there is a clever slave who complicates matters by his deceptions, acting on behalf of one of the young men and against the will of the father.

In Andria readers see Terence’s initial development of this subject matter. Later works would handle the double plot with greater virtuosity, but this play is fresher and livelier and shows considerable maturity. The reader finds natural, idiomatic dialogue, use of the neat maxim, and appealing, if misguided, characters. Andria is the first romantic comedy to come down to modern readers from antiquity and...

(The entire section contains 1090 words.)

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