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The Dramatic Values in Plautus   By: (1884-1949)

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University of Pennsylvania

The Dramatic Values in Plautus


Wilton Wallace Blancké, A.M., Ph.D. Professor of Latin in the Central High School of Philadelphia

A Thesis

Presented to the Faculty of the Graduate School in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy



This dissertation was written in 1916, before the entrance of the United States into The War, and was presented to the Faculty of the University of Pennsylvania as a thesis for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy. Its publication at this time needs no apology, for it will find its only public in the circumscribed circle of professional scholars. They at least will understand that scholarship knows no nationality. But in the fear that this may fall under the eye of that larger public, whose interests are, properly enough, not scholastic, a word of explanation may prove a safeguard.

The Germans have long been recognized as the hewers of wood and drawers of water of the intellectual world. For the results of the drudgery of minute research and laborious compilation, the scholar must perforce seek German sources. The copious citation of German authorities in this work is, then, the outcome of that necessity. I have, however, given due credit to German criticism, when it is sound. The French are, generically, vastly superior in the art of finely balanced critical estimation.

My sincere thanks are due in particular to the Harrison Foundation of the University for the many advantages I have received therefrom, to Professors John C. Rolfe and Walton B. McDaniel, who have been both teachers and friends to me, and to my good comrades and colleagues, Francis H. Lee and Horace T. Boileau, for their aid in editing this essay.

Wilton Wallace Blancké. 1918.

Part 1

A Résumé of the Criticism and of the Evidence Relating to the Acting of Plautus


This investigation was prompted by the abiding conviction that Plautus as a dramatic artist has been from time immemorial misunderstood. In his progress through the ages he has been like a merry clown rollicking amongst people with a hearty invitation to laughter, and has been rewarded by commendation for his services to morality and condemnation for his buffoonery. The majority of Plautine critics have evinced too serious an attitude of mind in dealing with a comic poet. However portentous and profound his scholarship, no one deficient in a sense of humor should venture to approach a comic poet in a spirit of criticism. For criticism means appreciation.

Furthermore, the various estimates of our poet's worth have been as diversified as they have been in the main unfair. Alternately lauded as a master dramatic craftsman and vilified as a scurrilous purveyor of unsavory humor, he has been buffeted from the top to the bottom of the dramatic scale. More recent writers have been approaching a saner evaluation of his true worth, but never, we believe, has his real position in that dramatic scale been definitely and finally fixed; because heretofore no attempt has been made at a complete analysis of his dramatic, particularly his comic, methods. It is the aim of the present dissertation to accomplish this.

I doubt not that from the inception of our acquaintance with the pages of Plautus we have all passed through a similar experience. In the beginning we have been vastly diverted by the quips and cranks and merry wiles of the knavish slave, the plaints of love lorn youth, the impotent rage of the baffled pander, the fruitless growlings of the hungry parasite's belly. We have been amused, perhaps astonished, on further reading, at meeting our new found friends in other plays, clothed in different names to be sure and supplied in part with a fresh stock of jests, but still engaged in the frustration of villainous panders, the cheating of harsh fathers, until all ends with virtue triumphant in the establishment of the undoubted respectability of a hitherto somewhat dubious female character... Continue reading book >>

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