Roman/Byzantine Theatre


Roman theatre was borne in their religious festivals. Those festivals contained acting along with flute playing, dancing, and prizefighting. Their first theatrical performance was around 364 B.C.E. Comedy was more popular than tragedy in Rome, and a few of the better known playwrights were Titus Maccius Plautus-who wrote 130 plays (including The Casket, and Pot of Gold)-and Publius Terentius (Terence) Afer-who wrote 6 plays, all of which have survived, including Mother-in-Law, The Brother, and Self-Tormentor. For the tragic playwrights of this era, only three are known of: Quintus Ennius, Marcus Pascuvius, and Lucius Accius. Also, the theatres in which these plays were put on were all dedicated to the God Venus, and where all quite complex-having elaborate designs that incorporated various corridors connecting the orchestra area with the auditorium and the stage house. Lastly, theatrical entertainment in Rome wasn’t only acting. Chariot racing, horse racing, foot races, wrestling, venations (fights with wild animals), fights between men, and gladiators were all considered theatrical.

For one example of how, at this time period and in this place, dramatics mirrored or commented on the present society: throughout his plays Plautus had a tendency to give the people who were talking with servants, but weren’t servants themselves, rather harsh lines. Such as:

What’ll I do to you? First of all, I’ll make you torch-bearer to this bride of mine. After that you’ll be the same worthless good-for-nothing as always; and subsequently when you come to the villa you shall be provided with just one pitcher and one path, on spring, one kettle, and–eight big casks: and unless those casks are always full, I’ll give you your fill–of welts. I’ll make you carry water till you have such a beautiful crook in your back that they can use you for a horse’s crupper. Yes, and furthermore, when it comes to your wanting a bit of food, you shall either feed on the fodder-stack, or on dirt like a worm, or, by the Lord, I’ll starve you thinner than Starvation’s self at that farm! And then at night, when you’re all fagged out and famishing, we’ll see you’re supplied with the sleeping quarters you deserve. You shall be fastened tight in the window-frame where you can listen while I’m kissing my Casina. And when she says to me: [in languishing accents] “Oh you little darling, Olympio dearier, my life, my little honey boy, joy of my soul, let me kiss and kiss those sweet eyes of yours, precious! Do, do let me love you, my day of delight, my little sparrow, my dove, my rabbit!”–when she is saying these soft things to me, then you’ll wriggle, you hangdog, you, wriggle like a mouse, in the middle of the wall there. [turning away] Now you needn’t reckon on making any reply; I’m going inside. I’m sick of talking with you.

This was a monologue that Plautus wrote for the character Olympio in his play Casina. The fact that this is not even close to the only time that one of Plautus’ more powerful characters spoke this way, combined with the knowledge that Plautus was an extremely popular playwright (more with the crowd than the aristocracy), signals that society in his time had an awful aristocracy and Plautus enjoyed commenting on it.


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