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The Tempest, Plautus, and the Rudens Bruce Louden Scholars have identified many elements in that mosaic of texts and traditions Shakespeare draws upon in The Tempest —Montaigne's essay "On Cannibals," the Aeneid, William Strachey's A True Repertory ofthe Wrack, to name only a few.1 However, Shakespeare draws on these works, and others, more for specific effects or colors with which to imbue a scene, than for the general structure, overall movement, or central themes of his own play. I argue that the Rudens, by Plautus, an author with whom Shakespeare was well acquainted, to whom he refers throughout his career, and in whose dramatic techniques he was deeply informed, serves as Shakespeare's principal source. I am not the first to make this claim. Several recent commentators have made the same suggestion, though limiting themselves to relatively brief expositions.2 The time seems ripe, then, for a fuller analysis of the evidence on which such an argument rests. Shakespeare appropriates and adapts from the Rudens not only specific details, as in other previously identified sources, but aspects of its setting, several of its most prominent motifs and central themes, and principal relationships between its main characters . Chief among these is the parallel predicament in which each play's protagonist finds himself, a wrongly exiled man who, at play's end, having in his power the very characters who have wronged him, forgives instead of taking revenge upon them. Shakespeare exploits the Rudens as an organizing device, a structure on which he builds, a vessel into which he can pour additional ideas and colorings, without, however, changing the essential shape or nature of that original vessel. Such a view of the Tempest's genesis addresses and accounts for many celebrated oddities of its characterization and construction, including its observance of the classical unities and concern with metatheatrical elements.3 Why would Shakespeare find the Rudens useful for his own purposes? Shakespeare earlier composed The Comedy ofErrors 199 200Comparative Drama by adapting the principal devices and dramatic situations of two ofPlautus' comedies, the Menaechmi and the Amphitryon revealing considerable acquaintence with the Plautine corpus, Plautus's dramatic techniques, and the genre in which he composed, new comedy. In Hamlet Shakespeare singles out Plautus as a central influence on comedy in Polonais' description ofthe Players' virtues (2.3.392-7). The prefatory Epistle to Troilus and Cressida, whether or not by Shakespeare, connects that play to the comedies of Plautus and Terence. If the Tempest draws on the Rudens, Shakespeare is merely continuing a long-standing interaction with Plautus, functional throughout his career.5 Both Plays as Mixtures ofRomance and New Comedy. Given his close acquaintance with Plautine new comedy, the Rudens particularly serves Shakespeare's purposes for The Tempest because of its unique ties to romance. His previous three plays, Pericles, Cymbeline, and The Winter 's Tale, all explore different aspects of romance, a tendency Shakespeare furthers in The Tempest . However, The Tempest, though predominantly a romance, contains characters who are recognizably stock types from new comedy, though given individuating touches by Shakespeare.6 In Prospero we have a slightly adapted senex iratus,1 "irascible old man," in Miranda, a classic puella, in Ferdinand, a stereotypical adulescens, of high birth, well behaved, but not terribly interesting in his own right. The young couple are brought together by the deft and resourceful machinations of a clever slave, or servus callidus (Ariel), after temporary but ineffectual interference by a coarse, lowly slave (Caliban). In this overlay of new comedy characters onto a romance plot, The Tempest forms a counterpart and complement to Shakespeare's early Plautine work, The Comedy of Errors, essentially a new comedy with marked romance features. Though directly derived from Plautus, it contains many motifs more generally associated with romance: the shipwreck, the gap of a generation, and a final recognition scene which is deeply indebted to Apollonius and perhaps Heliodorus, as well.8 Of all the surviving new comedies only the Rudens is often classified as a romance, the sole play which could supply Shakespeare with material relevant to the specific type of drama in which he was engaged. A number of commentators classify the Rudens as...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1936-1637
Print ISSN
0010-4078
Pages
pp. 199-233
Launched on MUSE
2016-10-05
Open Access
No
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