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Classical Drama and Society


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A Guide to Writing in History and Classics

 

SECTION 4: ROMAN DRAMA

Reading 7: Roman Comedy


TEXT: Plautus, The Braggart Soldier 272-595


Questions to Ponder Concerning This Text:

• How was this play produced? What style of acting, what technical support, what sort of set is necessary?

• What is the tone of this comedy: high or low? What type of audience do you think Plautus was playing to? Is it the same sort of audience as Menander and Aristophanes had? If not, how was it different?

• Knowing the "rules" for later Greek theatre, can you uncover the Greek model behind this Latin play? Is it possible, for instance, to reconstruct how the three actors of the Greek original played this drama? If so, does it mean that the stage action of Plautus' adaptation closely resembles that of the original?

• We do not know the Greek original author whose work underlies this play by Plautus. Could it be Menander, in your opinion? If so or if not, why?

• It is a fact: Roman adaptations have been in general far more successful than the original Greek plays they are based on. Judging from this play, can you say why? Is Roman theatre somehow "better" than, say, the theatre you saw in Menander's The Litigants? Did Plautus give his plays an extra something that increased their chances of survival, something you see lacking in the Greek comic theatre?


Introduction: One of Plautus' early successes was Miles Gloriosus ("The Braggart Soldier"). According to one historical source, it was so popular that at its premiere the Roman officials in charge of the production called for several repetitions of the festival at which it was being performed to accommodate all those who wanted to see it. Of the original we know little except that Plautus adapted the plot from a Greek New Comedy by an unknown author. Whoever invented the plot, the widespread success of Plautus' adaptation cannot be questioned. Indeed, parts of it were incorporated into A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum, a modern musical adaptation combining the plots of no fewer than seven of Plautus' plays.

The first long section of Miles Gloriosus concerns a young woman named Philocomasium ("Love a Little Party") who is enamored of the boy-next-door and at the same time the unwilling mistress of the title character, the braggart soldier Pyrgopolynices ("Terrible-Tower-Taker"). Despite the fact that Pyrgopolynices keeps her locked up in his house, Philocomasium is able to visit her lover regularly through the efforts of a crafty servant in the soldier's household Palaestrio ("Gym-Boy"). Palaestrio feels sorry for her and has dug her a hole in the wall connecting the soldier's house and the house of her boyfriend next door. Ancient houses built next to each other very often shared walls. So, whenever she wishes and is free, Philocomasium can crawl through this hole between their houses and visit her true love undetected.

Like Pyramus and Thisbe, however, the lovers cannot keep up their hole-in-the-wall affair forever. One day Philocomasium is spotted in the neighbor's house by one of the soldier's more dim-witted servants. A hamhead named Sceledrus ("Leg"), while chasing a monkey over the neighbors' roof, happened to look down through the hole in their ceiling—most ancient houses had large holes in the ceiling to let the smoke out—and saw his master's mistress kissing the boy-next-door. He scurried home immediately to tell his master what he saw but, as it happened, the soldier was not home. Too proud of his "news" to contain himself, he has told what he has seen to anyone in the vicinity. As news of this scandal broke, one of the young man's friends, an older fellow named Periplectomenus ("Roundly Pounded"), the owner of the house next door where the boy is staying, has appealed to the wily Palaestrio to save the young couple.

As we join the story, Palaestrio must, as Plautus seems to revel in reiterating, convince Sceledrus that "he didn't see what he saw." That is, he must persuade him not trust his own eyes and come to believe he did not see Philocomasium kissing her boyfriend, in other words, that reality is an illusion. At the beginning of the scene, Sceledrus walks outside and Palaestrio sees him and gathers from what Sceledrus is saying to himself that he must be the one who spied on Philocomasium and her boyfriend.


SCELEDRUS: If I wasn't sleep-walking today up on that roof, I know for sure I saw right here at our next-door neighbor's Philocomasium, the master's girlfriend, . . . looking for trouble.

PALAESTRIO: He's the one who saw her kissing him, as far as I can tell from what he said.

SCELEDRUS: Who's that?

PALAESTRIO: Your fellow servant. What's happening, Sceledrus?

SCELEDRUS: Oh you! I'm sure glad to run into you, Palaestrio.

PALAESTRIO: Why? What's going on? Tell me.

SCELEDRUS: I'm scared . . .

PALAESTRIO: Scared of what?

SCELEDRUS: That every one of us servants in this house here today is heading for trouble, real trouble! BIG trouble!

PALAESTRIO: (backing up) Then you head there alone! My head doesn't like trouble, big or not!

SCELEDRUS: So you don't know what terrible crime just happened here, do you?

PALAESTRIO: (feigning shock) A crime? What crime?

SCELEDRUS: A shameless crime!

PALAESTRIO: Then keep it to yourself! (puts his fingers in his ears) Don't tell me, I don't want to know!

SCELEDRUS: (pulling Palaestrio's fingers out of his ears) I can't stop myself from telling you. I was chasing our monkey today, over their roof.

PALAESTRIO: That's appropriate, Sceledrus: a worthless man after a useless beast!

SCELEDRUS: Oh, go to hell!

PALAESTRIO: After you! Alright, if you're going to tell me, tell me!

SCELEDRUS: I happened by chance to look down through the roof-hole into the neighbor's house, and there I saw Philocomasium kissing on someone, I don't know, a young guy.

PALAESTRIO: (over-reacting with shock) Sceledrus! What is this crime I am hearing from you?

SCELEDRUS: I saw it myself.

PALAESTRIO: Yourself?

SCELEDRUS: Myself! With my own two eyes right here!

PALAESTRIO: No! It isn't possible. You didn't see that.

SCELEDRUS: What do you think? I need glasses?

PALAESTRIO: A doctor could answer that question better. And you better think before you go around telling stories like that. Heaven help you! You're heading your head and your legs for a lot of hurt. You'll die a double death, if you don't stop this nonsense-talk!

SCELEDRUS: A double death?

PALAESTRIO: Yes! First, if you charge Philocomasium falsely, you'll die for that. And then, even if what you say is true, you were the one assigned to guard her. You'll die for that, too.

SCELEDRUS: What's to become of me? I'm lost. I'm sure I saw this happen.

PALAESTRIO: Give up, you fool!

SCELEDRUS: What do expect me to say, except what I saw? She's still over there, right now!

PALAESTRIO: She's not at home?

SCELEDRUS: (pushing Palaestrio toward the door) Go on! See for yourself! Don't believe me! I insist.

PALAESTRIO: Alright, I'll do it!

(Palaestrio goes inside the soldier's house. Sceledrus is alone on stage.)

SCELEDRUS: (calling after him) I'll wait for you here! (to himself) And keep an eye out for her to see how soon the little filly leaves the field for her stable here. Oh, what am I going to do now? The soldier did put me in charge of watching her. If I come forward with what I know, I'm dead. If I don't, I'm done for when the whole thing breaks. Oh lord, what's worse than a woman, and more outrageous? I go up on the roof and she lets herself out of the house. Good god, she just did it, bold as brass! If the soldier finds out, I think he'll hang the whole house and me out to dry! Whatever it is, I'll hush it up rather than die like that. How'm I supposed to guard a girl with a major in economics and a minor in self-promotion?

(Palaestrio walks slowly out of the soldier's house, shaking his head.)

PALAESTRIO: Sceledrus, Sceledrus! Who else but you could be that bold? Were you born that way, with a cloud over your head? Have the gods always hated you?

SCELEDRUS: What do you mean?

PALAESTRIO: What do you mean . . . to do? Put out your eyes, maybe? Those eyes that saw what never was!

SCELEDRUS: Never was?

PALAESTRIO: I wouldn't give a cracked nut for your life today.

SCELEDRUS: What's happened?

PALAESTRIO: "What's happened?," he asks.

SCELEDRUS: He asks! And why not?

PALAESTRIO: If I were you, I'd cut off my tongue, my overflowing tongue, right now.

SCELEDRUS: How come?

PALAESTRIO: Philocomasium's at home, the girl you said you saw next door kissing and hugging someone else.

SCELEDRUS: Well, you must be Superman then.

PALAESTRIO: Why?

SCELEDRUS: Because you've got X-ray vision. You can see through walls.

PALAESTRIO: Well, Spiderman, at least I'm not hanging from other people's roofs. And X-ray my lips! She's inside the house. (pointing at the soldier's house)

SCELEDRUS: (pointing at the soldier's house) That house?

PALAESTRIO: (pointing at the soldier's house) That house!

SCELEDRUS: Who do you think you're kidding, Palaestrio?

(Palaestrio turns and heads back to the door of the soldier's house.)

SCELEDRUS: Where are you going?

PALAESTRIO: I'm going to wash my hands.

SCELEDRUS: Of what?

PALAESTRIO: Of you!

SCELEDRUS: Well, go soak your head, too!

PALAESTRIO: It's your head, Sceledrus, that will be soaking, I promise you, if you don't find some new eyes and new news, too. (suddenly leaping back from the door of the soldier's house as if it had creaked and started to open, which it did not) That was our door, wasn't it?

SCELEDRUS: (running to Periplectomenus' door) I'm going to keep watch on these doors over here. There's no way she can get from here to there except through this door.

PALAESTRIO: (creeping up to the door of the soldier's house and pushing it open) But look! She's in here! I don't know what the devil's gotten into you, Sceledrus.

SCELEDRUS: I have eyes. I have a brain. I know what I know. And nobody's going to scare me off. (pointing at Periplectomenus' house) She's in this house. I'm going to stand right here so she can't slip away from me somehow.

PALAESTRIO: (aside) That's perfect! He's mine. Watch me flush him out of his little fortress there. (to Sceledrus) So, are you going to make me force you to admit that you're blind and stupid?

(A pause while Sceledrus thinks.)

SCELEDRUS: (proudly but still confused) Yes.

PALAESTRIO: That you have no brain or eyes worth using?

SCELEDRUS: (obstinantly) Do it.

PALAESTRIO: (points inside Periplectomenus' house) And you think the master's girl is in there?

SCELEDRUS: I do. And she was kissing another man in there. I saw it.

PALAESTRIO: And you're sure there's no secret passageway between these houses here?

SCELEDRUS: I'm sure.

PALAESTRIO: No study? No conservatory? Nothing but a hole in the roof?

SCELEDRUS: (nodding) Uh-huh!

PALAESTRIO: Well, then, I submit that, if she is at home and if I can show her to you walking out of that door, (pointing to the soldier's house) I should have the right to do whatever I want with you, with the candlestick in the billiard room.

SCELEDRUS: That's fine with me.

PALAESTRIO: (pointing to Periplectomenus' door) Keep an eye on that door so she doesn't try to sneak by you and cross from here to there.

SCELEDRUS: I already thought of that.

PALAESTRIO: And I'll soon stand her up right here in front of you, in the street.

SCELEDRUS: You just do that!

(Palaestrio goes inside the soldier's house. Sceledrus is alone again.)

SCELEDRUS (con't.): (wavering) I don't care. Now I'll find out whether I saw what I saw, or he can do what he says and she's at home. (firmly) Good grief! I have my own eyes. I don't need someone else's. (quizzically) But he's always hanging around with her, like they're best friends or something. He's the first one called to dinner, the first one fed. He's been working for this family only maybe three years now and no one's treated better than him among the family servants. (firmly again) But I've got to do what I've got to do: just watch this door. I'll block it. They're never going to get anything by me today.

(Sceledrus crosses his arms and spreads his legs like a guard in front of Periplectomenus' door. Palaestrio and Philocomasium walk out of the soldier's house.)

PALAESTRIO: (whispering to Philocomasium) And don't forget what I told you!

PHILOCOMASIUM: (whispering back) You don't have to keep saying that!

PALAESTRIO: If you're not sneaky enough, . . .

PHILOCOMASIUM: Honey, I have enough sneaky in me to be elected President, and still have all the sneaky I need for me. (pushing Palaestrio toward Sceledrus) You go turn your tricks and I'll just hang out over here.

PALAESTRIO: (crossing to Sceledrus) So? Cat got your tongue, Sceledrus?

SCELEDRUS: (not seeing Philocomasium yet) Just doing my duty. Go on! Talk if you want. I'm listening.

PALAESTRIO: (looking at Sceledrus in his guard stance) Well, soldier, I think you're soon going to have to march off to the frontier like that, your arms crossed, looking like you sat on a bayonet.

SCELEDRUS: What are you talking about?

PALAESTRIO: About face, private! (turning Sceledrus around) Who's that lady there?

SCELEDRUS: (shocked) That's no lady! That's the mistress!

PALAESTRIO: Well, for once we agree. (walking away) So, come on! Time is precious.

SCELEDRUS: What am I going to do?

PALAESTRIO: The candlestick.

PHILOCOMASIUM: (pretending to speak to herself) Oh, where's that little servant person, who charged me—poor, sweet, innocent me!—with an deed of awful naughtiness?

(Sceledrus tries to sneak away.)

PALAESTRIO: Oh, madam, yoo hoo! (pointing at Sceledrus) He's the one who said to me what I said to you.

PHILOCOMASIUM: (attacking Sceledrus) You say you saw me in this house next door, Skeleton, kissing someone?

PALAESTRIO: With a strange young man, he said.

SCELEDRUS: (nervously) Yes, that's what I said.

PHILOCOMASIUM: You saw me?

SCELEDRUS: With these very eyes!

PHILOCOMASIUM: You'll miss them if they keep on seeing more than they see.

SCELEDRUS: You don't scare me. I know what I saw and I saw it.

PHILOCOMASIUM: What a fool I am, a total idiot, to try and talk with a crazy person, who won't miss his brain anyway when I have his head cut off!

SCELEDRUS: You don't threaten me! I know I'm going to die on the rack. That was the last resting place of all my ancestors: my father, my grandfather, my great-grandfather, my great-great-grandfather. You can't scare my eyes out of my head with those threats of yours! Hah! (rushes over to Palaestrio) Palaestrio, may I have a word with you. Tell me, how did she get out here?

PALAESTRIO: (pointing at the soldier's house) From the house, of course?

SCELEDRUS: (pointing at the soldier's house) The house?

PALAESTRIO: (pointing at the soldier's house) The house! (snapping his fingers) Hello?

SCELEDRUS: Hello! This is really weird. How did she get from here to there? We don't have a back door, or even a back yard. Not even a window that doesn't have bars. (marching over to Philocomasium again) I saw you in this house here!

PALAESTRIO: You don't give up easily, do you, Skeleton?

PHILOCOMASIUM: (suddenly dramatic) Heavens to Betsy! My dream is coming true, the dream I had last night.

PALAESTRIO: (speaking slowly, obviously cuing her) And what dream was that?

PHILOCOMASIUM: (speaking slowly back) I'll tell you. And please pay attention, both of you! (looks away from them and rolls her eyes, then in a rapturous, soft voice) Last night in my dream I thought I saw my twin sister, my twin sister who looks exactly like me, but she's from Athens, not Ephesus. But she was here in Ephesus with her lover or someone. I dreamed that they were visiting right next door.

PALAESTRIO: (aside) This is Palaestrio's dream, you realize? (to Philocomasium) Oh pray, proceed!

PHILOCOMASIUM: I was happy, because I love my sister like myself, but because of her I seemed to suffer some malicious, untrue charge. I dreamed my own fellow servant accused me of being with a strange young man, (turning sharply on Sceledrus) just like you did, (returning to her dreamy trance) and kissing him, when in fact it was my twin sister, who looks just like me -- she was kissing her boyfriend. And I was falsely, wrongly charged. (back to herself) That's it, that's what I dreamed.

PALAESTRIO: Oh, my! The very same things you dreamed are happening just the way you say you saw them in your dream! That's some dream, it is! Why don't you go inside now and give it a rest! (escorting her to the door of the soldier's house) And I think you should plan to tell the soldier all about this.

PHILOCOMASIUM: Oh, I will! No one's going to accuse me of something I didn't get to do.

(Philocomasium marches inside the soldier's house and slams the door.)

SCELEDRUS: Oh, I think I've done it this time! I can already feel the whip on my back.

PALAESTRIO: Yep, you're pretty much a goner.

SCELEDRUS: Well, now she's at home, that's for sure. I'll stand guard by our door now. Wherever she goes, I go.

PALAESTRIO: Hold on, Sceledrus! That vision, her dream—it was just like it really happened! You thought you saw her kissing someone.

SCELEDRUS: I don't know what to believe anymore. I think I might have seen something I didn't really see.

PALAESTRIO: It's too late to be rethinking now, I think. If the master gets wind of this, it's going to be ugly.

SCELEDRUS: (suddenly ecstatic) I see it all now! It's like a fog is lifting from my eyes.

PALAESTRIO: (going along with Sceledrus' ecstasy) It's plain as day! She was inside this house all along.

SCELEDRUS: (suddenly dropping the ecstasy) I don't know. I can't say I didn't see her, when I really saw her, can I?

PALAESTRIO: Good Zeus in heaven! You'll die for making up your mind today. I know you want to be a faithful servant to the master, but this will kill you. (The door of Periplectomenus' house begin to open) But look, the door next door is opening. I'll be quiet.

(Philocomasium walks out of Periplectomenus' house. She is now dressed in traveling clothes.)

PHILOCOMASIUM: (speaking back inside, in a foreign accent) And then fire on altar. I wish to grant thanks and praise to Diana off Ephesus, for joy and to incense her with some good Arab smell. After all, she rescue me from wavy way, those turbulent temples of Neptuna, big sweeping swell where I was being bounced about a bunch.

SCELEDRUS: Palaestrio. O Palaestrio!

PALAESTRIO: O Sceledrus, Sceledrus! What's wrong?

SCELEDRUS: This woman, who just came out, she's the master's mistress Philocomasium, (nodding his head) no? (shaking his head) Or no?

PALAESTRIO: (looking Philocomasium over) Well, she certainly looks like it. But how can that be? How could she get from here to there, if she is?

SCELEDRUS: How could she not be her?

PALAESTRIO: It seems that way.

SCELEDRUS: Let us go over to her, talk to her! (marching over to Philocomasium) Hey, what's going on here, Philocomasium? What are you doing in this house here? What business do you have? (Philocomasium turns and looks at him disdainfully) Say something! I'm talking to you.

PALAESTRIO: You're talking to yourself. She's got nothing to say.

SCELEDRUS: (louder) I'm talking to you, you slut, you bad person. Cruising the neighborhood, are you?

PHILOCOMASIUM: (icily) With whom you think you are speaking?

SCELEDRUS: (imitating her) Not with whom! With you! You whom!

PHILOCOMASIUM: You—whom are you, person! With me you have some business?

SCELEDRUS: You're asking me, whom am I?

PHILOCOMASIUM: Is what I ask when I don't know some . . . (looking down at him) thing?

PALAESTRIO: (breaking in) Well, what about me, if you don't know him?

PHILOCOMASIUM: I don't know you and already you bore me. You and whom! (turns to leave)

SCELEDRUS: (cutting her off) You don't know us?

PHILOCOMASIUM: Neither of you. (brushes by him)

SCELEDRUS: (to Palaestrio) I'm getting a bad feeling here.

PALAESTRIO: About what?

SCELEDRUS: Well, maybe, possibly we're not who we used to be. You think? She says she doesn't know either of us anymore.

PALAESTRIO: Well, we've got to get to the bottom of this. Sceledrus, are we us or someone else? You don't suppose one of our neighbors changed us when we weren't looking.

SCELEDRUS: I'll tell you right now: I'm us.

PALAESTRIO: (pointing at himself) We, too! (to Philocomasium) Hey! You're asking for trouble, lady! (when she ignores him) Hey, I'm talking to you! Philocomasium!

PHILOCOMASIUM: What sort of rudeness overwhelm you, huh, you person who falsely charge me with some wrong name?

PALAESTRIO: Well, excuse me! What is your name?

PHILOCOMASIUM: My name, she is Dicaea [pronounced "die-SEE-ya"].

SCELEDRUS: Yeah, well, I see ya, Dicaea! And you are looking for trouble, Philocomasium. You should have said "Lie-caea", not Die-caea, ‘cause you're lying to my master.

PHILOCOMASIUM: I? Lie?

SCELEDRUS: Yes, you!

PHILOCOMASIUM: I? A person who just yesterday evening is arrive to here in Ephesus from Athens with my . . . boyfriend, young strong Athenian man?

PALAESTRIO: (slowly, prompting her) Then tell us: what are you looking for here in Ephesus?

PHILOCOMASIUM: (catching on) Oh, yes. My twin sister, she look just like me, I hear she here, and I come to fine her.

SCELEDRUS: Evil woman!

PHILOCOMASIUM: I am not! Heavens to Bet . . . uh . . . Parthenon! I'm simply foolish woman, for wasting words with you. I go now. (she turns with a flounce and heads for Periplectomenus' door)

SCELEDRUS: (blocking her path) You're not going to get away that easy!

(She tries to pass him but he grabs her by the arm.)

PHILOCOMASIUM: Let go!

SCELEDRUS: I've got you red-handed. You haven't heard the end of this.

PHILOCOMASIUM: You're about to hear from my hand, you miserable toad, if you don't let me go!

(Pause. He doesn't let go, so she wallops him several times on the face and back.)

SCELEDRUS: (to Palaestrio) What the hell are you doing over there? Why don't you help me? OW!

PALAESTRIO: Sorry, my back's all tied up at the moment. I'm not sure whether she's not Philocomasium, and (pointing to the soldier's house) the other one just looks like her.

PHILOCOMASIUM: (whaling away on Sceledrus) You let me go, or no?

SCELEDRUS: NO! If you won't come quietly, I'll drag you home by force, whether you like it or not. (she whomps him) You're welcome.

PHILOCOMASIUM: I am visitor in house here. My home is from Athens. And so is my master. That house of yours, I don't stay there. And you, you are what persons, I don't know. I have no idea.

SCELEDRUS: Tell that to the judge. (she slaps him) I'm not letting you go, . . . (she slaps him again, very hard) . . . unless you promise on your word that you'll go inside here with me, if I do.

PHILOCOMASIUM: This is assault, . . . whomever you are! Okay, I promise, you let me go, I go inside. You win.

SCELEDRUS: Okay, I'm going to let you go.

PHILOCOMASIUM: (running inside Periplectomenus' house) And see, I'm going, too. Miss me!

SCELEDRUS: That's a woman's word!

PALAESTRIO: Missing something, Sceledrus? A bird in the bush! (chuckles) Well, she sure acts like our master's mistress. You know what I'd do, if I were you?

SCELEDRUS: What?

PALAESTRIO: Bring me a sword out of our house.

SCELEDRUS: To do what with?

PALAESTRIO: (bombastically, tilting at Periplectomenus' doors) I'll pound down the portals of this place. And the man I see fondling Philocomasium, I'll cheerfully chop him into chiny chips.

SCELEDRUS: So you think that's really her in there?

PALAESTRIO: I'm chure of it!

SCELEDRUS: (looking nervously back at Periplectomenus' house) A very convincing performance!

PALAESTRIO: Away! Bring me a sword to kill a woman with!

SCELEDRUS: I'll be right back.

(Sceledrus runs off into the soldier's house.)

PALAESTRIO: (alone) No soldier, no horseman, no person has the daring to do with such confidence what one little woman can do! How excellently she executed the various parts of her speech! How she pulled the wool over his eyes, the wary watchdog, my fellow flunky! Such a blessing it is to have a hole in your wall!

(Sceledrus walks slowly out of the soldier's house. He stares emptily in shock and carries no sword.)

SCELEDRUS: Oh, Palaestrio! Forget the sword.

PALAESTRIO: What do you mean? What's wrong?

SCELEDRUS: She's at home. The master's mistress.

PALAESTRIO: What? At home!

SCELEDRUS: She's relaxing in bed.

PALAESTRIO: Then, heaven knows, you're in big trouble, to quote yourself.

SCELEDRUS: Why?

PALAESTRIO: You just manhandled a woman visiting next-door.

SCELEDRUS: (holding his forehead) I don't feel so good.

PALAESTRIO: And no one's going to say she's anything but her sister, her twin that looks just like her. (as if having a revelation) Ohmygod! You saw that woman kissing over there.

SCELEDRUS: It's obvious. It's her. Just as you say. Do you know how close I came to biting it? If I had said anything to the master, . . .

PALAESTRIO: So, wise up! Don't say anything! A servant should always have more in his brain than his mouth. (heading toward Periplectomenus' house) I'm going now. I don't want anything more to do with this. Or you. I'm going to visit our neighbor here. Your troubles have given me a headache. (knocks on Periplectomenus' door, turns back) Oh, and if the master comes, and wants me, I'll be here. Have him fetch me from here.

(The door of Periplectomenus' house opens and Palaestrio strolls inside.)

SCELEDRUS: Is he really gone? He doesn't care for the master's business any more than if he weren't slaving as his slave. (walking toward the soldier's house) She must be inside our house now. After all, I stumbled into her myself just now at home. I'll set up a look-out post over here again.

(As Sceledrus plants himself in front of the soldier's house, Periplectomenus walks out of his house.)

PERIPLECTOMENUS: (angrily) What do they take me for? A woman? They certainly don't treat me like a man, those servants next-door! They're making fun of me. Imagine! My own visitor, who came yesterday from Athens with her boyfriend, mauled and mocked against her will! A free and free-born woman!

SCELEDRUS: I can see my future clearly now, . . . as breakfast sausage. He's heading straight for me! And I fear I'm heading for a personal recession as far as I can tell from his economic indicators.

PERIPLECTOMENUS: (aside) I'll go get him. (to Sceledrus) Hey you! Sceledrus! (Sceledrus looks away from him) Scel-leadhead! Whatever your name is! Were you abusing my guest in front of my house just now?

SCELEDRUS: (trying to calm him down) Now, neighbor, sir, listen! Please!

PERIPLECTOMENUS: (exploding in anger) Listen? To you?

SCELEDRUS: I can explain everything, if you like.

PERIPLECTOMENUS: Explain everything? To me? (Sceledrus starts to talk but Periplectomenus interrupts him) You who did this to me, this crime, this outrage, this indignity? And now that you've shown what you really are—a bunch of brigands!—you think you can do whatever you like, you . . . slave!

SCELEDRUS: Can I please . . . ?

PERIPLECTOMENUS: (interrupting him, in a torrent of abuse) By the love of all the gods, if I don't lay you out to rest on a bed of whips today and let you have it good and long from dawn to dusk. You broke my gutter and my roof tiles, while you were chasing that monkey, your twin! Then you spied on my guest in my house while he was hugging and kissing his own girlfriend! Then you had the nerve to say it was your master's mistress and accuse her of adultery—and me of being a pimp, I suppose! And then you manhandled my own guest in front of my house! If I don't whip you so full of holes you can breathe through your knees, I'll . . . I'll . . . (searching for the threat) . . . I'll make your master pay for this so many times he'll see more lawsuits than there are waves on a windy sea.

SCELEDRUS: (quivering with fright) I'm forced to admit, Periplectomenus, sir, I don't know whether to go to trial over this, or . . . (pointing to the houses in succession) if that woman isn't this, or this one isn't that, to settle out of court and beg for mercy. I'm not even certain what I saw. That woman looks an awful lot like ours, if she's not actually the same.

PERIPLECTOMENUS: (gesturing toward his house) Well, go inside and see for sure.

SCELEDRUS: Are you sure?

PERIPLECTOMENUS: I'm ordering you to. Take a good hard look!

SCELEDRUS: I'll do that.

(Sceledrus runs inside Periplectomenus' house. Periplectomenus runs over to the soldier's house, opens the door and yells inside. It is possible Philocomasium is visible to the audience for the first part of the speech that follows.)

PERIPLECTOMENUS: Hey, Philocomasium! Hurry! Run on the double over to my house! And I mean hustle! And then, after Sceledrus exits my house, run back to your house on the double! (aside, to himself) Ohgod! I hope she doesn't mess this up! If he doesn't see the woman over here, . . . (the door of his house begins to open) . . . the door is opening!

(Sceledrus walks out of Periplectomenus' house.)

SCELEDRUS: (depressed) Heaven help me! No god could make a woman look more like herself who isn't herself, I think!

PERIPLECTOMENUS: What's going on?

SCELEDRUS: Me! On the rack!

PERIPLECTOMENUS: What happened? Was she there?

SCELEDRUS: (nodding and pointing at the different houses) Assuming she's her and not her!

PERIPLECTOMENUS: So you saw her?

SCELEDRUS: Oh, I saw her! And your guest, hugging and kissing.

PERIPLECTOMENUS: And that was her?

SCELEDRUS: (whining) I don't know.

PERIPLECTOMENUS: I can clear this whole thing up.

SCELEDRUS: (gloomily) I'd love to see that.

PERIPLECTOMENUS: Go inside your own house. Go on, and see whether your girl's in there.

SCELEDRUS: Okay. That's good advice. I'll be right back.

(Sceledrus dashes off inside the soldier's house.)

PERIPLECTOMENUS: I've never seen anything like it: a man so neatly duped and in such a . . . peculiar way! And here he comes again!

(Sceledrus walks out of the soldier's house.)

SCELEDRUS: Periplectomenus, I'm at your mercy. (falling to his knees) I beg you, by all the gods and men on earth, by all my foolishness, by all your chins, . . . !

PERIPLECTOMENUS: What do you want?

SCELEDRUS: Forgive my ignorance, my stupidity! I realize now what an idiot I've been, a blind dummy! Philocomasium's here, in this house.

PERIPLECTOMENUS: So, convict, you've seen them both?

SCELEDRUS: I have! . . . I finally see I've acted like a cretin. Now I understand. But I didn't mean to do it.

PERIPLECTOMENUS: No, but you did it anyway. Servants ought to keep their eyes in check. Their hands and blabber, too!

SCELEDRUS: If after today I ever blab another thing, even what I know I know, take me out and hang me on a cross! I surrender. Do with me what you wish. Only please forgive me!

PERIPLECTOMENUS: I'd like to . . . (makes a threatening gesture, then backs down) . . . but I won't. You didn't mean to do it, I believe you. I'll forgive you, this time.

SCELEDRUS: (kissing Periplectomenus' hand) Oh thank you, thank you. Heaven bless you!

PERIPLECTOMENUS: (pulling back his hand and wiping it off) But you're going to have to learn to control your tongue! To know that you don't know what you know, or saw what you saw.

SCELEDRUS: I totally agree. I'll do that. Is that all?

PERIPLECTOMENUS: Go away!

SCELEDRUS: Anything else you want?

PERIPLECTOMENUS: You can start by not knowing me!

(Periplectomenus turns away from Sceledrus.)

SCELEDRUS: (aside) This is a trick. You see how nice he is? He isn't really angry at all. He's up to something. He's probably waiting for the soldier to return and then arrest me. Then he and Palaestrio will put me on the block, I'm sure of it. I've known it all along. Well, I'm not going to fall into that trap. I see the bait. I'm going to run away somewhere and hide out for a day or two, until this whole thing quiets down and all the furor dies. I've earned my share of trouble for one day, and several other people's, too! At this point, I don't care what's happening. I'm not home. I'm out to lunch.

(Sceledrus runs off stage. Periplectomenus is alone.)

PERIPLECTOMENUS: Well, he's gone. I'm sure of this: a sausage has more brains than he does! He's so razzle-dazzled he can't see what he saw! His eyes and ears and common sense have all defected to our side. So far, so good. That woman really played her part, and enjoyed it! I'll go back now to my fellow congressmen, my plays-and-schemes committee. Palaestrio's inside my house, and Sceledrus is nowhere to be seen. So, now we have a quorum in our senate. I'd better hurry if I don't want to miss the voting.

(Periplectomenus goes inside his house.)


[The rest of the play concerns the deception of the soldier and the rescue of Philocomasium from her incarceration in his house and the eventual reunion of the lovers.]


Course Description
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A Guide to Writing in History and Classics

 

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