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Level 5

5AACTL17 Roman Drama I: the theatre at Rome

Credit value: 15
Module convenor/tutor: To be confirmed
Teaching pattern: 10 x 1-hour lecture and 1-hour seminar (weekly)
Availability: Please see module list for relevant year
Assessment: 2 x essays of 2,000 words (50% each)

The modules offered in each academic year are subject to change in line with staff availability and student demand: there is no guarantee every module will run. Module descriptions and information may vary between years.

The first play performed in Latin, based on a Greek model, marked a cultural and literary milestone in Rome. Culturally, the appropriation and performance of a Greek-style drama demonstrated to the wider Mediterranean world that Rome had come of age, and aimed to rival the older communities of the East. In literary terms, it initiated the steady development of Roman poetry and prose along largely Greek lines. In short, the hellenization of Rome accelerated. But it was not plain sailing: Greek cultural institutions were suspect to the Roman élite, so the acting profession was despised and penalized, and permanent theatres could not be built. This course will chart the tensions that hellenization engendered, and the accommodations that were made in order to develop a Roman theatrical tradition, which turned into something very different from its Greek model.

The course aims to offer a comprehensive study of drama and theatrical entertainments at Rome, with an account of the origins of such entertainments in the context of religious festivals, and above all the debt to Greek precedent. This precedent however engendered conflict in the new environment: the Roman elite, sponsors of the drama, nonetheless despised actors and feared public assemblies in theatres. When in due course permanent theatres were built, they had a peculiar form, which was designed for social rather than dramatic display. The stage’s impact on society and political life was always troublesome to authority. In later antiquity, the Christian Church also had to come to terms with the stage.

Provisional teaching plan

1. The origins of dramatic entertainments at Rome

2. Religious festivals (ludi), their character and management

3. Forms of dramatic entertainment (farce, mime, pantomime, the ‘regular’ drama)

4 & 5. The status of actors and acting (infamia)

6. The political aspect of dramatic performances

7. Roman and Christian views of drama

8. The issue of permanent theatres

9. The design of the Roman theatre; the Augustan organization of the spectators

10. A Roman theorist of drama: Horace, Ars Poetica

Suggested introductory reading

This is suggested reading and purchase of these books is not mandatory.

  • Manuwald, G. 2011. Roman Republican Theatre, a History, Cambridge (this, the most recent study of drama in Rome, has a thirty-page bibliography, to which students are directed)
  • McDonald, M.  and Walton, J. M. (edd.) 2007. The Cambridge Companion to Greek and Roman Theatre, Cambridge
  • Sear, F. 2006. Roman Theatres. An Architectural Study, Oxford
  • Easterling, P. E.  & Hall, E. (edd.), 2002. Greek and Roman Actors: Aspects of an Ancient Profession, Cambridge
  • Csapo, E. and Slater, W. J. 1995. The Context of Ancient Drama,Ann Arbor, MI
  • Gruen, E. S. 1990. Studies in Greek Culture and Roman Policy, Berkeley
  • ------  1993. Culture and National Identity in Republican Rome, London
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