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

By W. Beare | Go to book overview

CHAPTER XXIII
THE STAGE AND THE ACTORS' HOUSE

OUR NOTIONS of the appearance of the Plautine stage are derived to some extent from the still visible remains of the imperial theatres, the extant illustrations dating from imperial times, and the description written by Vitruvius in the time of Augustus. Such information may be misleading. There is nothing more certain than that the imperial theatre was ornate, there is nothing more likely than that the Plautine theatre was simple. From the evidence of the plays I will endeavour to describe the simplest arrangement which would permit these plays to be staged.

The essential feature of the Roman theatre from the earliest times was the wooden stage; Plautus calls it scaena or proscaenium,1and the Latin for 'dramatic festival' is ludi scaenici. It was probably not more than five feet high, but may even in the days of Plautus have been of considerable length and some depth. Between the stage and the foremost tier of seats lay a flat space, corresponding roughly to the Greek orchestra or 'dancing-place' and called orchestra by later generations of Romans, but not normally used by Roman performers; here some movable seats were sometimes set for distinguished spectators. From the orchestra a short flight of steps led up to the stage; this flight of steps would have been convenient for any member of the public who wished to appear on the stage (like the prostitutes who are forbidden to do so in Poen. 17-8), but it does not seem to have been used by the actors in the performance of a play.

Behind the stage stood the actors' house or dressing-room, the front wall of which formed the permanent back-scene. At either end the stage was enclosed by the projecting wings of the actors' house. The front wall of the house was pierced

____________________
This is the usual view, but in considering the evidence of the plays we should remember that actors can make surprising use of even a small stage
1
Scaena can mean (1) scene-building, (2) stage, (3) a picture, whether on the stage (e.g. one of the panels displayed on the periacti) or not

-168-

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