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.
Kathleen McCarthy is Associate Professor of Classics and Comparative Literature at the University of California, Berkeley.
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