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Heywood’s Adaptation of Plautus’ Rudens: The Problem of Slavery in The Captives Carolyn Prager 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 modem 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 ab­ sence 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 “incom­ pleteness of translation into modem conditions” and G. E. Bent­ ley of the “material from Plautus . . . so incompletely adapted as to leave anachronisms in the play.”l The main plot of The Captives (poorly linked to a sub-plot which does not concern us here) centers about the rescue from prospective sale by a pimp. In Heywood as in Plautus, the girls are clearly slaves being sold into slavery in societies where trade in slaves is legitimate commercial enterprise. In each play, they fortuitously escape their owner during a storm and shipwreck. Plautus’ Greek slave girls land off the coast of Cyrene, Hey­ wood’s Englishwomen off Marseille. Palaestra, the daughter lost in infancy in either play, is rescued along with her female fellow 116 Carolyn Prager 117 slave by an unknowing father who violently opposes—though for significantly different reasons in the Roman and the English play —the procurer’s right to repossess his human property. The con­ tents of a trunk hauled from the sea in the net of a fisherman (a slave to the father in the Rudens; a countryman in The Captives) reveal the true natal identities of the girls. After the recovery by their parents, Plautus’ and Heywood’s Palaestras are joined by their lovers who have followed after them on their forced odyssey. Aside from similar mechanical contrivances of plot and char­ acter pairings, there are startling differences, mainly of moral scope, in the two plays. In the Rudens, Daemones, the father, aids the escaped girls because they have taken sanctuary in a Temple of Venus. To preserve the integrity of the sacred place, he violently rejects the attempt by the pimp Labrax to recover his slaves from the sanctuary by force. In the traditional resolu­ tion of New Comedy, Daemones frees his witty and resourceful fisherman slave (after cheating him of his money), and then in­ vites the pimp home to dine with him. Moral censure, if any, is directed against the contemporary evil of child-stealing. Chattel slavery and its moral ramifications are not controversial issues in the play. The portion of Heywood’s adaptation which so troubles modem readers—namely the enslavement, prospective barter, and redemption of the two girls—explores the contemporary abuse of slavery, a fact of life affecting Caucasians, Asians, and Africans alike in the Renaissance world.2 The father, trans­ formed by Heywood from Plautus’ lecherous recluse to a virtu­ ous English merchant, reacts with horror at the thought that Christian women might be held as common capital. Ashbume challenges their procurer with the innate right of free-bom Englishmen to freedom: “I tell thee pesant/ Englands [not] no broode ffor slaves” (11. 1536-37).3 Mildew, “a damable hee bawde” (1. 155), “ffather of ffomication,” and “duncart off dis­ eases” (1. 194), plans to emigrate from France with all his capital, including “these shee chattyles” (1. 271), the two Eng­ lish girls. A survey of the geography of most of Western Europe and its neighbors indicates that he can turn the girls, unequivo­ cally his slaves...


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