Heywood's Adaptation of Plautus' Rudens: The Problem of Slavery in The Captives


In lieu of an abstract, the first paragraph of the essay follows:

Scholarly inability to localize the problem of slavery outside of anachronistic translation from the classics has resulted in a critical underestimation of Thomas Heywood's adaptation of Plautus' Rudens in The Captives (1624). Transported by Heywood to a contemporary European terrain, the slave elements of the play trouble the modern judgment of those prepared to accept the normalcy of chattel bondage in the world of antique Roman comedy but not in English Renaissance drama. The absence of informed perspective on the relationship of institutional slavery to the slave figure in the drama is apparent from a review of the critical writing on Heywood's The Captives. A. H. Gilbert, the first extensively to assess Heywood's debt to Plautus in the play, circumvents the question of slavery by ignoring it. A. C. Judson, the first modem editor of the play after Bullen, naively finds the question out of phase with the sociology of Renaissance Europe. Subsequent allusions to the slave problem follow this critical path of avoidance. A. M. Clark speaks of an "incompleteness of translation into modem conditions" and G. E. Bentley of the "material from Plautus ... so incompletely adapted as to leave anachronisms in the play."1

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