Housekeeping note: My plan going into this article blogging project was to go through different journals, and having (finally) just finished with CJ 110.4, I was going to move along to Arethusa or AJP. However the new issue of CJ showed up and turned out to be devoted to the performance of Roman Comedy, and since this term I’m teaching a performance-oriented course on Roman Comedy I thought I’d selfishly just go ahead and do this one now. So get ready for more CJ blogging — regular spread will resume soon, I promise.
“The 2012 NEH Summer Institute on Roman Comedy in Performance: Genesis and Reflections” by Sharon L. James, Timothy Moore and Meredith Safran, CJ 111.1 1-9
tl;dr: This is the introductory essay, explaining the goals and outcomes of the institute, and sketching some preliminary conclusions about the values of performance for understanding a range of issues in Roman Comedy. If you want to cut to the chase, you can see video of the performances that came out of the Institute here: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCmBs1K1ruw2i48CmDku1HrQ/videos
undergraduates could certainly read this; I’m going to recommend this and most of the articles in the issue to my current class, and require the next one (on translation). I’ll post updates on how that goes.
stakes: another forceful argument for performance as pedagogy — not the first by any means, but the more of this we get in our field the better, I think.
Anyone who has read much Roman Comedy, or taught it, or had it assigned for a class, will know all of the impediments to appreciating it. I should say up front that I’ve published on Plautus, and am currently working on Terence, and even my own sweet husband refuses to read my stuff because he hates the material with such an entrenched fervor. Besides the sense it’s hard to avoid that the texts just aren’t that funny (“why would you produce the Menaechmi,” a colleague in theater once remarked to me, “when you could do Comedy of Errors?”), there’s the whole rape-as-plot-device thing, or threaten-the-slaves-with-torture thing, neither of which on first sight strike us as true knee-slappers.
It was precisely these problems that motivated the 2012 NEH summer Institute on Roman Comedy in Performance. This initial essay in the journal sets out the structure of the institute and discusses briefly some of the insights that came out of the exercise of putting a selection of scenes from Roman Comedy (mainly Plautus) on stage. Mornings the 25 participants discussed aspects of performance in a traditional seminar environment: e.g. space, masks and movement, music, women and rape, slavery and ethnicity, metatheater, etc. An all-star cast of Classicists was on hand to guide these discussions (besides the organizers, who authored this introduction, Amy Richlin, C.W. Marshall, Sander Goldberg, Mary-Kay Gamel, Niall Slater, and Northfield’s own Anne Groton!). Afternoons the participants worked in groups of 5 first to all produce versions of one scene from the Pseudolus, and then (in different groups of 5), to each produce a different scene from a different Plautus play or Terence’s Eunuchus. I’ve given the link to videos of these performances above — clicking through to even a couple minutes of this material gives you a good idea of the range of strategies the groups tested.
The authors list an impressive number of insights gained from the process; as a long-time advocate for the pedagogical use of performance in drama classes I wasn’t surprised by any of them, but it’s great to have these amplified for an audience of classicists! Most interesting to me was the discussion around the effects of performance (primarily physical action and silent characters’ antics, but also music and dance) on scenes where the words alone may be disturbing or violent.
But there are many other insights suggested in this opening essay, and I’m looking forward to reading through the essays that fill them in.