Facietque extemplo Crucisalum me ex Chrysalo.
and instantly transform me from "Christopher" to "Cross-offer!" note
Titus Maccius Plautus (c. 254–184 BC) was a Roman comic playwright of the Old Latin period. Imitating most of his plots from the Greek playwright Menander, he gave them a distinctly Roman feel, despite the fact that (in order to escape the charge of "slandering the Roman People and State") he put his characters in the Paper-Thin Disguise of Greek names.
With his fellow playwright, Terence (Publius Terentius Afer), he popularized the "boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy gets girl" plot, typical of the Greek "New Comedy," that has been perhaps the most common dramatic structure in Western drama ever since. He also helped to establish an array of Stock Characters, including the Nice Young Man and Girl, the Nice Young Man's slightly racier Best Friend, the Rival (who is often a Boastful Soldier), the Parasite who lives off him and makes sarcastic remarks behind his back, the Henpecked Husband, the uptight, domineering Matron, and the Clever Servant who manages his master's affairs, that have been common (with variations) in comedy ever since.
In Plautus, however, we never forget that all these characters are Romans — there is a particularly brutal edge to his jokes (he tends to be rougher and cruder than Terence, who was consciously aiming his plays at a more aristocratic audience) and we are never allowed to forget that if the Clever Servant is caught in his tricks, he will be tortured and crucified. Nor does the fact that his setting is in Athens or Syracuse prevent his characters from making snide remarks about "those Greeks" nor the gods from appearing under their Latin appellations.
One of Plautus's plays is the Trope Namer for Miles Gloriosus. His works were also the principal inspiration for the later musical comedies The Boys From Syracuse and A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum. And his Menaechmi was the basis for William Shakespeare's The Comedy of Errors.
Tropes found in his works:
- Anachronism Stew: As with Aristophanes, sometimes the jokes are updated. For example, in Boston University's 2017 production of Pseudolus, at one point in the first scene, the title character asks, "What is this? Twitter?"
- Miles Gloriosus: Trope Namer, though derived from a now-lost Athenian comedy.
- Missing Episode: We have twenty of his plays—more than any other Greco-Roman dramatist—but he wrote at least fifty-one.
- My Hovercraft Is Full of Eels: The characters' attempts to translate Hanno's Carthaginian language in Poenulus leave something to be desired. Hanno turns out to know Latin (well, Greek) himself anyway.
- Popcultural Osmosis Failure: A few of the references have faded into such complete obscurity that translators don't have a clue how to make them intelligible to modern audiences.
- Raised by Rival: Poenulus's main character is a Carthaginian raised under a Greek identity.
- Scooby-Dooby Doors: His plays are possibly the Ur-Example, as Roman comedy was one of the first forms of theatre that featured multiple working doors onstage.
- Separated at Birth: The title characters in Menaechmi.
- Smug Snake: Ballio the pimp in Pseudolus is a raging egomaniac who threatens his courtesans with demotion to low-class whores—as well as floggings—if they fail to obtain rich birthday presents for him from their lovers; and he takes a nasty delight in telling Calidorus that his [Calidorus'] beloved is about to be sold. In the end, when he's been tricked out of the deal, he resolves to hang himself.
- Trope Namer: "Ballio" became the Latin word for that sort of character the sort of character detailed in Smug Snake above.
- You Make Me Sick: One of the surviving fragments of Frivolaria runs as follows:Unidentified Character: He was a bilious attack to me, an ague, a cough, a dropsy.