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Brothers Menaechmus


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AT: The Twin Brothers; The Twin Menaechmi; The Twins A: Titus Maccius Plautus Pf: 215–185bc, Rome Tr: 1595 G: Latin com. in verse S: Before the home of Menaechmus in Epidamnus, late 3rd–early 2nd c. bc C: 7m, 3f, extrasIdentical twin brothers born in Syracuse were separated at the age of 7. One, Menaechmus, was adopted by a rich merchant and taken to Epidamnus. The other, Sosicles, remained in Syracuse and was renamed Menaechmus in honour of his missing brother. After an explanatory prologue, the play begins with Menaechmus I stealing his wife's dress to give to his mistress Erotium, and arranging a delicious meal with her. While he is gone, Menaechmus II appears in search of his long-lost brother. He is immediately mistaken for his brother. At first confused and then delighted, he accepts Erotium's invitation to dine with her. He emerges from his feast in possession of the dress and also a gold bracelet, which Erotium wishes to have altered. As he makes off with these expensive ‘gifts’, Menaechmus I returns to be confronted by his angry wife. Turning for solace to his mistress, he is now rebuffed by her, when he refuses to acknowledge that he has the dress and bracelet. Menaechmus II is now in turn subjected to an angry tirade by the wife, and gets rid of her only when he pretends to be obeying the commands of Apollo. Convinced he is mad, the wife's father goes to find a doctor, who now attempts to ‘cure’ Menaechmus I. When Menaechmus I is seized by slaves to carry him off to the doctor's house, he is rescued by the slave of Menaechmus II. The slave soon returns with his master. There is a recognition scene, and the confusions of the day's events are explained.

AT: The Twin Brothers; The Twin Menaechmi; The Twins A: Titus Maccius Plautus Pf: 215–185bc, Rome Tr: 1595 G: Latin com. in verse S: Before the home of Menaechmus in Epidamnus, late 3rd–early 2nd c. bc C: 7m, 3f, extras

The plot confusions created by identical twins have been a recurrent theme of European comedy, most famously in Shakespeare's The Comedy of Errors, which is based on Plautus' play, except that Shakespeare extends the situation by introducing twin servants, possibly modelled on Plautus' Amphitryon. Itself based on an unknown Greek original, The Brothers Menaechmus provided the theme for Trissino's The Identical Twins (1547), Hans Sachs's Monechmo (1548), Agnolo Firenzuola's The Lucidos (1549), Jean Rotrou's The Menaechmae (1636), Jean-François Regnard's The Menaechmae (1705), and Goldoni's The Venetian Twins (1748). Identical twins, sometimes impossibly brother and sister, also form an essential element of Juan del Encina's The Deceived (1496), Cardinal Bibbiena's The Follies of Calandro, Accademi degli Intronati di Siena's The Deceived, Niccolò Secchi's The Cheats (1549), Shakespeare's Twelfth Night, and Anouilh's Ring Round the Moon. The fame of Plautus’ play as a model for later adaptations of the story may indeed obscure the fact that it is a very accomplished work in its own right. Although the ease with which both brothers descend to theft and to an abusive attitude towards both women may now seem distasteful, Plautus handles the complex plot with great deftness, making the play one of the great farces of world drama. Remembering too that Plautus' actors would have been masked, the mistaken identities of the play become even more plausible than in The Comedy of Errors.

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Subjects: Literary Studies (Plays and Playwrights).


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