Slaves, Masters, and the Art of Authority in Plautine Comedy

Slaves, Masters, and the Art of Authority in Plautine Comedy

by Kathleen McCarthy
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Princeton University Press
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Slaves, Masters, and the Art of Authority in Plautine Comedy

What pleasures did Plautus' heroic tricksters provide their original audience? How should we understand the compelling mix of rebellion and social conservatism that Plautus offers? Through a close reading of four plays representing the full range of his work (Menaechmi, Casina, Persa, and Captivi), Kathleen McCarthy develops an innovative model of Plautine comedy and its social effects. She concentrates on how the plays are shaped by the interaction of two comic modes: the socially conservative mode of naturalism and the potentially subversive mode of farce. It is precisely this balance of the naturalistic and the farcical that allows everyone in the audience—especially those well placed in the social hierarchy—to identify both with and against the rebel, to feel both the thrill of being a clever underdog and the complacency of being a securely ensconced authority figure.

Basing her interpretation on the workings of farce and naturalism in Plautine comedy, McCarthy finds a way to understand the plays' patchwork literary style as well as their protean social effects. Beyond this, she raises important questions about popular literature and performance not only on ancient Roman stages but in cultures far from Plautus' Rome. How and why do people identify with the fictional figures of social subordinates? How do stock characters, happy endings, and other conventions operate? How does comedy simultaneously upset and uphold social hierarchies? Scholars interested in Plautine theater will be rewarded by the detailed analyses of the plays, while those more broadly interested in social and cultural history will find much that is useful in McCarthy's new way of grasping the elusive ideological effects of comedy.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780691117850
Publisher: Princeton University Press
Publication date: 01/12/2004
Edition description: New Edition
Pages: 248
Product dimensions: 6.14(w) x 9.24(h) x 0.50(d)

Table of Contents

Preface ix

Abbreviations and Conventions xiii

CHAPTER I The Crowded House 3

Double Vision 7

Powerful Pleasures 17

The Art of Authority 29

CHAPTER II The Ties That Bind: Menaechmi 35

Rebellion Meets Reconciliation 40

The Cast of Characters 61

CHAPTER III Love's Labour's Lost: Casina 77

A Rake's (Lack of) Progress 84

Comic Husbands and Wives 115

CHAPTER IV A Kind of Wild Justice: Persa 122

The Three Faces of Toxilus 127

The Limits of Farce 158

CHAPTER V Truth Is the Best Disguise: Captivi 167

The Theater of Truth 180

In Dialogue with Farce 201

CONCLUSION The Slave's Image in the Master's Mind 211

Works Cited 215

Index of Plautine Passages 221

General Index 227

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