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Christopher Bungard: “Negotiating Mastery: Staging Status in Pseudolus” 67-81

tl;dr an argument for the effectiveness of staging slave-master scenes for getting students to reflect upon Roman social dynamics

undergraduates could certainly read/understand this, although like all the articles in this volume it is aimed explicitly at teachers

stakes: again as with other articles in this issue, this one adds to the new body of research on how performance illuminates texts, as well as how it can function pedagogically

This piece, like the preceding one, describes the way in which performance of Roman Comedy can focus attention on wider issues of status relations in Roman society. As with many of the articles in this issue, Bungard uses the Ballio scene from the Pseudolus as his test-case, and shows how performance of this scene can contrast the dynamic between Ballio and his slaves with the relation between Pseudolus and Calidorus, on view as they comment upon what they are hearing from Ballio.

At this point in the journal the arguments for the benefits of performance are familiar, but the article engages usefully with work on slaves in Roman comedy (especially McCarthy’s 2000 work Slaves, Masters, and the Art of Authority in Plautine Comedy and Parker’s 1989 TAPA article on torture jokes) as well as Richlin’s suggestive article on assigning roles in a Roman Civilization course (CJ 108 347-61).

The 2012 NEH Summer Institute performance of the scene Bungard describes (you can watch it here) made the decision to play up Ballio’s cruelty toward his slaves so as to elevate him as a blocking figure and increase the satisfaction felt at Pseudolus’ victory over him at the end of the play. Your mileage may vary on how effective you think this decision was, or on the suggested responses to it from the different status-groups in the audience, but in any case highlighting this decision and watching it play out can helpfully force students to confront the prevalence of threats against slaves on the comic stage. Presumably these were funny, but why? How (i.e. other NEH groups chose to make Ballio’s slaves mock or undermine him rather than cower in fear: is this a more or less effective way to milk the comedy)? To whom? And what does that imply about the society that staged these comedies?

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