Terence, Adelphoe: problems of dramatic space and time

Classical Quarterly 48 (02):470-486 (1998)
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Abstract

So far as we can judge from his one completely preserved play and extensive fragments of others, Menander carefully worked out the movements of his characters on and off stage, so as to give an appearance of realism, within certain conventions, and avoid inconsistencies that might distract the audience. Menander's observed practice confirms the famous anecdote, according to which he regarded the construction of a plot as of primary importance, adding the lines as secondary. Thus a character who returns to the stage after an earlier exit always re-enters through the same stage door or wing by which he made his exit; if, for example, he makes his exit in the direction of the market-place, he will be seen by the audience to return from there. Although the ancient evidence is confused, it seems clear, at least, that convention allowed the Athenian audience to regard one wing as leading to the market-place, the other to the country. Similarly, dramatic time is carefully articulated by means of the conventional choral interludes which divide a play into five acts. Some acceleration of dramatic time is possible within an act, but major lapses of dramatic time take place between acts; if a character makes an off-stage trip of some length, for example to the market-place, his exit and re-entry are separated by a choral interlude. Within the act a strict unity of time is maintained and dramatic time does not greatly exceed performance time

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