Amphitryon

Definition

Theater

  • In classical legend, a prince of Thebes whose wife, Alcmena,was seduced by Jupiter. The fruit of their union was Hercules. Thestory has been adapted for the stage in numerous versions.

    Amphitruo, a one-act comedy by Plautus, is theearliest known dramatization of the story. First performed in about190 BC, it is the only parody of mythological themes to havesurvived from the Roman theater. In a prologue, Mercury explains that Jupiteris in love with Alcmena. While Amphitryon is waging war, Jupiter assumeshis identity and Mercury disguises himself as Sosia, Amphitryon's loyal slave.Jupiter's real identity is made clear to the audience by a gold tasselon his hat, and Mercury's by a helmet plume. The plot involves theunexpected return of Amphitryon and Sosia to Thebes and a riotousconfusion of identities all round. When Amphitryon questions his wife'sfidelity, Jupiter appears as himself to confess that he has made herpregnant.

    This farcical plot provided the basis for such later versions asHeywood's The Silver Age (1613), Molière'sAmphitryon (1668), and Dryden's Amphitryon (1690; mostlyadapted from Molière).

    A phrase from Molière's version of the story hasbecome semi-proverbial in France:

    Le véritable Amphitryon
    Est l'Amphitryon où l'on dine.

    This refers to the moment in the play when Amphitryon comeshome to find the disguised Jupiter giving a banquet in his house. Althoughhe claims to be the true Amphitryon, the servants and guests make it clearthat as far as they are concerned the person who provides the feast is thereal host.

    The best-known modern version is Jean Giraudoux'sAmphitryon 38, which was first performed in 1929 in Paris.It was adapted for the English-speaking stage by S. N. Behrman and producedin 1937 in New York, where the Lunts played Jupiter and Alcmena;it opened a year later in London. The title arose from Giraudoux'sbelief that his was the 38th version of the Amphitryon legend.

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