Titus Maccius Plautus

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Plays by Titus Maccius Plautus

The Haunted House

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

Philolaches is a good for nothing so-and-so: he seems to live purely to spend his father's cash, or, when he can't get it, to borrow against it. Everything he loves is paid for by someone else's efforts, including the lady of his dreams, ex-courtesan Philematium. Now while his father is away earning money, Philolaches is spending it all on one big house party.

But when his father returns unexpectedly, Philolaches is stumped. Luckily, his trusty slave Tranio has a plan: he bundles his master's guests into a closet, and distracts the father with a tall tale that the house his haunted. As foolish as Philolaches is, so is Tranio quick-witted, building yarn upon fib upon lie to keep his master's father in the dark.

In his introduction, J. Michael Walton writes that The Haunted House 'is a play with strong narrative and a number of stock characters. Beyond that, it exemplifies the Plautine plot about family relationship, where the driving factor in life is less love than money: who has it – a wealthy father; who is spending it – a wastrel son; who wants it – who doesn't?'

Plautus, Titus Maccius (254-184 BC) was a Roman playwright, whose comedies were the most popular dramatic works of their day. He was originally an actor or clown. Twenty-one of his 130 plays survive, revealing his theatrical craftsmanship and total mastery of farce. Although his works were palliata, adaptations of Greek new comedy originals now lost, he shifted the scene to Rome and based much of the humour on Roman manners and customs.

His comedy, which was broader than that of Terence, still works today. Stock characters of Plautus's plays include the bragging soldier, the miser, the old man in love, the parasite, identical twins, the wily slave, and the courtesan. Later European dramatists influenced by Plautus include Shakespeare, Jonson, Dryden, and Molière. His comedy was often based on disguises and mistaken identities; Shakespeare's The Comedy of Errors (1592) was based on Plautus's Menaechmi, about the confusions caused by a pair of long-separated identical twins.

Several of his plays were combined for Stephen Sondheim's 1962 Broadway musical A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum (although only one line from Plautus was retained: "I am a parade"). Plautus was eventually forced to work in a grain mill after losing most of his theatrical earnings in unsuccessful business ventures.