Untaming the shrew: marriage, morality and Plautine comedy
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In this dissertation, I theorize Plautine humor as a relatively naturalistic, and essentially Roman, phenomenon. As such, I follow recent scholarship that emphasizes the topical features of Roman comedy, and thus resists reading the plays as based entirely on inversion of social roles or on Saturnalian escapism. In light of this more naturalistic reading, I describe the Plautine stage in terms of the ideological imaginary, that is, as a space in which the audience could see its own possible identities in the characters onstage. I employ the character of the wife (matrona) to mediate between a literary and historical reading of the plays. I problematize the traditional assumption that the matrona is meant to be an object of laughter, and demonstrate how her comic agency and moral position go hand-in-hand. This reconsideration of the figure of the matrona and her relationship to the audience compels us to reconsider the very nature of Roman comedy. I thus re-analyze Plautine marriage as a satiric medium for the expression of Roman values, many of which demonstrate continuity with later Republican ideals. I conclude by speculating that the primary focus of marital humor is its relationship to concordia, spousal harmony. All of Plautus' comic marriages engage with this ideal, and demonstrate the gap between ideal and practice. In fact, the conflicts arising onstage foreshadow themes that will later appear in historical marriages, such as that of Cicero and Terentia.