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, translated into English blank verse by Bonnell Thornton in 1774) and Miles gloriosus (The Braggart Warrior, translated by Thornton in 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.
McCarthy, Kathleen. Slaves, Masters, and the Art of Authority in Plautine Comedy. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 2000. A look at the relation of slaves to their masters, with emphasis on the work of Plautus. Bibliography and index.
Moore, Timothy. The Theater of Plautus: Playing to the Audience. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1998. A study of Plautus that focuses on his endeavors to adapt works to suit his audience’s taste and culture. Bibliography and indexes.
Riehle, Wolfgang. Shakespeare, Plautus, and the Humanist Tradition. Rochester, N.Y.: D. S. Brewer, 1990. A comparison of William Shakespeare and Plautus, examining Plautus’s influence on Shakespeare. Bibliography and index.
Segal, Erich. Roman Laughter: The Comedy of Plautus. New York: Oxford University Press, 1987. A sprightly treatment of the social milieu that spawned Plautus’s comedies, with extensive notes, an index of passages quoted, and a general index.
Segal, Erich, ed. Oxford Readings in Menander, Plautus, and Terence. New York: Oxford University Press, 2002. A collection of papers tracing the development of the “New Comedy.” Segal’s introduction draws connections between these Latin plays and modern comedy.
Slater, Niall W. Plautus in Performance: The Theater of the Mind. Amsterdam: Harwood Academic, 2000. This study focuses on the production of the plays of Plautus. Bibliography and index.
Sutton, Dana Ferrin. Ancient Comedy: The War of the Generations. New York: Twayne, 1993. An examination of early comedy that looks at Plautus, Aristophanes, Menander, and Terence.