Theatre of ancient Rome
"This article is about theatrical performances in ancient Rome. For the building, see
Roman theatre (structure)."
The theatre of ancient Rome refers to dramatic performances performed in Rome and the its dominions during
Ancient Roman theatre was heavily influenced by the Greek tradition, and as with many other literary genres Roman dramatists tended to adapt and translate from the Greek. For example, Seneca's "Phaedra" was based on that of Euripides, and many of the comedies of
Plautuswere direct translations of works by Menander.
When comparing and contrasting ancient Roman theatre to that of Greek theatre it can easily be said that Roman theatre was less influenced by religion. Also, Roman theatre was more for aesthetic appeal. In Roman theatre war was a more common thing to appear on stage as opposed to the Greek theatre where the plays were mimed and repetitive. The actors developed a kind of code that would tell the audience about the characters just by looking at them.
*A purple robe meant the character was a young man.
*A yellow robe meant the character was a woman. (Needed in early Roman theatre, as originally female characters were played by men, however as the Roman theatre progressed, women slaves took the roles of women in plays.)
*A yellow tassel meant the character was a god. Roman costumes mirrored traditional Greek garments. Actors commonly wore a long robe, called a Chiton. Chitons were often colored to denote character and rank.
Plays lasted for two hours, and were usually comedies. Most comedies involved mistaken identity (such as gods disguised as humans).
Stock characterswere very important in Roman comedy. A stock character is one that the audience will be familiar with and that is used in many plays. They were greatly used by Plautus. Stock characters could sometimes even be recognized by their speeches. The costumes they wore varied with the type of show but were used to identify the type of character. Over time these outfits became more realistic. The standard costume base was a tunicand cloak. At first masks were common because actors would play multiple characters and the masks made them easier to distinguish. Over time the comedic masks became grotesquely exaggerated.
The "adulescens" was the hero, who is young, rich, love-struck and none too brave. He tends to bemoan his fate and requires backup. Another character often has to take action on his behalf. His father is often the "senex", whom he fears, but does not respect. He wears a dark wig and his clothes are usually crimson.
The "senex" (old man) has several incarnations. As the father he is either too strict or too soft; either one he does out of love for his son. As the lover he embarrasses his son, his slave, and his wife. He tends to be passionately in love with the same woman as his son, who is much too young for the "senex". He never gets the girl and is often dragged off by his irate wife. Sometimes he is a friend of the family who helps the "adulescens". He is often a miser, who wears a straight undergarment with long doubled sleeves. It is white and he sometimes carries a staff.
The "leno" runs the brothel. The love interest of the "adulescens" may be owned by the "leno" and work at his brothel so the "adulescens" is often forced to deal with him. He is unabashedly amoral and is only interested in money. He dresses in a tunic and mantel and is often bald with a moneybag.
The "miles gloriosus", literally braggart soldier, is a character that is especially familiar today. He loves himself more than anything else and sees himself as handsome and brave, while in reality he is very stupid, cowardly, and gullible. He may be interested in the same girl as the "adulescens'. He wears a tunic with long sleeves and has curly hair.
The "parasitus" or parasite lives only for himself. He is often seen begging meals or being refused them. He lies for his own gain. He dresses in a long, black or gray garment with long, doubled sleeves.
The "servi" (slaves) take up about half of the cast and often have the most
monologues. They are not the toilers typical of a real Roman home. The "servus callidus" or clever slave is always talkative, but his other traits vary. Most of the time he is loyal, more so to the "adulescens" than the "senex". He brings tricks and comedy and tends to drive the plot. He is often the one who finds the truth out at the end of the play. He could be identified by his tendency to use alliteration and meter in his speech. The "servi" wear tunics and hold or carry scarves.
The "ancilla" is a maid or nurse of no particular age. She is a minor character used to move the plot by presenting information or helping to develop another character. She is a tool of her mistress and may be used as a messenger.
The "matrona" (mother), "mulier" (woman), or "uxor" (wife) is shrewd. She loves her children, but is temperamental towards her husband. She does not have to be a devoted wife, but sometimes is. She wears a long garment with flowing sleeves and a mantel.
The "meretrix" (prostitute) is either a mercenary or devoted. The first type is older or more experienced and has seen a lot. The second type is truly in love with the "adulescens". Both are very attractive with a complex hairdo and outfit, which is yellow. She also has a mantel.
The "virgo" (young maiden) is the love interest of the "adulescens", but does not get much stage time. She is beautiful and virtuous with little personality. She is treated as a prize.
Notable Roman Playwrights
Plautus- 3rd century BCcomedic playwright and writer of "Miles Gloriosus", " Pseudolus", and " Menaechmi".
Terence, who wrote between 170 and 160 BC.
Seneca the Younger- 1st centurydramatist most famous for Roman adaptations of ancient Greek plays like "Medea" and "Phaedra."
* Quintus Ennius - contemporary of Plautus who wrote both comedies and tragedies
* Marcus Pacuvius - Ennius's nephew and tragic playwright
History of theatre
Theatre of ancient Greece
Roman theatre (structure)
A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum"
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