Let me start by quoting a paragraph from a century old edition of Terence, which will serve as a reminder of changes in our background knowledge of both comedy and this particular comic playwright:
Of the six extant Terentian comedies the Andria is the most pathetic, the Adelphoe in general more true to human nature than the rest, the Eunuchus the most varied and lively, with the largest number of interesting characters, and the Hecyra the one of least merit. All six are remarkable for the art with which the plot is unfolded through the natural sequence of incidents and play of motives. Striking effects, sharp contrasts and incongruities, which meet us in many plays of Plautus, are almost wholly absent. All is smooth, consistent and moderate, without any of the extravagance of exuberant humour or even creative fancy which characterizes the writing of the older poet. But Terence was essentially an imitative artist and his distinguishing feature was his artistic finish, a fact fully recognized by Horace (Epistle 2.1.59).
There is plenty here to question, if not correct. What does it mean to call Adelphoe more true to human nature? What defines an ‘interesting character’? And do present day readers still find Hecyra the play of least merit? As for the art with which Terence’s plots are unfolded, we still cannot guess how much of this is his own contribution rather than derived from Menander (whose plays were still unknown when this edition was written). However, scholars have used both the evidence given by Terence in the prologues and his commentator Donatus to identify where he has himself innovated in his plots—removing the expository prologues to replace irony with suspense, introducing a second lover and slave into Andria, working a braggart soldier and his parasite into Eunuchus and inserting an abduction scene into the second act of Adelphoe. And yet it was Terence’s immediate predecessor Caecilius whom Varro, most learned of ancient critics, praised for his superior plots. Certainly Terence does not indulge in the extravagance of Plautus, but is this because he is ‘essentially an imitative artist’? On the other hand I would not challenge the editor’s evaluation of his scripts as ‘smooth, consistent and moderate’ or his praise for the playwright’s ‘artistic finish’. Instead I would ask if this is what we want, or ought to want from comedy.