All NEH Summer Scholars will participate in different groups to perform Plautus, Pseudolus 133-234 , during which the pimp Ballio prepares his slaves for his birthday on the following day. He complains that they are lazy, eat too much, and are immune to beatings (whipwasters, he calls them), then demands that each of them give him a gift, under threat of punishment. As he talks (sings), he is striking about with a whip. Eavesdropping are young Calidorus, in love with one of Ballio’s slave-prostitutes, and his clever slave Pseudolus (=Tricky). As Ballio threatens the women with disfiguring treatment, Pseudolus grows angrier, until he vows to trick the pimp out of the girl and to humiliate him.
In addition, before the beginning of the NEH Institute, NEH Summer Scholars will rank each of the following scenes in order of preference. From these lists the directors will create groups to perform the scenes.
Plautus, Bacchides 1116-1211: in the play’s final scene, two courtesans entrance and fool two old men, who want to get back money spent by their sons. A lively scene of music and dance, with physical dynamics, audience asides, and humor.
Plautus, Casina 353-423: a slapstick scene in which a man and his wife, fighting for control of a female servant, use male slaves as surrogates, having them draw lots and strike each other. The slaves dislike each other and are motivated by competition.
Plautus, Mercator 691-802: a cook contributes to comic confusion as a wife thinks her husband has brought a prostitute into their home. Scenes with hired cooks were very amusing to ancient audiences but somewhat bemusing to moderns; this scene contains much escalation of confusion and humor.
Plautus, Persa 753-858: three slaves triumph over a pimp whom they have tricked. A typical example of the importance of slave successes in Roman comedy.
Plautus, Truculentus 775-854: a young man who has gotten a young woman pregnant eavesdrops as her father interrogates two female slaves who helped cover up the pregnancy. A complex and more subdued scene, with divided action.
Terence, Eunuchus 739-816: a braggart soldier and his crew of sycophants attempt to besiege the house of a courtesan but fail when she handles them very coolly.
Together these scenes offer much that is most fun about Roman comedy: witty jokes, great humor, audience-pleasing dramatic irony, and physical comedy. Several also include challenges in translation, acting, and staging, as well as discomfiting social elements: slave-torture, exploitation of social subordinates, reports of rape, inappropriate sexual desire in powerful old men, the rude treatment of unhappy wives by unpleasant husbands. To evade these elements is to censor and sanitize not only Roman comedy but Rome itself. What we learn when we think about performance of the disturbing materials is how the Roman audiences might have responded—a crucial point for understanding Roman culture. This NEH Institute will help NEH Summer Scholars overcome the barriers of these difficult materials, so they can teach and stage the plays more confidently, in both Latin and English. Participants will experiment, in groups, with the effects of different choices in translation; the inclusion of music and song; male actors in female roles; masks and ancient costumes; modern costumes; and more.