Ancient Roman Comedies Stock: Perhaps the most common inversion of Roman values in Roman comedy is the mockery of the father. In real Roman society, the father’s power that is ‘patria potestas’ was legally undisputed. A father had the power of life and death over his family and his household especially slaves. In comedy, however, the son with the help of a brash slave regularly outnumbered the father and made a fool of him.
Ancient Roman Comedies Stock Characters and Costumes
In many plays, the slave is the central character who dominates the action. The Greek setting of the plays and the Greek names of the characters made this situation palatable to Roman audiences and authorities.
Following the expansion of the Roman Republic between 509 and 527 BCE into several Greek territories between 270-240 BCE, Rome encountered Greek drama. From the later years of the republic and by means of the Roman Empire which lasted from 27 BCE to 476 BCE, theatre spread west across Europe, around the Mediterranean and reached England; Roman theatre was more varied, extensive and sophisticated than that of any culture before it.
While Greek drama continued to be performed throughout the Roman period, the year 240 BCE marked the beginning of the regular Roman drama. From the beginning of the empire, however, interest in full-length drama declined in favor of a broader variety of theatrical entertainments.
Stock characters were very important in Roman comedy. A Roman Comedies Stock was 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 speech. 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 tunic and 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. Some of these Roman Comedies Stock characters included the following:
Roman Comedies Stock characters
1.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 or old man, whom he fears, but does not respect. He wears a dark wig and his clothes are usually crimson.
2.The Senex 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 adolescents. He is often a miser, who wears a straight undergarment with long doubled sleeves. It is white and he sometimes carries a staff.
3.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 money bag.
4.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 Adolescents’. He wears a tunic with long sleeves and has curly hair.
5.The Parasites 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.
6.The Servi or 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.
7.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.
8.The matrona or mother, mulier or woman, or uxor or 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.
9.The Meretrix or the 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.
10.The Virgo or young maiden is the love interest of the adolescent but does not get much stage time. She is beautiful and virtuous with little personality. She is treated as a prize.
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