Published online by Cambridge University Press: 29 September 2022
Ancient and modern observers of the Roman court have often characterized it as a fundamentally theatrical space. Court ‘performances’ therefore included senators flattering the imperial family, imperial family members costumed as deities, conspirators disguising their intentions, and the emperor himself, who could play a variety of roles. But performance in the formal sense was also central to court culture, so this chapter explores the sorts of performances occurring in court contexts (tragedy, comedy, pantomime, storytelling, etc.). It also examines the wider role in the court of the (often low-status) performers, including actors, pantomime dancers, storytellers, and jesters. They fundamentally shaped the court’s cultural life, and could themselves be powerful, popular, and wealthy. But they were also disposable court bodies with precarious court positions, since their performances could incite political controversy, and they stood in the place of others who wanted closer access to the emperor.
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