THE FAMOUS PLAYS OF Plautus
THE FOLLOWING summaries of some of Plautus' plays may serve to illustrate the variety and limitations of New Comedy.
The prologue is spoken by the god Mercury. He explains that his father Jupiter has fallen in love with Alcumena, whose husband, Amphitruo, is abroad in command of the army of Thebes. Jupiter has assumed the likeness of Amphitruo to deceive the virtuous Alcumena, whose company he is enjoying at this moment (the time is early morning, before daylight). Mercury has himself assumed the likeness of Amphitruo's servant Sosia. The gods, he tells us, wear tokens to help the audience to distinguish them from their human counterparts. The real Sosia now enters from the harbour with tidings for Alcumena: Amphitruo has won the war and will be home almost immediately. Mercury accosts Sosia, claims to be Sosia himself and drives the bewildered servant off the stage. Sosia goes off to report this incident to Amphitruo. Jupiter now comes out of the house, bids a tender farewell to Alcumena and departs. A little later the real Amphitruo appears, expecting a tender welcome. He is astonished to be received with cold surprise by his wife, who thinks he is playing some trick on her. His astonishment turns to fury when she tells him that he has only just left her; he hurls charges of infidelity against her, which she receives with admirable dignity, conscious of her innocence. Amphitruo goes off to find witnesses; Jupiter appears and cajoles the angry Alcumena into a good temper; they go inside. When Amphitruo returns, Mercury, still in Sosia's guise, bolts the door against him, treats him as a stranger and pelts him from the roof. At this point some scenes of the play are missing or in a fragmentary condition; evidently the real and the false Amphitruo are