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

By W. Beare | Go to book overview

CHAPTER XIX
THE LATIN PROLOGUES AND THEIR VALUE AS EVIDENCE FOR THEATRICAL CONDITIONS

ALL THE plays of Terence and most of the plays of Plautus are introduced by prologues. The prologues of Terence are the author's replies to the attacks of his enemies; clearly, therefore, they are written by Terence himself, and they reflect the conditions of his own day. The origin of the Plautine prologues is not so clear. The prologue to the Casina specifically refers to a revival performance of the play some time after the death of Plautus, but still within the lifetime of some who had seen the play when it was first produced. Evidently this prologue is, at least in part, post-Plautine, and equally evidently the post-Plautine part at least is not translated from a Greek original but is of Latin origin. The two-line prologue to the Pseudolus ('You had better get up and stretch your legs; a long Plautine play is coming on the stage') also seems to be post-Plautine. The speaker of the prologue to the Menaechmi remarks 'I bring you Plautus -- on my tongue, not in my hand'. Would Plautus have referred to himself quite in these terms? Hardly any Plautine prologues can be positively said to contain a contemporary reference which must have been written by Plautus himself. (But see Cist. 197-202). I think, however, that even where we may suspect the presence of post-Plautine insertions, such insertions should still be ascribed, like the Casina prologue, to a period not long after the death of Plautus. They are presumably the work of producers -- for who but a producer would have had either the opportunity or the motive for tampering with the text? They belong therefore to a period when the theatre was active and before the text had been established by editors for the benefit of a reading public. They are thus good evidence for the theatre of the second century. On the other hand some parts of some prologues may conceivably be translated from the Greek -- presumably by Plautus himself. But references to

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