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

By W. Beare | Go to book overview

CHAPTER XI
COMEDY AFTER THE DEATH OF PLAUTUS

THE PROLOGUE to Plautus' Casina refers expressly to a revival performance of the play after the author's death. The speaker remarks that wise judges will prefer old wine and old plays -- especially as the contemporary comedies are worthless. In view of the general demand for the plays of Plautus, his company is therefore reviving the Casina, the première performance of which is still within the memory of the older members of his audience. 'At its first appearance the play surpassed all other plays; and yet at that time there were living a garland of poets (flos poetarum) who have now departed to the bourne where all must go.'

Of course the speaker of the prologue is bound to praise the wares that he has to sell. He is claiming special merit for the fact that he is offering not a new play but an old one. Terence, we notice, takes care to emphasize that his plays are new. In either case the object is to win the favour of the public. We have other evidence, however, that Plautus' plays were immensely popular after his death. The 'garland of poets' contemporary with Plautus must include Naevius; possibly also Ennius (though he seems not to have been very successful in comedy) and if Ennius, then presumably Caecilius too, as he is said to have died only a year after Ennius. But to add Terence to the flos poetarum would put the date of the Casina revival later than 160; this would presumably mean a gap of thirty years or more between the first and second performances of the play -- and in that case even the older members of the audience could scarcely have seen the première. The alternative is to include Terence, and perhaps Caecilius also, among the writers of the worthless new comedies; and we know that both these dramatists had difficulty in winning a hearing for their plays.

The success of Plautus with the crowd had evidently left the public with an appetite for comedy, and at the same time

-75-

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