Puzzle-Box Theater: Reflections on Mostellaria I.iii

Gregory P. Sears

Indiana University, Bloomington

In constructing the dramatic framework of Mostellaria I.iii., Plautus has succeeded in creating an array of concentric layers of dramatic action. Each character in the scene represents a separate layer of interaction within the play. Each outer layer in turn observes the layer that it surrounds, yet is unable to exert any influence upon it. By the same token each inner layer is oblivious to the existence of its observers. At the heart of all these dramatic layers Plautus places a character who gazes at herself in a mirror. The presence of this mirror reveals a surprising degree of psychological insight on Plautus’ part, as it becomes evident that each character’s speech reveals more about his or her own experiences and personality than it does about his or her addressee’s situation. It is as though each addressed character acts as a mirror for the one speaking to them, who can of course only see themselves in their interlocutor.



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