Monday, October 22, 2018


Marion Faure-Ribreau (ed.), Plaute & Aristophane: Confrontations. Chorégie, 5. Paris: Éditions de Boccard, 2017. Pp. 244. ISBN 9782701805276. €49,00 (pb).

Reviewed by Frances Muecke, University of Sydney (

Version at BMCR home site

[Authors and titles are listed at the end of the review.]

This volume belongs to Chorégie, a recently instituted series directed by Brigitte Le Guen and dedicated to the ancient theatre, broadly understood. Two books in the series have already been reviewed in this place (Jean-Pierre Aygon, Ut scaena, sic uita: Mise en scène et dévoilement dans les œuvres philosophiques et dramatiques de Sénèque [2016] BMCR 2017.04.49; Elodie Paillard, The Stage and the City. Non-elite Characters in the Tragedies of Sophocles [2017] BMCR 2018.03.40) and others have appeared or are in progress (Editions de Boccard). The series attests to a lot of good work being done in France on ancient theatre and drama that both parallels what can be read in English but also adds other perspectives. This reviewer has been introduced to a lively and burgeoning Francophone bibliography largely unfamiliar to her, but missed in this volume a considerable number of highly relevant studies1 and standard works2 in English and other languages.

The book, a collection of conference proceedings, sets Aristophanes and Plautus side by side, not to elicit similarities between them but to highlight specific and illuminating differences.3 The contributors were invited to address topics that related to 'la dimension spectaculaire et ludique' rather than 'l'action dramatique': theatrical space, the gaze, direct address to the audience, insults and abuse, sententiae and maxims, and, finally, the endings.4 Here we are mainly on well-trodden territory. For some decades now attention has been given to the non-illusory aspects (or parafictional dimensions) of Aristophanes and Plautus, such as audience address and metafiction, and there is a broad consensus on their implications.

What is different is this book's highlighting of 'le principe spectaculaire'. Under this rubric theatrical space and verbal play are brought together and the ways they might interact considered. The result is that, generally, the plays' scripts are seen as 'high-jacking' and deauthorizing the discourses of power, ritual and authority. Deliberately, tragedy and Plautus's Greek originals are largely set aside. It is not possible here to do justice to the fine detail of the interpretations of passages or plays contained in the various pieces. Francophone readers will be more readily able to situate the contributions in relation to the on-going conversations to which they clearly belong. For me the last two chapters on the endings were the most helpful, the one on Clouds the least. The book offers specialists stimulating ideas, but also re-presentations of the familiar.

It may be of interest to tease out some of the ideas about theatrical space presented in the volume, for they seem to me somewhat under-defined, and the French terms may not map exactly onto the English ones, 'l'espace scénique' sometimes seeming to have a wider sweep than 'scenic space', by which I understand the playing area in front of, and including, the facade of the skene-building together with the play's definition of its setting.5 Under the rubric of 'l'espace scénique', broadly understood as theatrical space, Silvia Milanezi does sketchily touch on scenic space in A.'s Peace — the well-known changes of fictional location, and the thorny problems of stagecraft involved — but she also argues that the way that all the theatre's space is shared — allowing interaction between the chorus, the stage and the audience —, has a parallel in the panhellenic reach of the space around Athens created by the play.

In her interesting and complex analyses of Plautus's Menaechmi, Poenulus and Miles, Marie-Hélène Garelli's interest is the instability of the 'lieu scénique', which in some cases involves a deliberate confusion of the fictional locations of the scenic space and distanced space (to use Rehm's terms).6 She uses 'l'espace géographique' for the actual location of the theatre (Rome), 'l'espace fictif' for the 'Athens' of the play, but also 'ville-scène' for the stage location of whichever town it is in which the plot of the play unfolds, while 'l'espace scénique' is applied to the stage space and the street scene it represents. For Ghislaine Jay-Robert, who begins with an analysis of the usage of the different verbs for seeing in Aristophanes, his theatre is a 'spectacle' in which actors and audience are connected by their same modes of seeing. Her theatrical space is one that includes the stage and the audience, in which, again, the world of the theatre is a parallel if distorted version of the spectators' world. For both Milanezi and Jay-Robert the actor/audience communication in Aristophanes implies a shared theatrical space englobing stage and spectators. On the other hand, while accepting this premise, Malika Bastin-Hammou rightly, in my view, points out the fictional nature of the so-called 'direct' address to the (imaginary) audience in Aristophanes, and sees it as playing with 'le flou qu'entretient cette continuité' (p. 88).

Movement on, and on and off, the stage has long been part of the study of theatrical space, but in this volume it receives little attention, except from Garelli and Letissier. Garelli (pp. 30-31) makes some good points about movement in and out of houses in the Menaechmi, while Letissier uses proxemics in an interesting analysis of Plautus's frequent and formulaic entrance announcements, arguing that they are not implicit stage directions but initiate a stereotyped behavioural pattern of seeing and greeting, which can be exploited, by variation, for suspense and surprise, as with the unannounced soldier's entry at Bacch. 842 and the first encounter of (the real) Amphitryo and Alcmena at Amph. 633ff.7

On the phenomenon of direct address to the audience, Bastin-Hammou begins from the premise that in Aristophanes an interpretation based on a rhetoric of politics or ritual does not fully account for the function of such communications between poet and audience, while for Plautus, Faure-Ribreau puts considerable weight on the ritual context of the ludi scaenici, in which the (fictitious) actor can address the audience directly but the spectators must ('probably') maintain ritual silence, a surprising claim (pp. 74-5). While it is true that references in the scripts to disruption of the performance or commotion among the audience need not be taken literally, what are we to make of (admittedly later) external evidence such as Hor. Epist. 2.1.200-5 (strepitus) and Serm. 2.3.60-2 (where the audience are said to have chanted an actor's line)?8

Direct address to the audience often consists of insults and abuse, but the inquiries of Rossella Saetta Cottone (Aristophanes) and Céline Candiard (Plautus) have a wider purview, examining the function and conventions of the protagonists' wielding of this weapon in certain agonistic parts or episodes in the plays. Saetta Cottone argues that in Aristophanes the protagonist's free use of such language, which does not follow the rules of oratory prohibiting loidoria, involves the audience in the staged conflict. For her part, Candiard, after examining of a range of flyting sequences in Plautus (Pers. 406-22, Most. 38-57, Pseud. 357-690, Truc. 258-69, Asin. 296-308) concludes that their 'efficacité' is 'plus spectaculaire que pratique' (p. 137).

The theme of language which may serve the ludic dimension rather than the plot continues in the paired analyses by Anne de Cremoux and Nathalie Lhostis of Clouds and Stichus respectively. The task of considering the definition, identification and generic comparators of Aristophanes's maxims and related expressions, as well as their use in the agon of Clouds leads to a rather dense discussion in de Cremoux's case. Lhostis on Plautus is clearer. She first offers analysis of some places where a Plautine character comments on the verbum they are about to utter for didactic or persuasive purposes and secondly proposes that the many and diverse uses of maxims in Stichus enable a new interpretation of its unity and purpose. In this notoriously loosely constructed piece the maxims are the key to the themes of officium and aequum underlying it as a whole. In conclusion, Danièle Auger gives a valuable typological account of Aristophanes's understudied exodoi, relating them to the kind of plots to which they provide the dénouement, and showing that they present significant differences. Filoche makes many valuable observations on the function of space, plot and actantial roles in Plautus's endings. For instance, she points out that the 'happy endings' do not resolve the tension between the ludic and the ethical, neither of which prevails in his oeuvre as a whole.

The book is nicely and accurately produced and has an Index locorum.

Table of Contents

M. Trédé-Boulmer, Préface 9
M. Faure-Ribreau, Introduction 11
1. Ici et ailleurs: l'espace scénique, support du jeu
S. Milanezi, La construction des espaces dans la Paix d'Aristophane 19
M.-H. Garelli, Domicile transitoire. Le comédies du "passage" chez Plaute 23
2. Regards en jeu: circulation du regard dans l'espace théâtral
P. Letessier, Le regard dans les comédies de Plaute 37
Gh. Jay-Robert, Au spectacle avec Aristophane: regards échangés et métathéâtre 51
3. Les adresses directes aux spectateurs: ludisme plautinien et métathéâtre aristophanien
M. Faure-Ribreau, Public, es-tu là? Jeux plautiniens sur la communication ludique 71
M. Bastin-Hammou, Adresses au public, politique, rituel et métathéâtre dans les comédies d'Aristophane 87
4. Le spectacle des injures: une violence de pure convention
R. Saetta Cottone, Les injures d'Aristophane: une anti-rhétorique? 109
C. Candiard, Maledicta et nugae: des injures pour rire 121
5. Sentences et maximes: la parole d'autorité à l'épreuve de la comédie
A. de Cremoux, Maxime, argumentation et violence chez Aristophane 141
N. Lhostis, Les énoncés gnomiques plautiniens: le cas du Stichus 157
6. Comment finir une comédie?
D. Auger, Les dénouements dans le théâtre d'Aristophane 183
C. Filoche, Théâtralité et moralité des dénouements de Plaute 201


1.   E.g., on Aristophanes, N. J. Lowe, 'Greek Stagecraft and Aristophanes', in Themes in Drama 10: Farce, ed. by J. Redmond (Cambridge, 1988), pp. 33–52; on Plautus, M. Barchiesi, 'Plauto e il "metateatro" antico', Il Verri 31 (1970), pp. 113–30.
2.   E.g., Adrian Gratwick's handy term 'Plautopolis' could have been deployed. Even in French I missed Jean Taillardat's classic Les Images d'Aristophane (Paris, 1965).
3.   Aristophane/Plaute: confrontations (December, 2011), Paris Diderot-Paris 7 - ENS.
4.   The question of theatrical or 'scenic' space is not exhausted in the first section but is kept in mind in the second and third too, while, similarly, the notion of the ludic is pervasive.
5.   Rush Rehm, The Play of Space: Spatial Transformation in Greek Tragedy (Princeton, New Jersey, 2002), pp. 20–5: theatrical space, scenic space, extrascenic space, distanced space, self-referential space, and reflexive space.
6.   According to Rehm, p. 22, distanced space is that 'beyond the theatrical and scenic areas visible to the audience'.
7.   Here at some points I was reminded of Mastronarde's 'visual contact': D. J. Mastronarde, Contact and Discontinuity: Some Conventions of Speech and Action on the Greek Tragic Stage (Berkeley and Los Angeles, 1979).
8.   Faure-Ribreau is right that 'une communication entre la cavea et la scène est impossible' (p. 75) but not on the grounds that the audience must remain silent.

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