Scholia Reviews ns 11 (2002) 19.

Stavros A. Frangoulidis, Handlung und Nebenhandlung: Theater, Metatheater und Gattungs- bewußtsein in der römischen Komödie. Drama: Beitrage zum antiken Drama und seiner Rezeption: Beiheft 6. Stuttgart: J.B. Metzler & Carl Ernst Poeschel Verlag, 1997. Pp. x + 191. ISBN 3-476-45184-4. DM28.00.

Shirley Murray
University of Natal, Durban

Despite the German title, this work is in English and follows a metatheatrical approach in focusing on the concept of rivalry and competition amongst characters in plays of Terence and Plautus, where these characters 'perform the role of the poet within the play by constructing and carrying out schemes as performances' with emphasis on the 'fundamental interplay between these schemes and the play's main plot' (p. 3).

In his extensive introduction, Frangoulidis uses the term 'performance' to refer to the additional role the characters carry out when they construct schemes along the lines of the main plot and then perform them as a play within a play, thus creating a comic poet on-stage, playing with the audience's expectations (p. 1). While paying tribute to the scholarship of Slater, Barchiesi, Gentili, Muecke, Anderson and Sharrock,[[1]] Frangoulidis differs from these in that he treats comic characters as 'independent' figures who 'grow' as poets in parallel with or in contrast to the author of the play. Accordingly, these characters devise schemes that complement the main plot of the play or develop in direct opposition to it, and may also present their own 'text' as an authoritative performance within the main play. These subplots are 'factual' when they recast the play's events in terms true in relation to the plot of the play and are thus aligned with it or alternatively, these subplots are 'fictive' when they alter the main story-line of the play (p. 3).

Factual schemes triumph as they are finally seen to be identical with the play's plot, and they succeed in their aim of deception because characters on-stage do not have sufficient facts available to perceive the relationship between subplots and the overall structure of the play. As the comic subplots within the play's main plot are identified, and are perceived to be connected, so the character who assumes the additional role of poet within the play emerges as analogous to the poet himself, linked by structural, thematic and verbal parallels between the two. By contrast, fictive schemes are liable to face exposure as they alter the events of the play, presenting them as performances within the play's comic structure. The informed audience is in a superior position to the uninformed dramatic characters on-stage, and is able to discern the 'real' from the 'imaginary', and therefore to appreciate these subplots as fictive performances (p. 6). However, the characters on-stage, with their limited knowledge, take 'fiction' as 'reality' and are deceived by these fictive performances. Fictive schemes, which change the plot of the play and develop in an opposing direction, are undermined as performances in relation to the play's performance (p. 7).

In his first chapter, 'Fictive Subplots: Plautus, Mostellaria' (pp. 21-75), Frangoulidis analyses Plautus' Mostellaria in terms of the two fictive subplots fabricated by the slave Tranio, in his attempt to conceal Philocrates' decadent lifestyle from his father. In this attempt, Tranio assumes the poet's role and creates two fictive schemes to delude Theopropides that the house is haunted, and that Simo's Greek house has been bought by Philolaches (p. 21). In his schemes, Tranio misrepresents the events of the main plot as laid down by Plautus and consequently the slave competes with the poet by attempting to superimpose his own text on the play. Frangoulidis discerns a theme of Roman frugality and parsimony, represented by Theopropides, being challenged by the Greek comic life of indulgence in food, love and drink supported by Tranio and the neighbour Simo (p. 22). Theopropides, on his return from abroad, is represented by Tranio as the destroyer of comic life, but Tranio's comic schemes fail, due to the slave's inflexibility in his comic ideology of pursuing the unrestrained pleasures of Greek life. The finale of the play is a contract between Theopropides and his son for the continued existence of a life of pleasure, in a synthesis of values from both Greek and Roman cultures, with permission for Philolaches to carry on his indulgence in love, food and drink, but in a more moderate form (p. 72). Frangoulidis sees an analogy between Theopropides' authorisation of the continuation of comic life in a modified format and Plautus' acceptance of an ideology of comic poetry containing both Greek and Roman values as the poet has devised a hybrid solution in the play in order for comedy to survive (p. 73). In contrast, Tranio is inflexible in upholding the Greek hedonistic aspect of his comic poetry, and thus Tranio's comic creations collapse, while Plautus becomes the defender and supporter of the comic genre and its survival (p. 75).

Chapter Two, 'Factual Subplots and Fictive Subplots: Terence, Phormio' (pp. 77-132), deals with the four fictive subplots in Terence's Phormio, performed as playlets within the play, which are devised by the parasite Phormio, who thus assumes the status of the poet himself (p. 79). Frangoulidis claims that 'the performance of these schemes in theatrical terms mirrors the playwright Terence who brings the play Phormio to production in the Ludi Romani of 161 BCE, thus elevating the status of the play's eponymous hero to that of poet within the work' (p. 80). Phormio's first scheme is factual, since it conforms to the events of the play's main plot as created by the poet. The parasite sues Antipho and thereby effects his marriage to the orphaned Phanium, and Phormio adopts the role of poet a second time in order to defend his lawsuit scheme from Demipho's attempts to annul the marriage. Frangoulidis sees the contest between the two men in terms of a confrontation between the two forms of theatre, factual and fictive, as each struggles for supremacy and control within the play. Demipho is unsuccessful in his bid as Phormio's lawsuit coincides with the poet's main plot, and therefore cannot be altered (p. 80). The third scheme devised by Phormio is fictive, and is acted out by the slave Geta, as the parasite pretends to end Antipho's marriage as a scheme to fool the Demipho and his brother Chremes into parting with money which Antipho's cousin, Phaedria, needs to buy the freedom of his mistress. Phormio's fourth scheme is again fictive, in that he sustains the role which he initially adopted in his third scheme, that of Phanium's groom, and helps Phaedria to retain his sweetheart. Phormio punishes the old man Chremes for his adulterous affair by informing his wife, Nausistrata, of the infidelity, leading Chremes to pronounce his own death. When Phormio later relents and intercedes with Nausistrata for Chremes' forgiveness, Frangoulidis interprets this as the metaphorical restoring of Chremes to life by Phormio. He sees a similarity between the parasite's withholding or assigning a more socially acceptable role to a character and the role of a deus in an epiphany, supported by the fact that Chremes identifies himself as a god present on-stage in line 345, and that the majority of his performances have a healing effect (p. 81).

The third chapter, 'Dream and Theatre: Dionysiac vs. Apollonian Elements in Plautus, Mercator, (pp. 133-143), deals with Demipho's dream concerning the monkey and the goats. Frangoulidis describes this chapter as one that 'explores the relationship between the dream and performance of Demipho's fictive subplot' (p. 19) and he emphasises the Dionysiac elements in the play. This chapter has interesting elements but does not appear to have much relationship with the previous two chapters.

In an appendix (pp. 145-177), Frangoulidis examines the relationship between New Comedy and the tale ofCupid and Psyche from Apuleius' comic novel, Metamorphoses. Again, this chapter does not seem to relate to the preceding chapters, but deals with the role of Cupid as a comic lover, akin to the conventional New Comedy lover. However, in contrast to the conventional comic lover who generally fails to meet the demanding conditions of his role, leaving this gap to filled by the slave, Cupid is successful and the success of his performance 'gives an added dimension to this New Comedy convention' (p. 177).

While Frangoulidis offers many interesting and very good interpretations of aspects of the plays of Plautus and Terence, not all of these can be substantiated, and some perhaps were not part of the comic poets' original intentions. Frangoulidis is not easily accessible as he has an involved style.[[2]] It is also a pity that more plays were not analysed to demonstrate his theories on performance as one play each by Plautus and Terence is not fully conclusive.


[[1]] N. W. Slater, Plautus in Performance (Princeton 1985) 3-18; M. Barchiesi, 'Plauto e il 'metateatro 'antico' Il verri 31 (1970) 113- 30; B. Gentili, Theatrical Performances in the Ancient World (Amsterdam and Uithoorn 1979) 15- 52; F. Muecke, 'Plautus and the Theater of Disguise' CA 5 (1986) 216-29; W. S. Anderson, Barbarian Play: Plautus' Roman Comedy (Toronto 1993) 150 and passim; A. R. Sharrock, 'The Art of Deceit: Pseudolusand the Nature of Reading' CQ 46 (1996) 152-74.

[[2]] There are two typographical errors, namely p. 81, where 'Pormio' should read 'Phormio' and on p. 145 where Metamoprhoses stands for Metamorphoses.