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Menaechmi and the Renaissance of Comedy


Staged at the Este court of Ferrara in 1486, Plautus's Menaechmi was the first classical drama to be publicly performed in a vernacular translation anywhere in Europe. It continued to be performed, translated, and imitated throughout Europe during the Renaissance, on public, court, and academic stages alike; it may well be the most popular of all classical comedies in the 1500s. During this period it plays a major part in the recovery of Plautine comedy from its oblivion during the previous centuries. Critics like Robortello and Trissino greatly admired the plot and its use of agnitio or recognition, festivitas, symmetry, and the balance of contraries. Human ingenuity contending with luck or fortune occupies much of the action of Renaissance comedy, an aspect of Menaechmi heightened in its major imitations: Bernardo Dovizi's Calandra, the anonymous Gl'Ingannati, and Shakespeare's Comedy of Errors, but even more important to the play's comic achievement is its manipulation of the sense of identity. Dovizi's play, the first important imitation, recognizes the pleasures of watching errors and deceits in a state of superior knowledge, especially when characters are struggling with the elemental knowledge of self and sexuality.

Comparative Drama is carried by JSTOR and Project MUSE.