All entries for Friday 12 November 2004

November 12, 2004

Menander & Roman Comedy

Menander in Performance

What do these two different kinds of article, and the multimedia elements, contribute to your knowledge and understanding of ancient drama and/or places of performance?

I found both the article by Richard Williams, and Marianne McDonald's review very useful contributions to my understanding of ancient drama. However, I found the video clips of Chris Vervain particularly interesting. The points I found most fascinating were :

  1. The left side of the mask is different from the right (different expressions can be used at different angles)

  2. Cross-eyed (eyes always appears to always be looking at the audience, no matter which directon the mask is facing)

  3. Body and mask need to be integrated to create an inner life to the mask, not just an empty shell (the need for costume etc.)

  4. In the performance Chris performed, it amazed me at the varied amount of emotions that came over (e.g. happiness, worry, surprise) despite the expression of the mask never really changing.

Roman Drama

  • 1. Temporary Stages

i. In the Temporary Stages section of the Theatron Module, explore the Explore the Greek ('Phlyakes') and Roman stages.

Do they differ significantly, or only superficially?


  1. Both made out of wood.

  2. Raised off the ground.

  3. Include windows-looking through to the ‘back stage’ area.

  4. Both stages have roofs.


  1. The Roman Stage had two sets of stairs going down to the audience, where as the Greek had one.

  2. The Roman stage was far more elaborate than the Greek.

  3. The Roman Stage used brighter colours to decorate set. For example, in the theatron, the colours are strong reds, gold’s and olive greens.

  4. The Roman theatre was three Dimensional. For example it had pillars used to bring the roof further forward and to help reflect the dimensions of a real life place. The stage came in and out at different points. This again reflected ‘real life’ far more than the Greek stage.

  5. The Roman stage had far more exits off stage than the Greek. These were in the form of very elaborate doorways. The Greeks (as shown in the theatron picture) had only one exit, which was no more than a hole in the backdrop.

Conclusion – The differences between the Greek and Roman stages were quite significant. The Roman audience must have had a far more ‘spectacular’ experience than the Greeks. The fact that the Romans were forever building on the Greek’s culture like this is again reflected in the fact that where the Greeks had 12,000 spectators on average, the Romans had 25,000.

ii. Review these Roman wall paintings. On the basis of these examples, do wall paintings offer more or less valuable evidence than vase paintings?

They are far more detailed than the vases in my opinion. For example, in the first painting one can see a Greek mask very close up and in great detail. Although vases do vaguely depict these masks, the paintings provide more concrete evidence of masks in roman theatre.

  • 2. Roman Theatrical Frescos

Explore any two paintings studied by the Pompeiian Wall-Painting Project [skenographia1003], excluding the 'Medea' and 'Room of the Masks' paintings.

Basing your analysis on these two paintings, what appear to be the typical structural elements of a Roman temporary stage?

House of the Cryptoporticus and Pinarius Cerialis:

  1. Three Dimensional.

  2. Used screen paintings to create a background.

  3. Lots of elaborate and grand pillars and statues.

  4. Some Roman stages had many levels.

  5. Expensive materials used.

  6. Symmetrical, with an opening in the middle.
  • 3. The Theatre of Pompey
  • i. In the Theatron Module, explore the Theatre of Pompey (including the left- and right-hand information panels).

    What appear to be the main similarities and differences between the temporary and permanent (stone) Roman stages?


    1. Includes audience seating.

    2. Is on a much larger scale.

    3. 4 levels – a temporary stage may not have been able to compete with this.

    4. Within the auditorium it included a form of primitive air-conditioning.

    5. Included an active theatre community outside of the immediate stage but within the theatre grounds.


    1. Both were extremely ornate.

    2. Both had the same number of entrances/exits (3 at the back and 2 at the side)

    ii. Explore the website of The Pompey Project [tp55bc]

    Briefly review the 'Massing Models' and 'Burge Reconstructions'.

    What different kinds of information do these models offer?

    Massing Models:

    Put the sheer scale of the theatre into a perspective that we can comprehend.
    Give an idea of the imprint that Roman theatre has had on the landscape.
    Are a reliable source documenting what is known about the aesthetics of a Roman theatre.

    Burge Reconstructions:

    Brings Roman theatre to life and makes it more relevant because it is three dimensional.
    Shows details that would be hard to find else where.

    • 4. Performance

    i. If you were preparing to direct a performance of Plautus' Pseudolus, which of the ancient stages / theatres you have explored would be the most challenging? Why?

    ii. What practical steps might you take to rise to these challenges?

    I think that both stages have positive and negative aspects. The temporary stage may have been too small to present a production with so many characters and set changes. Indeed the stage would have become cluttered and confused the story line unnecessarily. To avoid this problem I would avoid too many set changes and just have the two doors off stage to represent the two different houses. To set the rest of the scenes, I would allow the text to speak for itself. To avoid confusion with so many characters on stage I would carefully choreograph the piece but also use some of the space in front of the stage like an orchestra. The permanent stage would also confuse the story line because the audience members are so far away from the action. Therefore all characters would use very individual masks and their gestures would be greatly exaggerated. Because some of the audience would not be able to see the action quite so clearly, I would make sure that each of the brothers had a unique voice or accent, to differentiate which one is which.

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