The Pot of Gold -Plautus Summary
Plautus’ Life :
Titas Maccius Plautus was a Roman playwright of the Old Latin period. He was born in 254 B.C. Traditionally it is believed that he was born in Sarsina, a small town in Emilia Romagna in northern Italy. He wrote comedies for the Roman stage, based on Greek comedies of the fourth and third centuries. Some say that Plautus earned his living as a stage-carpenter at the beginning of his life. Perhaps, it is from his work that his love and passion for theatre originated. Later he worked in a flour-mill.
Though the facts related to his life are loosely based on statements made by later Latin writers, notably Cicero in the first century BCE, but some say that even the three names usually given to him — Titus Maccius Plautus — are of questionable historical authenticity. For example, “Maccus” was the name of a clownish stock character in popular farces. Again, according to Festus, the word “Plautus” is derived from “planis pedibus, planipes” (flat-footed), being a pantomime dancer.
Plautus’ Works :
Plautus wrote around 130 plays, of which only 20 have survived intact. His famous plays are Amphitryon , Asinaria , Aulularia , Bacchides, Curculio etc. Amphitryon is a Latin play for the early Roman theatre by Plautus. It is a mythological tragicomedy as proclaimed by Plautus in the prologue of the play. In his another play The Captives, Plautus has shown beautifully the faithful attachment of a slave and a master.
It was the opinion of Lessing that The Captives was the best play ever put on stage. Plautus’ another magnificent play The Twin Brothers was imitated by Shakespeare in his Comedy of Errors. It has a simple story. A merchant of Syracuse had two sons. He took one of his sons to Tarentum, where he went to trade. The boy whose name was Menaechmus was lost in the crowd at the fair. His son was found by a trader of Epidamnum, who took him to his home and at his death left him a considerable fortune.
The other son who was at his home with his grandfather at Syracuse, and to whom the latter gave the name of the lost brother Menaechmus, when he grew up, started to travel to various places in search of his missing brother.
After searching for him in several places he eventually finds him at Epidamnum resulting confusion from the two brothers finding themselves bearing the same name in the same town, and yet entirely unknown to each other. Shakespeare has added an extra flavour to it by giving to the twin-brothers two servants who also twins and of the same name. One of his major plays called The Tempest contains a great storm at sea, which, needless to say, one of the major characteristics of this play.
Plautus’ Style :
The plots of Plautus’ plays are sometimes well organized and interestingly developed but more often they simply provide a frame for scenes of pure farce, relying heavily on intrigue, mistaken identity, and similar devices. He generally took the outline of the plot, the characters, and selected segments of dialogue-then stepped out on his own. His objective was to entertain. At all costs, he kept the pot of action boiling, the stream of gags and puns and cheap slapstick flowing. Apart from this, Plautus often included scenes in song and dance.
The plays of Plautus are generally preceded by Prologue, which explains the plot to the audience, and occasionally carries on a conversation with them. Actually, the Prologue was then a very necessary portion of the play. Plautus said that in his prologues he always had three purposes: to tell the audience to keep quiet so they could hear the actors; to give very plainly the story of the play and an explanation of the stage setting; and lastly to banter everybody into a good humour.
The plots of Plautus’ plays are also stretched to implausibility so as to heighten their comedy. Confusions of identity and misunderstandings between characters are frequently employed for comedic purposes.
Plautus’ Characterization :
Roman comedy for the most part paid careful attention to delineation of character but within a framework of types in which subtlety, complexity, and individuality were severely restricted. The Plautine cast of characters often includes traditional figures: the young man (adulescens) hopelessly in love but lacking the courage and resourcefulness to achieve his desires; the aged parent (senex) who must be deceived and won over; the slave (servus) whose cunning and bustling create humour and intrigue; the young girl (virgo) of acknowledged free birth or to be rescued from shame .
The courtesan (meretrix) who may be mercenary or noble; the hungry but shrewd parasite (parasites); the despised slave dealer (leno), and the soldier (miles) whose boasting is equaled only by his stupidity.
At the very beginning of the play we see that Euclio has found a pot containing gold with the aid of
his household god Lar Familiaris. After getting the gold Euclio becomes close-fisted and stingy and does not tell anybody about the pot of gold. From now on, Euclio’s prime focus is inflicted on saving his gold from others.
Out of anxiety, Euclio starts to bury the pot in his house and keeps on taking it out repeatedly to make sure that nobody has stolen it and it is still intact. Needless to say, this act makes him a ridiculous person. Again, his miserliness goes so far that he does not like to spend a single penny on his daughter’s wedding. Again, he agrees to marry his daughter off an old fellow named Megadorus on the condition that he will not give any dowry to him. However, he does not have any idea about his daughter’s affair with Lyconides and her pregnancy.
Lyconides’ mother (after learning her son’s love-affair) comes to Megadorus to dissuade him from marrying Euclio’s daughter Phaedria. Meanwhile, Euclio’s pot of gold is stolen in his absence (rather, in his ignorance) by a man who happens to be Lyconides’ slave. Euclio regrets for his loss. After a certain point of time we see that Lyconides manages to take the pot of gold from his slave and gives that to Euclio. When Euclio gets his gold back he realizes the triviality of the materialistic things like gold and ultimately realizes the lacuna in his character.
At the end of the play we see that surprisingly Euclio’s behaviour is changed and he apologizes to everybody for his ridiculous demeanour and finally gives the pot of gold to Lyconides as his daughter’s dowry. He says that the possession of the gold had made his life miserable and now he is happy. And the play ends happily.
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