Plautus Biography


(Literature and the Ancient World, Critical Edition)


Few details are known about Plautus’s (PLAWT-uhs) life. Of the approximately 130 comedies that he wrote for the Roman stage, only 21 survive. These plays, including Asinaria (The Comedy of Asses, 1774) and Miles gloriosus (The Braggart Warrior, 1767), belong to a genre called New Comedy, which focuses primarily on family problems, most commonly (but not exclusively) the love of a young man for a prostitute and the unsuccessful attempt of his father or her pimp to block their union.

Although Plautus’s comedies are based on Greek originals, he did not merely translate them into Latin. Instead, he adapted them by adding material from native Italian drama that would appeal to his Roman audience. The most conspicuous of these alterations is the development of stock characters such as the young lover, the pimp, the braggart soldier, and the tricky slave. Plautus also inserted songs with complex meters, which made his plays similar to modern musicals.


Plautus’s comedies were extremely popular in Rome and were revived hundreds of years after his death. Both Molière (L’Avare, pr. 1668; The Miser, 1672) and William Shakespeare (The Comedy of Errors, pr. c. 1592-1594) adapted them. Modern musical comedies and situation comedies display many of the same characteristics as Plautine comedy.

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(The entire section is 444 words.)