Titus Maccius Plautus

Definition

Theater

  • (254 - 184 BC) Roman playwright, whose comedieswere the most popular dramatic works of their day. He was originallyan actor or clown. Twenty-one of his 130 plays survive, revealinghis theatrical craftsmanship and total mastery of farce. Althoughhis works were palliata, adaptations of Greek New Comedyoriginals now lost, he shifted the scene to Rome and based much ofthe humour on Roman manners and customs. His comedy, which was broaderthan that of Terence, still works today. Stock charactersof Plautus's plays include the bragging soldier, the miser, the oldman in love, the parasite, identical twins, the wily slave, and thecourtesan.

    Later European dramatists influenced by Plautus include Shakespeare,Jonson, Dryden, and Molière. His comedy was often based ondisguises and mistaken identities; Shakespeare's The Comedy ofErrors (1592) was based on Plautus's Menaechmi, aboutthe confusions caused by a pair of long-separated identical twins.Several of his plays were combined for Stephen Sondheim's1962 Broadway musical A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to theForum (although only one line from Plautus was retained: "Iam a parade").

    Plautus was eventually forced to work in a grain mill afterlosing most of his theatrical earnings in unsuccessful business ventures.

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