I. roman drama



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I. ROMAN DRAMA


  • Characteristics of ROMAN THEATER in general:

    • festivals: to Ceres, to Bacchus (offering = 1st fruits on platter = called “satura”  jocular scenes = offerings = “satura”)

    • Roman actors = “histriones” (Etruscan “dancer”)

    • mime & pantomime: satiric interludes of Greek plays; Etruscan mimic dancing to flute, without verse (to ward off 364 BC plague in Rome)  addition (by Roman youths) of raillery, rude doggerel verses to accompany & correspond to the music & dance  Livius Andronicus’ slave recitation & his dancing, with dialogue, “told” a story (“Dramatic Satire”, “satura”)  no texts



    • Roman drama borrowed from Greek drama

    • BUT less serious, less philosophical

    • more farcical, comedic, slapstick (circus-like), diversionary

    • more spectacle: acrobatics, dancing, singing, slapstick, sea-battles, gladiators, boxing, animal fights, chariot races, other athletics

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  • Lucius Annaeus Seneca (c. 4 B.C. – 65 A.D)

    • tragedy

    • adapted Euripides’ plays

    • *WRITTEN TO BE READ (not necessarily performed, acted)




  • Characteristics of Roman Tragedy (Senecan):

    • none survive except Seneca’s

    • five episodes (“acts” divided by choral odes)

    • elaborate speeches

    • interest in morality

    • moralization: expressed in sententiae (short pithy generalizations about the human condition)

    • violence and horror onstage (unlike Greek)

    • characters dominated by a single passion – obsessive (such as revenge) – drives them to doom (see AC Bradley)

    • technical devices:

      • soliloquies, asides, confidants

    • interest in supernatural and human connections

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  • Characteristics of Roman Comedy:

    • no Chorus (abandoned)

    • no act or scene divisions

    • songs (Plautus – average of three songs, 2/3 of the lines with music)

    • music (Terence – no songs, but music with half of the dialog)

    • domestic affairs (everyday life)

    • action placed in the street




  • Titus Plautus: (c. 254-184 B.C)

    • comedy

    • based on Greek plays (21 extant, c. 130)

    • stichomythia, song, slapstick

    • Roman allusions; Latin verse




  • Terence: (c.185-159 B.C.)

    • comedy

    • freed slave (educated)

    • 6 extant of 6 plays

    • complex plots(sub or double plots)

    • characterization

    • contrasts in human behavior

    • vs. Plautus: less boisterous, less episodic, more elegant language, less popular

    • used Greek characters

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*RUSTIC FARCE:



  • most popular

  • southern Italy

  • short

  • "fabula Atellana":

    • “Atellan play” (Atella = a Campanian town)

    • Roman humor with Maccus the clown, Bucco (“Fat cheeks”) the simpleton/braggart, Pappus the foolish old man, Dossennus the hunched-backed drunk slave/swindler

    • actors wore masks

    • improvisational dialogue

    • slapstick & buffoonery

    • short farces with stock characters

    • *predecessors of Italian commedia dell'arte characters




  • Fescennine verses (fescennia locatio)

    • bawdy, improvised exchanges

    • sung by clowns (masked dancers)

    • at local harvest & vintage festivals & marriage ceremonies

    • early native Italian jocular dialogue in Latin verse

    • literary imitations by Catullus (84–54 BC), in one of his epithalamiums

    • Horace (65–8 BC) claimed that they became so abusive & perverse that they were forbidden by law




  • saturate:

    • medleys consisting of jest, slapstick, & song (from Etruria)

    • with masked dancers & musicians

    • perhaps combined with the Fescennine verses

    • c.4thC BC



  • phlyax plays:

    • 4thC BC (southern Italy and Sicily settled by the Greeks)

    • the “Phlyakes” = literally “Gossip Players”

    • improvised burlesques & travesties of Greek mythology and daily life

    • performed on a raised wooden stage with an upper gallery,

    • actors wore grotesque costumes & masks (similar to those of the Greek Old Comedy)

    • acrobatics and farcical scenes = major part of these




  • MIME plays:

    • ancient, pre-language form of communication

    • Greek: “actor” separated from Chorus to interpret (through dance & gesture) the action the Chorus sung or recited

    • from fabulla Atellena

    • costumes = grotesque

    • comedy = exaggerated

    • burlesque of gods

    • some female performers

    • acrobatics, dance, song, slapstick comedy

    • popular from 2ndC BC onward

    • pantomime:

    • “pan” + “mime” = imitation of nature

    • short, improvisational, burlesqued scenes

    • between scenes or after written plays

    • heroic, historical, mythological, comical stories

    • grew out of the wreckage of tragedy

    • a kind of burlesque ballet

    • in which a chorus chanted the story to musical accompaniment (lute, pipe, cymbal)

    • while solo actor mimed

  • mimes: “mimis

    • Roman mimes = "histriones"

    • solo actor used mime, gesture, and dance

    • to portray the various characters in a succession of masks

    • bawdy, erotic elements of the story

    • realistic acts of violence & sex

    • serious or comic

    • 6 to 60 actor troupes



      • descendants of ancient Greek "Phlyakes": (see above)

      • precursors of Walpurgisnacht characters:

        • (German folklore: April 30, May Day eve, when witches met at The Brocken, Harz Mountains’ highest peak)

        • spirits that represented life without taboo, inhibition, satiric, typically lascivious & indecent in word, song, gesture

        • St. Walpurga, 710 Wessex, (Abbess of Heidenheim near Eichstätt, a Catholic Saint, was known as the protectoress against witchcraft and sorcery)

        • pagan spring customs (Spring’s victory over Winter)

        • children play pranks, noisemaking, bonfires (ward off evil spirits)

        • similar to Halloween

        • “Walpurgisnacht scene” in Goethe's Faust, in which Mephistopheles takes Faust to the Brocken and has him revel with the witches

  • topics:


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