Skip to main content Accessibility help
Hostname: page-component-5959bf8d4d-4p99k Total loading time: 0.204 Render date: 2022-12-09T07:24:42.360Z Has data issue: true Feature Flags: { "useRatesEcommerce": false } hasContentIssue true

Article contents

Plautus' Amphitryo as Tragi-Comedy

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  07 September 2009


J. L. Styan in his book The Dark Comedy quotes a comment of Federico Garcia Lorca, ‘If in certain scenes the audience doesn't know what to do, whether to laugh or cry, that will be a success for me'. A friend and colleague suggested in a conversation after witnessing my production of the Amphitryo in Perth in 1991 that he found that play similarly fascinating, because at times it made certain parts of the audience feel so uncomfortable, even as it was making them laugh. Riotously funny the Amphitryo undoubtedly is from time to time, but there is often a savage bite to the humour and a feeling evoked by the action which is not dissimilar to the effect of tragedy, especially when the unwitting humans have their lives and fortunes distorted by the amoral antics of the immortals. In short, the play shows signs of being of mixed genre, a fact which is acknowledged by the famous statement of Mercury in the prologue:

Research Article
Copyright © The Classical Association 1999

Access options

Get access to the full version of this content by using one of the access options below. (Log in options will check for institutional or personal access. Content may require purchase if you do not have access.)



1. The Dark Comedy (Cambridge, 1962), 1Google Scholar, quoting Intro, to Three Tragedies of Federico Garcia Lorca, trans. Graham-Lujan, and O'Connell, (New York, 1955), 13Google Scholar.

2. Typical is Giangrande, L. in The Use of Spoudaiogeloion in Greek and Roman Literature (Hague, 1972)Google Scholar who credits Plautus with the invention of the term tragicomoedia, but dismisses the playwright as a writer of mere ‘buffoonery and slapstick'.

3. ‘How Is It Played? Tragicomedy as a Running Joke: Plautus’ Amphitruo in Performance', Didaskalia Supplement 1–May 1995.

4. Forehand, W. E., on the other hand, is convinced that Plautus utilized his sources to produce a more serious play than his successor and imitator Moliere; see ‘Adaptation and the Comic Intent: Plautus’ Amphitruo and Moliere's Amphitryon', CLS 11 (1974), 204–17Google Scholar.

5. Tragicomedy (London and New York, 1984), 8Google Scholar.

6. De argumentis satiricis et parodiam redolentibus apud Plautum obviis', Eos 60 (1972), 5169Google Scholar.

7. Hirst, , op. cit, 4Google Scholar.

8. E.g. Büchner, K., ‘Plautus' Amphitruo und sein Verhaltnis zur Amphitruon’, Studien zur romischen Literatur Band 7 (Wiesbaden, 1968), 152207Google Scholar and Sedgewick, W. B., Plautus, Amphitruo (Manchester, 1960), 26Google Scholar.

9. ‘The Amphitryo Theme’ in Dudley, D. R. and Dorey, T. A. (edd.), Studies in Latin Literature: Roman Drama(London, 1965), 90Google Scholar.

10. Tragicomedy and Contemporary Culture, 'Edinburgh Studies in Culture and Society' (London, 1991), 1CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

11. Ibid., 3.

12. Ibid., 3.

13. Ibid., 4.

14. This view was investigated by Martin, P., ‘Plaute, Amphitryon v. 292–462’, Caesarodunum 5 (1970), 171–7Google Scholar.

15. Op. cit., 12.

16. Roman Laughter: the Comedy of Plautus (Cambridge, Mass., 1968), 99Google Scholar.

17. Op. cit., esp. the note on Alcumena's soliloquy at 634–53: ‘Whenever Alcumena appears, P. forgets his clowning and the tone changes to something not unworthy of tragedy, a high seriousness such as would befit a Roman matron. P. makes free with the gods and the general, but is overawed by the ideal wife and mother.’

18. The Herakles Theme (Oxford, 1972)Google Scholar.

19. On women in comedy see Mack, A. M., Mulieres Comicae: Female Characters in Plautus and his Predecessors (Diss. Harvard, 1967)Google Scholar.

20. On the audience of Plautus see ‘Plautus and his Audience’ in Roman Drama (n. 9 above).

21. For this view see Thierfelder, A., ‘Su alcuni particolari del comico in Plauto’, Dioniso 46 (1975), 99Google Scholar.

22. On Plautine comic slaves in general see Stace, C., ‘The Slaves of Plautus’, G&R 15 (1968), 64–7Google Scholar.

23. On Plautine metatheatrics see Slater, Niall W., ‘Amphitruo, Bacchae, and Metatheatre’, Lexis 5–6 (1990), 108. 3Google Scholar; see also Dupont, F., ‘Signification theatricale du double dans l'Amphitryon de Plaute’, REL 54 (1976), 129–41Google Scholar.

Cited by

Save article to Kindle

To save this article to your Kindle, first ensure is added to your Approved Personal Document E-mail List under your Personal Document Settings on the Manage Your Content and Devices page of your Amazon account. Then enter the ‘name’ part of your Kindle email address below. Find out more about saving to your Kindle.

Note you can select to save to either the or variations. ‘’ emails are free but can only be saved to your device when it is connected to wi-fi. ‘’ emails can be delivered even when you are not connected to wi-fi, but note that service fees apply.

Find out more about the Kindle Personal Document Service.

Plautus' Amphitryo as Tragi-Comedy
Available formats

Save article to Dropbox

To save this article to your Dropbox account, please select one or more formats and confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you used this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your Dropbox account. Find out more about saving content to Dropbox.

Plautus' Amphitryo as Tragi-Comedy
Available formats

Save article to Google Drive

To save this article to your Google Drive account, please select one or more formats and confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you used this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your Google Drive account. Find out more about saving content to Google Drive.

Plautus' Amphitryo as Tragi-Comedy
Available formats

Reply to: Submit a response

Please enter your response.

Your details

Please enter a valid email address.

Conflicting interests

Do you have any conflicting interests? *