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Crossing the Stages:
The Production, Performance and Reception of Ancient Theater


Anne H. Groton
Department of Classics
St. Olaf College

All That Glitters: Staging Plautus' Pot of Gold

With memorable characters, an easy-to-follow plot, and one hilarious scene after another, Plautus' Aulularia ought to be a guaranteed hit with a modern audience. Yet it can be a surprisingly difficult play to produce. If the cast is composed of students with little acting experience and not much time to memorize lines, the part of Euclio may have to be split between two actors. Another problem is the lengthiness of some of the conversations. Even funny chatter can grow tiresome, especially when the play is being performed partly or entirely in Latin. By far the greatest challenge for producers of the Aulularia is the lacuna beginning after verse 832. Should we fill in the gap and risk doing an injustice to Plautus, or should we stop the show abruptly, in the middle of the argument between Lyconides and his slave, and risk doing an injustice to our audience?

When we staged the Aulularia, two students, one bearded, the other clean-shaven and bespectacled, shared the role of Euclio. To help smooth the transition between the two actors, we made the switch after Euclio had disappeared into the shrine of Fides to hide the pot of gold there. When he emerged, he was literally a different person, though wearing an identical costume. The actor commented that, now that he had had a shave and found his glasses, he felt like a new man — a lame explanation, yes, but it satisfied our audience! Splitting the role actually proved helpful to us because the first actor, a fine student of Latin but not much of a singer, could take the lion's share of the lines, while the second, less accomplished in Latin but more accomplished in music, could put Euclio's distress into song (vv. 713-726):

I've had the most mis'rable day!
Someone has taken my treasure away!
Where should I look? Where could it be?
Why did this happen to me?

Egomet me defrudavi;
me miserum, misere perii.
Perdidi quod custodivi;
perii, interii.

We used music, too, to keep the audience engaged during long scenes. For instance, we reduced much of the banter between the cooks and Strobilus (vv. 280-349) to one simple song. Sung to the tune of "Old MacDonald Had a Farm," it featured some Latin humor intended to amuse students in the audience who had spent many hours memorizing the endings of nouns:
No one understands us cooks—ee, aye, ee, aye, oh!
People chase us, call us crooks—ee, aye, ee, aye, oh!
With a cook, cook here and a crook, crook there,
here a cook, there a crook, ev'rywhere a cook crook!
No one understands us cooks—ee, aye, ee, aye, oh!

Dicant: "Comprehendite!"—is, is, i, em, e!
"Verberate, vincite!"—is, is, i, em, e!
With a coquus here and a coquus there,
here a co-, there a -quus, ev'rywhere a coquus!
Dicant: "Comprehendite!"—is, is, i, em, e!

It also worked well to condense Megadorus' full-blown discourse on marriage (vv. 475-535) into a single, highly opinionated song:
If a man wants to marry a girl who's a honey,
he first must make sure that she comes with no money.
For wives with big dowries are spoiled and demanding;
they have lots of wealth, but they lack understanding.

I'm convinced I'll be happy with Euclio's daughter:
it's method, not madness, to marry a pauper.
My friends all agree, and my sister's in favor.
I've made up my mind; this is no time to waver.

To get around the infamous lacuna, we had our prologue-speaker, the Lar Familiaris, reappear to speak an epilogue. After informing the audience that the concluding lines of the comedy had been lost, the Lar went on to narrate a possible ending for the play, while the actors mimed it. Both the prologue and the epilogue were composed in rhymed couplets. Written into the epilogue were comments by various characters: "That's good advice!" cried Euclio. "A marriage there shall be! / Lyconides can keep the gold that he brought back to me. / It's made my life unbearable; I'm glad to see it go. / Besides, you have a baby now; you'll need a lot of dough." The transformation of the Lar into a deus ex machina not only tied together the start and the finish of the show but also gave the student playing the part a bigger role.

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Last Modified: Monday, 08-May-2006 16:10:34 CST
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