Sunday, May 19, 2013

Utah State students' production of Terence's Adelphoe ("The Brothers"), spring 2013

To complete an assignment on the reception of Roman culture in the post-ancient world, ten students in the Roman History course at Utah State University last term (Spring 2013) collaborated with two of their peers from an upper-division Latin class in producing an adaptation of Terence's Adelphoe (“The Brothers”).  These students were encouraged to reflect the play’s themes freely and in a modern idiom, not to be bound to the details of the Latin original but to change what they felt necessary to create theatrically effective analogues. The goal of this reception project was to show the class what there is about this over two-millennia-old play that still seems relevant and meaningful today.

The recording of the play itself is now available on YouTube (, along with a post-production class discussion ( in which the performers, playwrights and costume designer outline their goals and methods in staging this adaptation. Each recording runs about 50 minutes.

The students’ viewpoints and what they gained from this project are abundantly clear on the recordings.  There is no point here in rehearsing them. What stands out to me is how much of what we covered in the NEH Institute last summer occurred to the students naturally and without any provocation from me: the importance of the lower-class figures, how effective New Comedy is at addressing important social issues, the inherent fun in multiple-role playing and, perhaps most of all, the horrific abuse of the female characters. During the process of creating this adaptation, I pressed the playwrights, both women, about why they didn’t want to include anything equivalent to Pamphila’s rape. They said it simply wasn’t funny. I then noted that they included the beating of a pimp. Their opinion? That was funny, in fact, funny enough that they felt comfortable not only pummeling but killing him – on the phone, of course. Another thing they learned: keep the violence off stage.

The post-production discussion demonstrates that those in the class who did not participate in the play also benefited.  The reception part of the course had begun several weeks earlier with a lecture by Prof. Christopher Pelling of Oxford University about the various incarnations of Cleopatra in drama, cinema and modern literature. With that insight, the students were primed to approach this adaptation as another example of how Roman culture can and does illuminate our lives today.

Mark Damen, Utah State University

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