BMCR 2021.10.54

Drama y dramaturgia en la escena romana: III Encuentro Internacional de Teatro Latino

, Drama y dramaturgia en la escena romana: III Encuentro Internacional de Teatro Latino. Zaragoza: Libros Pórtico, 2019. Pp. 384. ISBN 9788479561888

[Authors and titles are listed at the end of the review.]

This book is the fruit of the research project “Drama y dramaturgia en Roma. Estudios filológicos y de edición”, dedicated to ancient Roman dramaturgy. Edited by Rosario López Gregoris, Drama y dramaturgia en la escena romana contains papers delivered at the third “Encuentro Internacional del Teatro latino,” which took place at the Universidad Autónoma de Madrid, on September 20th and 21st, 2019.[1] The book includes a variety of contributions by scholars from Spain, Italy, Poland, and France. Its three main sections cover some of the most important themes taken up by scholars of the ancient theater in recent years. Most of the chapters are devoted only to Plautine plays; exceptions are those by Berger, Skwara, and Paré-Rey.

The main point of the first section (“Literatura y dramaturgia”) is to discuss the relationship between themes of the ancient world and literary structures, in order to promote new interpretations of the works selected. It includes essays about magic in Plautus’ Amphitruo (García-Hernández) and the Underworld as scenic space in some of his plays (Torino). Female characters, like Medea in the Senecan play (Paré-Rey) and courtesans in Plautus’ Truculentus (Pentericci), are also addressed in some chapters of the first section.

The next section, “Teatrología y dramaturgia”, focuses on aspects of the representation of the ancient comedies. Metatheater, especially in Terence’s plays (Skwara), entrances and exits of characters in Plautus’ Pseudolus (Pérez Gómez), and speaking names (Rodríguez) are some of the subjects discussed.

“Lingüística y dramaturgia”, the last section, applies some linguistic approaches—a new trend in Classical studies—to the ancient texts. Examples are the scrutiny of sententiae related to the animal world (Zanuy), the analysis of conversation (Berger), and dialogical elements studied in relation to the theatrical action through the lens of Pragmatics (Unceta Gómez).

Since discussing each one of the contributions is beyond the task of this review, only some of the chapters will be examined in detail. My selection, which aims to offer an overview of the multiple perspectives found in the whole book, also takes into consideration the gender of the authors. In this way, I have tried to discuss at least one chapter written by a woman from each section.

In the opening chapter, “La magia como tercer plano dramático en Amphitruo: el cuclillo, la pátera, Thessala y el praestigiator maxumus”, Benjamín García-Hernández calls attention to the role of some magical elements in Plautus’ Amphitruo. His main point is that besides the human and the divine plans operating in this comedy from the prologue onwards, another plan allows the development of the action: the magical one. In this plan, the fooled characters must believe that the tricks played on them should have something to do with magical power, over which they do not have any control. García-Hernández first observes elements like the cuckoo, which can be heard around Ampithruo’s house, and its song, which resonates in Alcumena’s name, and the unstable situation of Sosia, who at a certain point is not sure anymore if he is alive or dead. Then, the author analyses more direct references to magic as well, like the scene with Ampithruo and Thessalian witchcraft (Am. 1043-51), to observe how this kind of feature contributes to building the third plan of the plot. As the author notes, scholarship has failed to notice the dramatic value of these magical elements, which, in contrast, do find their place in the reception of this play, e.g., in Ludovico Dolce’s (1545) Il marito. Similarly, the following contribution, Alessio Torino’s “Gli inferi come spazio scenico in Plauto”, analyzes another non-human background alluded to in several Plautine plays: the Underworld.

Caterina Pentericci chooses Truculentus as her subject, since this is one of the Plautine comedies in which the female characters take control of the action. In “Matris opera mala. Il predominio femminile nell’intreccio del Truculentus”, she discusses how the dominant action of the courtesans in this play may be compared to the action of a seruus callidus. The author makes two main points. The first is that in Truculentus the conventional reversal of roles does not involve slave and master, but men and women. The second point is that, since female supremacy here does not lead the play to a happy end, Plautus tries to balance the moral tone of Truculentus by turning Diniarchus and Stratophanes into the characters that make the plot move forward. In her approach, Pentericci examines different aspects of the play, not only the plot, but also metrical elements, in charts that show how the play may be divided in two sections. Her conclusions point to the characterization of the courtesans as greedy women, and of the men as lascivious and lazy, as an element of Plautine innovation in the play, since these ideas do not reinforce the mores that are usually reestablished at the end of Roman comedies. Considering the focus on female characters, it is important to note the failure to mention the books by Dutsch (2008) and by Dutsch, James and Konstan (2015) which are  dedicated to this theme in Republican theater.

“L’apporto degli umanisti alla drammatizzazione del texto”, by Alba Tontini, belongs to the second section of this book. As Tontini reminds us, because of the treatment of the Plautine corpus in the Medieval tradition, theses texts reached the Humanists as if they were designed not for the stage, but for reading. So, in this chapter, she analyzes the role of the Humanistic manuscript tradition—seen in general as less important—in establishing the Plautine texts, especially the attention given during this period to their dramaturgical elements. In this way, Tontini assumes that the revival of the classical theater in the following period was due mainly to the Humanistic reception. She highlights not only individual contributions, like those by Benedetto Borsa and Giovanni Andrea Busi, but also textual elements in the manuscripts, like speech assignments and act division. In connection with this last topic, Tontini shows clearly how influential the treatment of the Humanistic scholars was, especially upon the group of those eight comedies that circulated apart from the other twelve (to which they had access only much later), even in the work of Camerarius, one century later.

María del Pilar Pérez Álvarez dedicates her chapter, “Mutuum – fenus en el s. II a.C. Referencias plautinas a algunas leyes romanas”, to a difficult theme in Plautine scholarship: the relation between Roman law and  possible testimonia thereto in the dramatic texts. As we know, the Republican Roman comedies are almost the only direct source for their period. If, on the one hand, this fact makes the information about laws or even allusion to them crucial to those interested in this theme, on the other hand, the nature of the material—not only a literary text, but a text modelled on Greek comedy—demands caution. Considering it, Álvarez contrasts references to mutuum (a real contract involving lending and giving back the same quantity or items of the same quality as those lent) and fenus (the name given to a mutuum that involves interest) with other sources, like Gaius’ Instituta and Livy’s history. Besides the usual representation of this kind of trade in Plautus, especially in the relationship between young boys or their slaves and moneylenders (danistae, argentarii), Álvarez considers the number of laws that aimed to prevent attempts at applying interest rates as an index of how the nature of this trade—at first without financial interests—changed over this period. In the third section of the chapter, the author describes some references to Roman laws, like the Lex Sempronia de pecunia credita or the lex (P)Laetoria de circumscriptione adolescentium, in Plautus’ plays.

In “La contribución de la Pragmática al análisis de la dinámica escénica. El caso de Mostellaria”, Luis Unceta Gómez examines the function of possible pragmatical markers through the lens of Pragmatics. The scholar’s point is that these markers play a role, as a linguistic structure, in the theatrical action, offering clues thereby to the spectators, so they could follow properly the development of the plot. To carry out his investigation, Gómez picks out some deictic elements and the personal pronouns. The first category comprises verbs, interjections and other elements that may indicate entrances and exits, asides, and the behavior of the characters. As to the personal pronouns, the author explores how they are used to focus on certain information. In the case of the first person singular, it may either call attention to the character who speaks it or contrasts this character with others in the scene. The first person plural, on the other hand, may contribute to breaking the “fourth wall”. As Unceta Gómez himself warns, his remarks still deserve a consistent confrontation with the whole Plautine corpus. Maybe because of the incipient state of the ideas presented, at some points it seems that this focus on minimal features, like interjections or pronouns, may miss other important effects involved in Plautus’ plays.

The last chapter noted in this review is “Abajo el telón: función de los versos de cierre en las comedias de Plauto”, by Rosario López Gregoris. This scholar chooses an unusual element of the plot to investigate: the closing scenes. Her point is that they deserve attention, since we may note not only common features but also parallel functions between them and the prologues. In her analysis, Gregoris considers as closing scenes those in which a character shows some awareness of the scenic conventions or those that let the public know that the end of the play is near. Her aim is first to observe the functions of epilogues in Plautus’ plays and then to explore their meaning. As a first step, she divides these elements into two groups: the verbal and the non-verbal. In the first group, she includes the space between the end of the plot and the beginning of the closing scene and the speeches assigned to caterua or grex. The second, larger group deals mainly with textual elements. It includes words directed to the audience, like spectatores or second-person personal pronouns, metatheatrical terms, like fabula or comoedia, farewell formulas, etc. Then Gregoris analyses each group, observing their presence in each one of the Plautine plays, to show how those elements may appear either alone or combined, marking the rupture of the theatrical illusion. As a conclusion, the author offers a hierarchy of the analyzed elements. While the moral messages may still maintain the fictional level, a farewell is more suited to bring the audience back to the “reality”, announcing the end of the play.

This book presents a fine sample of current research into Plautine comedy, especially in Spain. Certainly, the major value of this publication is its contribution to appreciating the dramatic aspects of ancient Roman comedy.

Authors and titles

Benjamín García-Hernández, La magia como tercer plano dramático en Amphitruo: el  cuclillo, la pátera, Thessala y el praestigiator maxumus
Alessio Torino, Gli inferi come spazio scenico in Plauto
Pascale Paré-Rey, El desenlace de Medea: ¿Exhibición de artimañas o ars  dramaturgica? (Séneca, Medea, vv. 982-1027)
Caterina Pentericci, Matris opera mala. Il predominio femminile nell’intreccio del  Truculentus
Roberto M. Danese, Costruzione dell’originalità stilistica nella commedia plautina.  Esempi di riutilizzo creativo delle strutture drammaturgiche (Asinaria e  Truculentus)
Ewa Skwara, Metatheatre in Terence
Leonor Pérez Gómez, Acotaciones escénicas en Pseudolus: quasi poeta et dominus  gregis
Alba Tontini, L’apporto degli umanisti alla drammatizzazione del testo
Antonio María Martín Rodríguez, A propósito de la ratio etymologica de Staphyla:  nomen como vector de comportamiento escénico en Aulularia
María del Pilar Pérez Álvarez, Mutuum – fenus en el s. II a.C. Referencias plautinas a  algunas leyes romanas
Matías López López, Significa escénico de la sententia en Amphitruo de Plauto
M.a Teresa Quintillà Zanuy, Función dramática de las expresiones proverbiales sobre  animales en Plauto
Lukasz Berger, Gestión de los turnos conversacionales en Plauto y Terencio: entre el  habla y los silencios
Luis Unceta Gómez, La contribución de la Pragmática al análisis de la dinámica  escénica. El caso de Mostellaria
Rosario López Gregoris, Abajo el telón: función de los versos de cierre en las comedias   de Plauto
Giorgia Bandini, Finzioni e funzioni foniche nei Menaechmi


[1] Reports of each one of the four sessions that were held during those two days can be found at the end of the book. The reports  also describe briefly the discussions that followed the presentations.