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THE DIVISIONS IN THE PLAYS OF PLAUTUS

AND TERENCE

I

The plays of Plautus, as they appear in the manuscripts, are rigidly divided into five acts each, and each act is divided into one or more scenes. It is not known just when this division was made, and one purpose of this paper is to show that the traditional division was not made by Plautus. Such a division is undeniably useful from the modern point of view for the breaks in the play are utilized by scene-shifters, but in the time of Plautus the play had to be presented as a continuous whole1 for otherwise the spectators would think that the play had come to an end and would leave the theatre. Plautus however did make certain divisions in his plays, and I shall endeavor to locate the division points according to criteria which will be shown to exist in the plays themselves.

If these

There are many reasons for believing that the traditional division into acts and scenes was not made by Plautus. reasons are valid we ought to reject this division, and then endeavor to see where the original divisions existed; if we conclude that it was necessary for the plays to have some sort of dividing points. We may first consider the division into scenes. Various arguments have been advanced against the traditional division, chief among which are the statement by Leo2 that it is a nuisance to the reader, and that by West that it is merely a device to show the entrance and exit of actors. West has adduced no proof in support of his position and so it may be well to examine this subject in some detail. In the first place we have no reason to believe that Plautus himself made a division into scenes, because no such division exists in Greek comedy either Old or New, and therefore Plautus had no model to follow in this respect. He however recognized the necessity of

1 Wessner, Donatus, praef. Eun. p. 266.

Plaut. Forsch. p. 13, n. 3.

8 Terence, And. and Heaut. p. XXVI.

providing some means to indicate the entrance and exit of actors, and so he naturally chose the same means which Menander and Aristophanes had used before him; that is, the employment of statements by the actors themselves to indicate departure from or entrance onto the stage. At these places in the play we now have the division into scenes which is nothing more than a list of the names of those characters who are about to participate in the action. These lists are noticeably incorrect for they not only frequently omit the names of characters who were on the stage, but also they do not consistently occur where we have reason to expect them. The statements made by the actors are such as these: to indicate departure, ibo intro or eo ad forum; to indicate entrance, eccum video or fores crepuerunt. Since, then, there is no reason to believe that Plautus knew anything about scene-division, and since the text contains statements which are sufficient to show the entrance and exit of actors, we appear to be justified in rejecting the traditional division into scenes.

There now remains for consideration the division into acts. As the plays exist in the manuscripts they each have five acts, and the natural assumption is that at each of these divisions the stage is vacant, the plot has reached a decisive point in its development, and there is general preparation for the next act. Passing by the suspicion that such regularity of division is somewhat alarming in a production naturally so free and untrammeled as was early Latin comedy, we find upon examining the different act ends that the three assumptions above mentioned have no basis in fact. There are many divisions made when the stage is not vacant, and, in addition, there are many breaks which do not coincide with breaks incident to the development of the plot. A further reason for suspecting a formal quinquepartite division is the fact that no such division existed in Greek comedy. We are therefore justified in rejecting the traditional act-division also.

Was it necessary for Plautus to make any sort of division when writing his plays? The structure of a play which has any plot at all requires at least three parts: (1) the development of the situation; (2) the living under the situation; (3)

4 cf. Rudens 688-885.

the resolution of the difficulties which have arisen. These divisions should be marked off from each other with at least a fair degree of clearness. If we add a prologue and an epilogue, we arrive at a five-part division, but parts are not necessarily iden tical with acts. We find in Aristophanes great freedom in the number of the episodes which occur after the prologue, and the number of divisions in one of his comedies may even go as high as eight. We may therefore conclude that a comedy contained as many divisions as were occasioned by the necessities of the situation which developed in the construction of the play.

In order to discuss intelligently the divisions in the plays of Plautus, we must endeavor to formulate for ourselves the influences under which he wrote. One of the most potent of these influences was Greek comedy.

In the plays of Aristophanes there are three main parts: prologue, episodes, and exodus; in addition the plays may have a parodos and a parabasis. The prologue may be regarded as a complete whole, but each episode forms a division by itself with choral songs marking them off, and there may be from four to six of these episodes. Regarding the exodus as a division, we may have eight divisions separated from each other by choral songs. Other signs apart from the chorus indicate such separation. At the times when the chorus absorbed the attention of the audience, e. g. in the parodos and parabasis, the actors left the stage, and so, disregarding the chorus, there was no one left to occupy the stage. Vacant stage thus assumes great importance as a criterion for the indication of a break between divisions, and, as we have seen, the actors usually announce their departure definitely, and so we have little difficulty in ascertaining when the stage was empty. Furthermore, the identity of the character who was to open the succeeding episode was not revealed until he started to speak. We have thus, independently of the choral song, three criteria to indicate a division: (1) express statements by the actors that they are about to leave the stage; (2) vacant stage; (3) no clue given as to the identity of the oncoming actor. Of these three criteria, vacant stage was noticed by Donatus, but the other two seem to have escaped the notice of commentators.

By the time of Menander the chorus had so far declined in importance that it no longer took an essential part in the play. The Aphroditopolis papyrus has shown that the chorus was used solely to occupy, by some sort of entertainment, an otherwise vacant stage. A break in the action of the play was essential, and this break was filled in by a very ordinary sort of performance, as that of the drunken youths in the Periceiromene. Thus the difference between the chorus of Aristophanes and that of Menander is that the former made the chorus an active participant in the economy of the play, while the latter used it merely as a source of entertainment. This decline in importance of the chorus is a significant fact in connection with the present discussion. If the chorus, in the space of a century, could so fall from the position which it enjoyed during the height of Attic comedy, it is certainly reasonable to infer that, when comedy started in Rome under the hand of Plautus, the chorus ceased altogether to exist. In fact Euanthius and Donatus' both express doubt as to where the proper places for the chorus are. I believe that all doubt on the question as to whether Plautus used a chorus or not can be resolved by the statement of Donatus, vult poeta noster omnes quinque actus velut unum fieri. It is true that this statement is made concerning Terence but it is reasonable to believe that its force applies as well to Plautus. If the poet wished the play to be performed with no intermission between acts, because the spectators might think that the play had come to an end and so would leave the theatre, it is not reasonable to infer the existence of a chorus, for a chorus would bring about precisely the ends which the poet wished to avoid. The same argument applies to the inference that there was music between the acts. The problem now before us is to determine whether the criteria which have been found to apply to Aristophanes and Menander, will have equal force for Plautus.

Of the criteria mentioned, vacant stage is the most important, for it is apparent that when no one is on the stage nothing can happen. Conversely, if characters remain on the stage there can be no division, for the action must be regarded as continu

5 Adverse to this view. see Flickinger, Class. Phil. VII, I. Cf. also Leo, Hermes XLVI, 2. p. 292. Wessner, op. cit. p. 18. Wessner, op. cit. praef. Adel. p. 4, praef. And. p. 38.

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