Analysis

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Last Reviewed on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 390

The play is by Terence who along with Plautus were the two primary Roman playwrights of comedies. It features a variation of a typical Roman comedy plot, which revolves around a handsome, rather naive young man from a well-to-do and respected family and the young woman he loves. As in many other plays, the object of his affection is from a lower social stratum, and he needs both to convince her that his love is true and to persuade his family that she is good enough to become his wife. In these dealings, he enlists the assistance of a trusted, devoted servant/slave; this character genuinely cares for and wants to assist his master; he is also cleverer than the master and invested in advancing his own, secret agenda. In the comedies, the villains do bad things but are not necessarily evil, and both their comeuppance and their redemption are likely outcomes. Sub-plots involving minor characters, including other not-so-brilliant young men and their slaves, and confusion of identity are also typically employed.

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The Eunuch has all this, and more. Phaedria, the well-to-do hero, loves Thaïs who, as a courtesan, is unquestionably beneath his status. His efforts to help her with a worthy project, to help the wrongfully enslaved Pamphila regain her proper position, are tied up in proving his love and showing his parents that she is a good person. His slave, Parmeno, is resolute in wanting to aid his master, but he must also take a moral stance that goes against Phaedria’s family. The sub-plot involving Phaedria’s brother, Chaeres, a lustful, self-centered young man who sexually assaults Pamphila, puts both Parmeno and Phaedria in a moral quandary.

Modern audiences may find it difficult to accept the ending of this part of the story, in which Chaeres shows remorse so his behavior is excused and he is engaged to Pamphila. Another unusual twist involves Phaedria’s limited rewards for helping his beloved. Although he is the hero and is reunited with Thaïs, she will be his mistress, not his bride, and it appears she will continue to be involved with the arrogant soldier Thrasos, despite his cowardly behavior when he should have defended Pamphila. With these departures from neatly tying up all the ends, Terence’s play shows its uniqueness within the corpus of Roman comedies.

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