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The Pot of Gold and Other Plays, by Plautus Essay

Updated on February 18, 2013

Connor McCarthy The Pot of Gold and Other Plays, by Plautus (Paper #1)

T. Maccius Plautus (c. 254-184 B.C.), a Roman playwriter of comedies, expressed multiple forms of comedy in the themes of his book, The Pot of Gold and Other Plays. Plautus wrote these playwrights at an appropriate time for entertainment had verily been increasing its popularity in Roman society. Although he engages primarily for entertainment purposes, Plautus criticizes different aspects of the society in small portions throughout the readings. Each of the five plays has at least one unique form of humor. Plautus uses stock characters and situations throughout these playwrights, consciously giving his audiences a new perspective on what humor can be.

The first play, The Pot of Gold, Act one, illuminates comical themes from the beginning. The housekeeper, Staphyla, says to the old miserly man she works for, Euclio, that “there’s nothing inside it worth stealing, I’m sure; nothing in the house at all but cobwebs.”, in response to the demands directing her to watch the Pot of Gold during his absence. Staphyla believes that the only thing in their house worth offering is cobwebs. This paints a better picture in the reader or audience’s mind of what the house looks like in humorously rooted fashion. Euclio’s miserly ways calls for laughter because it absurdly mirrors the way individuals in a society look at their money in relation to other things that are just as important, if not more. This is funny because most men and women recognize this only to confess of being guilty themselves. This ridiculous truth is timeless among human beings. Staphyla’s character plays a key role in performing this truth which is expressed by her ability to hold a higher intuition than Euclio, who displays ignorance. Another example of Euclio showing lack of emotional stability is when he says to the cook, Congrio, “Go and cook the dinner, or go to hell and hang yourself”(pg 29). Although this response is crude, the irrationality of it is certainly funny. This is a perfect example of one theme that is seen repeated in Plautus’s work in comedy playwrights.

The second play, titled The Prisoners (Captivi), stands among the more serious of the five comedies. It lacks the density of humor the other plays embody and focus is thus points to darker matters, such as slavery. Plautus allows for comic relief with the use of a character named Ergasilus, who is a parasite dependent upon Philopolemus, the son of a wealthy gentlemen named Helio. Ergasilus’s character serves the role of reassuring Philopolemus that whatever he says or does is right, and in return Ergasilus is allowed to remain a parasite. Ergasilus constantly moans and complains about how hungry he is, selfishly. This is funny because his hunger is a small and insignificant matter compared to the more important matters being portrayed in the play.

In the third play, The Brothers Menaechmus, Plautus’ humor emerges once again. The play employs humor in the mistaken identity of the twin brothers. Brothers, who unfortunately hold the same name, Menaechmus. The brothers were separated from one another at a young age while one brother aspires to find the other, thus opening opportunity for the inevitable; humor motioned by confusion of identity. Plautus uses a situation in which the audience is fully aware of the situation, but the confused actors in the performance are not, thus creating the disaster on the stage to be laughed upon. Erotium, Menaechmus’ mistress, and Menaechmus aren’t seeing eye to eye and are completely irritated by one another. Erotium has spoken with the wrong Menaechmus brother earlier that day and mistakenly given him the “bracelet and gown” creating disconcert on both sides. This stock situation is hysterical from an audience’s view. Plautus created The Brothers Menaechmus purelyfor the joy and entertainment of his audience. No apparent social criticism took place in this specific play for it is an undivided piece of work, abundant with comedy. Upon returning from the town, Peniculus complains, “Gods confound the man who first invented public meetings, that device for wasting the time of people who have no time to waste. There ought to be a corpse of idle men enrolled for that sort of business, every one of them to answer his name when called or pay a fine” (p. 119). The deliberate exaggeration and extremity of the rant addresses, in a comical way, that Peniculus’s “trip to town” indeed went badly.

The fourth play, The Swaggering Soldier, starts with the entrance of Pyrgopolynices, an egocentric practitioner and soldier, happens to be full of himself and his minor accomplishments giving the audience something to laugh at from the beginning of the first Act. The Swaggering Soldier is abundant with both social criticism as well as the common entertainment. Philocomasium displays acts of betrayal by downsizing mankind as a whole and he also seeks out revenge on Pyrgopolynices toward the end of the second Act by beating him. Although these dark truths take relevant refuge in this play, Plautus still manages to make room for the more entertaining humor. A rather unorthodox form of humor Plautus uses in The Swaggering Soldier is when Pyrgopolynices asks Palaestrio if the pregnant slave is married and Palaestrio’s response is “She is and she isn’t.” Pyrgopolynices then replies, “She can’t be both married and unmarried, can she?” “Yes, because her husband is old and she is young.” “Excellent.”(pgs 189-190) replies Palaestrio, as if it is obvious to what this means. This humor obviously resinates better with the female audience group, in comparison to men, because woman can relate directly to these points of views.

Pseudos is the last of the five plays, but indeed Plautus left the longest piece of work for last. The beginning scenario starts with the Simo’s chief slave, Pseudolus, providing emotional support to his master’s son, Calidorus, due to a letter sent by Phoenician, “lover” of Calidorus. Simo is an Athenian gentlemen, the father of Calidorus, and the master of Pseudolus. The stock character, Pseudos, the clever slave whom displays higher intellectual abilities than his masters, Simo and Calidorus, seems to be a reoccurring theme that Plautus uses in his works, The Pot of Gold and Other Plays. The truth that this calls for laughter has stood the test of time. Pseudolus partakes in both social criticism and entertainment here. When Calidorus curses at Pseudolus relentlessly (pg 231) is one of the more amusing parts of the play. Pseudolus simply agreed with whatever insults Calidorus shouted, but once they seize the verbal abuse, immediate rekindling to their ‘friendship’ begins.

The comedy Plautus presents in The Pot of Gold and Other Plays are impressive especially when taking into account that comedy in theatre came only a few hundred years before his time. One might even go far enough to say Plautus represents a philosophy rather themes. The philosophy of honing the ability to be positive no matter what situation one finds himself/ herself in. That there is always a way of viewing a situation that can cause one to laugh, no matter how hopeless it might seem. Two major themes that Plautus engages consistently throughout this book include irony and self-deprecation far beyond the norm. He exaggerates the themes discussed here so they become funny and places them into situations in which the majority of audience members can relate.


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