Play of Mistaken Identity
- This drama is based on an old legend
has a love affair
with Alcmena by means of disguising himself as her husband
, Amphitryon; Mercury
impersonates Sosia, a slave. This is a hilarious low comedy, full of spirit
, verve, and bawdiness. There have been many later adaptations: Moliere
, Rotrou, Dryden
, Kleist, and Giraudoux.
' Amphitruo is not a typical Plautine comedy
. From the very start the prologue
reveals the peculiar nature of this drama
. Projecting a negative
audience reaction to the word 'tragedy
y offers to transform the play
to a comedy on the spot - without changing a line - but then settles on tragi-comedy
as the thing dearest to his audience's hearts. The genre of tragicomedy
, and in fact, the word itself, are unattested elsewhere in ancient literature
. This play cannot be entirely a comedy, for it includes roles for kings
which typify tragedy. Nor, since the drama features comic slave roles
, can it be considered a tragedy. Mercury explains that Jupiter
himself, who is both king and god, will take part in the drama, adopting the guise
of King Amphitruo
, while the god Mercury masquerades as the slave, Sosia
. Mercury does not mention the prominent role played by a female character
which is another element more typical of tragedy than comedy. The character of Alcmena
, a female performed by a male actor, is emblematic of Plautus' tragicomedy. The transvestism
of Alcmena in performance serves as a vehicle
for travesties of both gender and genre. Throughout the play Plautus deliberately draws our attention to the fact of cross-gender performance
, self-consciously disrupts the dramatic illusion of the feminine
, and in so doing highlights the genre-crossing of his play. Plautus' Amphitruo is an entertaining romp
. It is also a highly sophisticated
exploration of reality, mimesis
, and the nature of identity - not least, sexual identity
Virtue is the highest reward. Virtue truly goes before all things. Liberty, safety, life, property, parents, country, and children are protected and preserved. Virtue has all things in herself; he who has virtue has all things that are good attending him.
Virtus praemium est optimum.
Virtus omnibus rebus anteit profecto.
Libertas, salus, vita, res, parentes,
Patria et prognati tutantur, servantur;
Virtus omnia in se habet; omnia assunt bona, quem penes est vertus.
- Amphitruo (act II, 2, 17)
You will stir up the hornets.
- Amphitruo (act II, 2, 75)
If anything is spoken in jest, it is not fair to turn it to earnest.
Si quid dictum est per jocum,
Non aequum est id te serio praevortier.
- Amphitruo (III, 2, 39)
We should try to succeed by merit, not by favor. He who does well will always have patrons enough.
Virtute ambire oportet, non favitoribus.
Sat habet favitorum semper, qui recte facit.
- Amphitruo--Prologue (LXXVIII)