Plautus’ Use of Costume: Menaechmi and Miles Gloriosus

How does Plautus use costumes to add to the success of his plays: The Brothers Menaechmus and The Swaggering Soldier?

By using the gown and garland, Plautus is able to create humour and entertainment out of the confusion that arises out of being able to distinguish between Menaechmus and Sosicles. The moment where Sosicles removes his garland is where the audience are left to work out who’s who and in this Plautus creates his entertainment.

There is comedy alone in the prior use of the garland that was worn at a rakish angle. This is funny because it creates a camp effect, that may be coupled with the camp movement of Sosicles across the stage to evoke humour.

Meanwhile, costume in Swaggering Soldier is used to create entertainment by completing the plot. Pleusicles uses a sailor disguise to be able to whisk away Philocomasium- which entertains the audience by following a common Roman comedy stock character plot line: the young lover getting with the courtesan.

Furthermore, in Brother’s Menaechmus, the cross-dressing of Menaechmus is funny in two ways. Firstly, there is humour because of the cross-dressing act itself. Drag acts are always funny even today; because of the surprise and shock of a man wearing woman’s clothing. But, secondly, there is humour in the sheer stupidity of this character, who reveals his ploy to the audience, thus foiling it.

Costume is also important in the Swaggering soldier to show the different roles of the characters. For example, the very first scene is where Pyrgopolynices is in his resplendent golden heroic armour. This captures the essence of his boastful nature as the swaggering soldier. Again this would entertain and humour the audience, who are well used to this stock character.

But also, costume shows the contrast between slave and master. Palaestrio is meant to be the slave of Pyrgopolynices, as shown by his ragged appearance. Yet Periplectomenus relies on him for a plan, and throughout the play he is know as the master planner. The role reversal is clear because of the antithesis of the slave costuming of Palaestrio, yet his servus callidus wit, which he uses to outsmart the hero of the play.

 

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