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Structure and Stagecraft in Plautus' Miles Gloriosus

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image of Mnemosyne

Over recent years it has been recognised that Plautus often uses metatheatricality to underscore the artificiality of his plays, and the Miles Gloriosus has been highlighted as a particularly metatheatrical play. Metatheatricality is strengthened by the structure of the play, which consists of two balanced symmetrical tricks. Both tricks are built of parallel balancing scenes that centre around, and highlight, acting and roleplay. This structure deepens the impact of the metatheatrical elements running throughout the play, inducing a greater awareness of the artificiality of the events being acted out on the stage, as each trick stresses the idea of role assumption and drama as a central theme. By emphasising the nature of roleplay, the structure of the Miles highlights the power of drama. The audience observe the duping of Sceledrus, and witness Pyrgopolynices' posturing and the illusion which he believes to be truth, but fools no one. They are then able to contrast this with Palaestrio's acting ability, which does convince his intended audience. The Miles Gloriosus underscores the paradoxical nature of drama, which convinces despite being based on nothing more than illusion; the play thus demonstrates that herein lies the power of true drama.

Affiliations: 1: Bar Ilan University, Department of Classics, Ramat Gan 52900, Israel, Email:


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