The Roman Stage: A Short History of Latin Drama in the Time of the Republic

By W. Beare | Go to book overview

CHAPTER I
INTRODUCTION

IN THIS book I shall attempt to give a connected account of the drama produced in the theatres of ancient Rome. We still possess, under the names of Plautus and Terence, twenty-six comedies translated from Greek into Latin and intended for production on the stage. These works belong to the late third and early second century before Christ. In addition we have a number of fragments remaining from the drama of Republican times, from tragedy and comedy, translations of lost Greek plays and original compositions, which help us to trace the history of the subject from the time of Livius Andronicus to the end of the Republic. From early Imperial times we possess, under the name of Seneca, ten tragedies, which read as if they were intended not for production but for declamation or private reading. Though framed on Greek lines, these are not translations but independent compositions; indeed one of them, the Octauia, takes its subject from contemporary Roman history, and has as its heroine the ill-fated wife of the emperor Nero.

With the coming of the Empire the subject ceases to be a unity; we have now an almost complete divorce between literary drama, written for reading or recitation, and the stage, almost monopolized by mime and pantomime. The contrast between the Republic and the Empire is indeed one of the most striking facts in the history of Roman drama; yet as the coming of the Empire only confirmed tendencies which had already begun to display themselves under the Republic, it will sometimes be helpful to refer, with due caution, to the statements of late authors and to the monumental evidence which has come down to us from Imperial times.

The Latin plays no longer occupy the place which they held at the time of the Renaissance, when they were the acknowledged models of dramatic art. Even classical scholars now prefer to read the extant Greek plays, original works by

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