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Level 5

5AACTL18 Roman Drama II: selected plays

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 essay 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, and play scripts adapted from Greek are only one facet of a larger literary  movement designed to create a national literature along Hellenic lines. The scripts produced by Roman playwrights had to appeal to a different kind of audience, and the adjustments made produced a very different sort of drama, in the case of Senecan tragedy, a drama perhaps never intended for staging. Roman drama, as text, preserved the notion of scripted plays, and in due course served itself as a model for drama in early modern European cultures.

The course will involve close study of selected scripts in translation for analysis and discussion. For comedy we will read two plays by Plautus, and two by Terence; for tragedy two by Seneca, and the unique (but anonymous) historical drama, Octavia. We will investigate the ways in which Greek play texts were adapted to new dramatic conventions at Rome; in the case of Seneca we will need to determine what sort of dramatic presentation he envisaged. There will also be a brief introduction to the reception of Roman drama into European dramatic traditions, e.g. Shakespeare’s appropriation of Plautus.

Provisional teaching plan

  1. The composition of the scripts of the regular drama: imitatio.
  2. Plautine comedy: Pseudolus
  3. Plautine comedy: Menaechmi
  4. Terence: Brothers
  5. Terence: The Eunuch
  6. Lost dramatists: Caecilius, Accius, Pollio, Maternus
  7. Senecan tragedy: Phaedra
  8. Senecan tragedy: Medea
  9. Roman historical drama: Octavia
  10. Shakespeare and Roman drama

Suggested introductory reading

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

  • Seneca: Four tragedies and Octavia (trans. Watling), Harmondsworth 1966
  • Terence, The Comedies (trans. Brown), Oxford 2008
  • Plautus, Four Comedies (trans. Segal), Oxford 1998
  • Marshall, C. W. 2006. The stagecraft and performance of Roman comedy, Cambridge
  • Boyle, A. J. 2005. Roman tragedy, New York
  • Duckworth, G. 1952, The nature of Roman comedy, Princeton
  • Maus, K. E.  1984. Ben Jonson and the Roman Frame of Mind, Princeton
  • Miola, R. S.  1983. Shakespeare’s Rome, Cambridge
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