by Paul Monaghan
Victorian College of the Arts
School of Studies in Creative Arts at Melbourne University

In this paper I attempt to draw a sketch of the Plautine persona (actor and mask) in performance. In order to establish the parameters of the Plautine persona, I propose a provisional Plautine Performance Table, based on Tadeuz Kowzan's semiotic performance table, and adapted to suit the outline of Hellenistic performance theory reconstructed by David Wiles in Masks of Menander (1991). The table is also informed by my experiences performing in and directing a number of Plautine comedies in Latin. On one side of the table, prosopon / persona (the mask, the actor wearing the mask, persona or character) dominates schema (external sculptural form, including costume and physicality). On the other side of the table, pragmata (actions, plot) and legomena (things said, the text delivered in performance) interact with, and to a large extent are determined by, persona. Their interaction produces the 'performance text', and the fun, of the piece.

The system of differences that constituted the Greek New Comedy mask taxonomy seems to have been adapted by Plautus and other writers of the commoedia palliata, such that there were fewer masks with more heavily defined and less subtly mobile features. The resulting performance personae were what Jonson and Bergson called 'types', driven by excessive 'humours' of one sort or another, or as Northrop Frye describes it, by a state of 'ritual bondage'. The texts of Plautine comedies clearly support the evidence of the masks. This combined picture, supported by other fragmentary evidence, and Bergson's famous discussion of such types as being driven by a 'stupidly monotonous and automated body', can lead to tentative proposals regarding the physicality of these types. The personality of the actor appears to have added one more element into the mix.

I conclude that the state of the Plautine persona may have constituted what Jacques Lecoq calls 'disponibilitè', an energised state of total awareness and readiness in performance.

Read "The Masks of Pseudolus"

[Paul Monaghan teaches Theatre Studies at the School of Creative Arts, University of Melbourne, Australia. His research areas span Creative Arts and Classics, including Plautine performance, and the 'performance language' of Greek tragedy. Paul returned to the Academy at the beginning of 1999 to take up his current teaching position after a twelve year absence working in the professional performing arts industry, as actor, director, manager and lighting designer. For the last five years he was Artistic Director/General Manager of a performance company and venue in Melbourne. Paul also teaches Latin at University of Melbourne.]

Paul Monaghan
School of Studies in Creative Arts at Melbourne University