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

By W. Beare | Go to book overview

APPENDIX E
THE ROMANn STAGE CURTAIN

( Hermathena, Vol. lviii. pp. 104

THE drop-curtain was perhaps the most notable Roman contribution to stage technique. When was it introduced, and why? What was the relation of the aulaeum to the siparium, and how they operated?

With the curtain as a form of decoration or scenery (παραπέ?αб?α) the Greeks of classical times may have been acquainted. Furthermore, the occasional use of a small portable curtain to conceal part of the stage, an unwanted door in the background, etc., is so obvious a device that it seems hazardous to deny it to the Greeks altogether.1 For the use by the Greeks of a large drop-curtain, concealing the whole of the stage, there is no evidence; indeed the development of Greek stage technique, especially in its later forms, as illustrated by our extant plays, seems to postulate a stage permanently open to view. The Latin adaptations by Plautus and Terence also read as if designed for a curtainless stage. The characters are brought on at the beginning and taken off at the end in a way which implies that opening or closing tableaux were impossible. An isolated passage such as Capt. 1,

hos quos uidetis stare hic captiuos duos

,

cannot outweigh the evidence of the plays as a whole. Still less was a curtain available within the course of a play; hence objects no longer wanted have to be removed under the eyes of the spectators, whether without or with apology. Just as from Hamlet's remark

I'll lug the guts into the neighbour room

,

we infer the absence of a drop-curtain in Elizabethan times, so when Lysimachus suggests that the dishes left by the cook in front of the door should be taken inside, adding the lame remark that they will supplement the family meal (Merc. 800-2), we clearly see the embarrassment to which the dramatist was put by the absence of a curtain on the Greek and Roman stages.

The aulaeum is said by Donatus (de com. 12. 3) to have been introduced in 133 B.C. (aulaea quoque in scaena intexta sternuntur, quod pictus ornatus ex Attalica regia Romam usque perlatus est;

____________________
1
Nevertheless I do not now think that doorways were concealed in this way: see Appendix (f).

-259-

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