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Amphitryon


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A: Titus Maccius Plautus Pf: 215-185bc, Rome Tr: 1694 G: Latin com. in verse S: Before the home of Amphitryon, Thebes, mythical past C: 5m, 2f, extrasIn a prologue, Mercury reveals that his father Jupiter has fallen in love with Alcmena (Alcumena), whose husband Amphitryon (Amphitruo) is away in the wars as commander of the Theban army. In order to seduce the faithful Alcmena, Jupiter has assumed the form of Amphitryon and is at that very moment enjoying her body. Mercury has himself taken on the likeness of Amphitryon's servant Sosia. When the real Sosia arrives to announce that the victorious Amphitryon will return home shortly, he is thrown into confusion on encountering his mirror image (the disguised Mercury) and rushes off. Jupiter comes out of the house to bid a tender farewell to Alcmena, who is understandably confused and annoyed by the arrival moments later of the real Amphitryon, who cannot understand why his wife is behaving so oddly. When Alcmena tells him that he has only just left her, he flies into a rage, accusing her of being unfaithful and leaves in search of witnesses. Meanwhile Jupiter reappears, and, managing to reassure Alcmena, takes her inside the house. When Amphitryon returns, he is refused entry by Mercury, disguised as Sosia. Just as the wronged mortal is becoming desperate, he encounters his other self, and Jupiter reveals himself as a god. Despite the deceit and humiliation he has suffered, Amphitryon accepts that his wife has given birth to twins, his own son and one by Jupiter, the infant Hercules.

A: Titus Maccius Plautus Pf: 215-185bc, Rome Tr: 1694 G: Latin com. in verse S: Before the home of Amphitryon, Thebes, mythical past C: 5m, 2f, extras

Based on an unknown Greek original, Amphitryon is characteristic of New Comedy (which differed from the Old Comedy of Aristophanes in its greater realism and concentration on domestic events) but is unique amongst extant New Comedy plays in that gods appear in the action. Although disguises and the resulting confusions are the stuff of comedy, there is a serious undertone to this piece, described in the prologue as a tragicomedy. Virtuous mortals are, as in tragedy, at the mercy of the amoral behaviour of the gods and are expected to accept this reprehensible divine behaviour. Perhaps it is this ambiguity which made the theme so popular in European drama, notably in the versions of Thomas Heywood (The Silver Age, c.1612), Jean Rotrou (The Sosias, 1638), Molière (1668), Dryden (1690), Kleist (1807), and Giraudoux (Amphitryon 38).

Subjects: Literary Studies (Plays and Playwrights).


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