Thursday, May 11, 2017


Marianna Calabretta, La 'Rudens' di Plauto in teatro: tra filologia e messa in scena. Spudasmata, 165. Hildesheim: Georg Olms Verlag, 2015. Pp. 205. ISBN 9783487152479. €39.80 (pb).

Reviewed by Goran Vidović, University of Belgrade (

Version at BMCR home site


As announced in the preface (p. 5), this study aims at giving body and voice to the text of Plautus' Rudens by analyzing all the "little pieces" ("piccolissimi pezzi") that can function as stage instructions and help us reconstruct the performance. It is divided into three parts. The first deals with stage buildings and props, the second with positions and movements of characters, while the third addresses aspects of their audio-visual appearance (masks, costumes, gestures, moods, vocal effects, modes of address). The bibliography is followed by nine illustrations of stages of Greek tragedies and Aristophanes but, strangely, none to supplement the discussions of the setting of the Rudens. Regrettably, there are no indices.

The main strength of the book is the detailed analysis of stage action: one gets the sensation of actually being there. In examining the fanum, the altar of Venus, and Daemones' house (9-25, 25-32, 32-54 respectively), Calabretta generously walks us through all the passages where the objects are mentioned, documenting how exactly they are referred to and elaborating on the dramatic action around them. Although this is mostly descriptive, there are some more useful observations, such as that the use of illas, illic, ibidem in 847-8 helps us determine who in the audience and on stage can see the altar (26) and visualize the movements around it (27). The focus on Daemones' house (32-54) does an excellent job of analyzing the stage business.

The section on positions of the building (54-66) is well executed and very useful. Calabretta argues that Plautus refers to buildings more frequently and explicitly than his Greek model, because, on the improvised Roman stage, buildings changed functions in the course of the play. Detailed, compelling reconstructions follow: the relative location of the buildings; the short distance between Daemones' house and the beach; the two roads leading to the stage, one and the same from his house to the beach, the harbor, and the city (on the right), and one to the temple (left); a rock is present on stage.

The next section, "Riferimenti generici (deittici) alla scena" (66-75), sorts out adverbs signifying location and motion (hic, huc, hinc, and the like), sometimes with specific conclusions, such as that huc and hac can refer to the stage as opposed to offstage space, or to a particular part of the current setting. But more often there is no such conclusion to be reached, since the exact reference points of these adverbs depend on the context.

The next section (75-92) collects references to props, typically with helpful observations about stage action, such as: repeated hanc in 467-9 calls the audience's attention to the urn (p. 77); hooks, rods, and nets indicate the fishermen's occupation (81-2); the line hanc tibi, quam trahis, rudentem complico (938) proves that Trachalio is already grabbing the rope which Gripus is dragging on the ground (83; Calabretta remains undecided as to the practical function of the rope). The tracing of demonstrative pronouns referring to vidulus is put to excellent use for visualizing how the trunk is handled on stage (pp. 85-8); the analysis of the cistella is likewise very informative (89-92).

In the second part (94-116) Calabretta studies positions and movements of characters. She first analyzes where in individual scenes are the characters positioned in relation to the fixed stage objects and each other, and who can see whom (95-104). Next she looks into all the stage movements, such as exits and entrances, reconstructs offstage routes as well, and highlights stage directions embedded in the script (105-116). All the while she hypothesizes about what some elements of stage action can tell us about the relation between Plautus' text as we have it and the presumed original of Diphilus. This part is well organized, amply annotated, and instructive. It is in my view the most successful part of the book, along with the greater portion of the next part, on characters.

The third part, "I personaggi e la recita," begins with an excellent, comprehensive discussion of the characters' visual appearance (117-145). Calabretta surveys approaches to the old chestnut of when masks were introduced to the Roman stage, subscribing to the majority view that they are already found in Plautus' time (118-123). Then, character by character, she combs through the Plautine passages, iconographic testimonies (Pollux's catalogue of masks, material evidence from Lipari, the anonymous text de Physiognomonia), and relevant bibliography, in an attempt to assign each role a mask, and in general to reconstruct each one's outfit. Debatable though the results of such inquires necessarily are, these are about as convincing as can be.

Calabretta then catalogs modes of address (commands, threats, pleas) and the responses to them (pp. 145-161), which indicate the tone and the pace of the action. The classification is extremely detailed but the rationale behind it is not always clear: orders are sometimes grouped according to the type of action that is ordered, sometimes according to the exact verb used. The two following short sections on threats and supplication mostly aim at illustrating the mood of the characters who utter them. The next section usefully collects passages referring to sounds and tone of voice (add perhaps v.236 quin voco, ut me audiat). The classification of characters' "stati d'animo" that follows appears somewhat arbitrary, since it lists together feelings likely visibly manifested (crying, fear) with those not necessarily so (e.g,. expressing affection with amo). The last section, which classifies (inconveniently unnumbered) passages referring to gestures, frequently overlaps with the previous discussions of stage movements, props, and commands; an index would have been helpful.

The book is useful overall, and some sections especially so, although the approach is at times methodologically unclear. Calabretta sometimes unpredictably wanders between description and interpretation, to the point that readers may occasionally wonder how some of her observations are relevant for the actual performance, or how they improve our understanding of the text even regardless of the stage action. For example, Calabretta concludes that the contradictory descriptions of the seaside landscape as both desolate and poor, and populated and prosperous, represent different impressions depending on the characters' mood (65); obviously, neither is realized on stage. Stage relevance is likewise at stake in the distinction between semantic nuances of terms used for Daemones' house: villa, a production estate, aedes, a place of safety and prosperity, and domus, symbolizing domesticity (33-35), along with the list of various alternatives used, such as apud me (37-38); the same goes for the otherwise very interesting observation that it is anomalous when non-household members refer to Daemones' house as hic (40). One does not know what to do with the claim that hic is in some cases symbolically charged—first implying a place of safety, then a place of danger (68)—when in most other cases hic has no such connotations—as if the choice of words is sometimes meaningful, sometimes not. Calabretta notes that the clubs are described as probae (v.799) and discusses the semantics of the adjective (p. 79), without explaining if, and how, that might matter in context. Similarly, when Arcturus refers to himself as stella candida (v.3, pp. 123-4), Calabretta lists instances of the adjective elsewhere and suggests Arcturus is dressed in a toga as a candidatus, but does not continue to comment on its possible sociopolitical implications, if any, for the performance. She thus sometimes pursues interpretations only up to a point, and sometimes not at all; for example, the remarkable scene of Gripus scrubbing the spit (1299-1302) receives a cursory treatment (80-1), whereas a more imaginative approach might have provided insight into how this might have been performed. 1

This book thus sometimes reads more like a comprehensive survey of research notes that have yet to be assessed for relevance than a focused, articulated exposition. This is perhaps only expected given that in the preface Calabretta admits that her line of investigation evolved during the course of the work, being partly fueled by her curiosity to see where and how far the reconstruction would lead. But to be fair, the resulting methodological vagueness pointed out above—in a way implicit in the book's subtitle: "between philology and staging"—is ultimately harmless, if not even potentially an asset. If Calabretta is not always certain what to make of all the "piccolissimi pezzi" she has assembled, there is a good chance that engaged readers might be. In that sense, students of ancient theater will find Calabretta's rich repository of everything possibly referring to the staging of the Rudens very welcome. It creates for the reader the impression of being virtually teleported onto Plautus' stage.


1.   A list of possibilities can be found, for example, in M. Fontaine, Funny Words in Plautine Comedy, (Oxford 2010), 158-161.

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