Academic journal article Canadian Social Science

Deconstructing the "Fourth Wall": Metatheatricality in Plautus' Miles Gloriosus and Osofisan's Tegonni

Academic journal article Canadian Social Science

Deconstructing the "Fourth Wall": Metatheatricality in Plautus' Miles Gloriosus and Osofisan's Tegonni

Article excerpt


The Roman theatrical tradition owes a great deal to the spirit of Greek theatre in antiquity, particularly as pioneered by Menander in New Comedy. The reception and subsequent reputation of the Greek theatrical convention among Plautus' audience, has recently been attributed to his skilful re-theatricalisation of the alien drama through the use of what scholars have variously identified as metatheatre, -the self-referentiality of drama. The use of this technique has called attention to the highly metafictional world of Plautine drama and in this case, his Miles Gloriosus, which has also been emphasized as metatheatrical. The contemporary Nigerian theatre practitioner/playwright, Femi Osofisan, has also shown metatheatrical moments in his works. Osofisan's Tegonni, has betrayed a reception of such metatheatricality as identified in Plautus' Miles Gloriosus. But beyond hosting own critique, both plays portray an undercurrent of events privileging a socio-cultural hermeneutics, whose currency subsists even in contemporary climes.

The paper examines the reception of Plautine metatheatrical techniques and its attendant socio-cultural interpretations in Miles Gloriosus, and in post-colonial Nigerian drama through a reading of Femi Osofisan's Tegonni, an African Antigone.

Key words: Theatricality; Plautus; Plautine


Metatheatre or the capacity of stage text and performance to refer to and comment on its own nature as an artistic medium has been an age-long adaptation in western theatrical tradition (Crow, 2002, p.132).

Metatheatricality is a situation in which the playwright consciously draws attention to the play as a play whereby drama makes reference to itself as drama. In other words, "theatre attempts to become more pretentious by hosting its own critique" (Okoye, 2010, p.119). In the words of Slater (Slater, 1985, p.14), metatheatre is theatrically self-conscious theatre, i.e., one that demonstrates an awareness of its own theatricality. However, this literary technique exploits its own conventions and devices to effect comedy and pathos. In other words, this dramaturgical device can become an instrument in the hands of playwrights in deconstruction perceived socio-cultural, and political contradictions.

In acquiescence with Tompkins, metatheatre may also be described, "as locations of deliberate dis-locations of colonial power," as a strategy of resistance. And as indicated in Osofisan's post-colonial dramatic text, Tegonni, it is "a self-conscious method of re-negotiating, re-workingnot just re-playing the past and the present" (Tompkins, 1995) Hence for Osofisan, this brand of his dramaturgy splits the action into multiple locations, and appropriates them to resist a text or a dominant paradigm. The audience is, however, not left out of this dislocation of text and subtext and 'dominant paradigm (Tompkins, 1995, p.8).

Indeed, of significance in textual mannered performance is the relationship between the performer and the audience, and the nature of this relationship is at the hub of the study of the plays of the Roman comic playwright Plautus. Theatre scholars, however, are quick to remind us of the inadequacy of the text as substitute for performance, since it represents a tiny aspect of the complex system at work in the production of a play, and thus the clues that texts provide for interpretation are unreliable (introductory comments in Tim Moore, 1998, pp.1-6; Ubersfeld, 1982, pp.22-23; Berkerman, 1990; Bennett, 1990, p.161). This affiliation/relationship i.e., the proper interpretation of text and the playwright's intent on stage, may be dependent on the content, structure and the stagecraft, which are all important in determining how the playwright and characters in the play impact on the audience. Therefore, the dramatist relies on improvisation which slants disproportionately on the non-textual elements of theatre and can be better appreciated through an analysis of the plays. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.