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45.4.Tweten

This paper examines the 1994 UNC Chapel Hill performance of Plautus’ Poenulus. It is necessary when evaluating the work of a playwright to consider the performance and reception of their work. Though the original performances and responses to Plautus’ work are lost, his comedies are easily modernized and restaging the plays of ancient authors offers invaluable insights that cannot be gleaned from the text alone. The UNC production’s success lay in updating Plautus’ stock characters and fully exploiting the comic possibilities of Atellan farce that are found throughout the Poenulus. The similarities of the modern and ancient audiences are discussed, along with the inevitable difficulties in fully translating the play for a modern audience. The greatest insight that this modern restaging provides is an understanding of the importance of the audience’s reaction to the performance. While it is necessary to consider the accurate translation of surviving texts, what would have mattered the most to the playwright would have been getting the audience to laugh. Put in its correct context, the text becomes merely a framework. Within that framework the stock characters and physical comedy of Atellan farce are free to improvise and court the good humor of their audience, whether they are the Romans of Plautus’ day or the average high school student. The success of Plautus is that he is able to entertain both audiences equally.

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