Roman Theatre - Greece & Rome: Texts and Contexts

by Timothy J. Moore, Cambridge University Press 2012, Pb 184 pages, ISBN 978-0521138185.

This book is thoroughly recommended for students of non-linguistic courses in Classical Civilisation or Theatre Studies and also of Latin if Plautus and Terence appear on syllabuses.  The Texts and Contexts series presents key passages in translation around a particular topic with notes, explanations and discussions.  The emphasis throughout is on Roman theatre performance: how the texts were delivered, music, song and dance, costumes, sets, and theatre spaces.  The whole book covers the world of the Roman stage from the now fragmentary beginnings, through comedy, mime and pantomime to later tragedy and the reception of the ancient texts and the performance tradition into renaissance and modern theatre.  The chapters on Plautus and Terence manage to illuminate their differing characteristics through a detailed look at a particular play in each case, Mostellaria for Plautus and The Self Tormentor for Terence.  Each is presented in separate scenes broken up by text boxes and questions for discussion, and the translated text has explanatory footnotes (on the same page).  Seneca’s Thyestes is also presented in this fashion in the chapter on tragedy.  The chapters on mime and pantomime have no such texts to call on but we are given a translation of a papyrus fragment of a mime, which goes a long way to show just how weird the ancient world can sometimes be.  The pantomime is illustrated by texts describing the performance mainly from Lucian.  These chapters are excellent introductions to these two relatively neglected areas of Roman drama.  A short survey of the influence of Roman theatre on later performance traditions can do no more than point the student in a number of directions, but still manages to cover Shakespeare, Molière and Sondheim’s A Funny Thing Happened on the way to the Forum.  The questions for discussion attached regularly to each section may not suit every teacher who will probably not work through them systematically but are useful starting points for debate.   The whole volume is attractively produced and well illustrated throughout.  It can be used as a textbook for a course which covers the whole of Roman theatre or as supplementary material for the individual authors or topics, as it reads well and is suitable for independent study as well as classroom use.