Credo, hercle! adveniens nomen mutabit mihi,
By Hercules, I think that if he shows up he'll change my name,
—Chrysalus the Slave, in Plautus's Bacchidæ
Titus Maccius Plautus (c. 254–184 BC) was a Roman comic playwright of the Old Latin period. Imitating most of his plots from the Greek playwright Menander, he gave them a distinctly Roman feel, despite the fact that (in order to escape the charge of "slandering the Roman People and State") he put his characters in the Paper-Thin Disguise of Greek names. With his fellow playwright, Terence (Publius Terentius Afer), he popularized the "boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy gets girl" plot, typical of the Greek "New Comedy," that has been perhaps the most common dramatic structure in Western drama ever since. He also helped to establish an array of Stock Characters, including the Nice Young Man and Girl, the Nice Young Man's slightly racier Best Friend, the Rival (who is often a Boastful Soldier), the Parasite who lives off him and makes sarcastic remarks behind his back, the Henpecked Husband, the uptight, domineering Matron, and the Clever Servant who manages his master's affairs, that have been common (with variations) in comedy ever since.
In Plautus, however, we never forget that all these characters are Romans -- there is a particularly brutal edge to his jokes (he tends to be rougher and cruder than Terence, who was consciously aiming his plays at a more aristocratic audience) and we are never allowed to forget that if the Clever Servant is caught in his tricks, he will be tortured and crucified. Nor does the fact that his setting is in Athens or Syracuse prevent his characters from making snide remarks about "those Greeks" nor the gods from appearing under their Latin appellations.
One of Plautus's plays is the Trope Namer for Miles Gloriosus. His works were also the principal inspiration for the later musical comedies The Boys From Syracuse and A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum. And his Menaechmi was the basis for William Shakespeare's The Comedy of Errors.
- ↑ literally, from "Chrysalus"="Goldie" to "Crucisalus"="Jump-onto-the-cross." That one probably had 'em rolling in the aisles.