||One of the most intriguing plays of the Roman playwright Plautus (c. 254 – 184 BC) is his Pseudolus. In this play, the clever slave Pseudolus wants to help his young master Calidorus who is in love with one of the prostitutes of the greedy pimp Ballio. Unfortunately, the girl has already been sold to another. Pseudolus therefore is left with only two options: 1) get enough money to buy the girl before the other buyer shows up; or 2) trick the pimp Ballio into giving him the girl. The lover’s problem instigates a performance full of deception, trickery and virtual cash flows.
Pseudolus’ main occupation throughout the play is getting his fellow characters to trust him with money and belief (credere). Interestingly, this clever slave warns both his fellow characters and the audience that he is not to be trusted (caveant, ne credant mihi). The tension between this warning and Pseudolus’ actions which are the complete opposite of this warning, has serious consequences for the way the audience reacts to this play. For to enjoy a theatrical performance, it is necessary for the spectators to suspend their disbelief and temporarily take the theatrical world as a separate reality. This process can be stimulated by specific external stimuli created by the actors on stage. This concept is better known as dramatic illusion. Pseudolus’ warning does not only challenge the dramatic illusion, but also thematises it by naming three important factors within the play Pseudolus that are all connected to illusion: the audience; the producer of illusion (Pseudolus); belief and challenges to this belief (credere and cavēre).
In all Plautine comedies, metatheatrical devices that challenge the dramatic illusion that was being portrayed can be found. Even more, as Plautine plays consist of quick shifts between the intradiegetical action and extradiegetical communication with the spectators, this dramatic illusion seems to be constantly under attack. The question then arises as to how a play that consciously challenges the illusion it is producing succeeds in keeping its audience involved in the play.
Of all Plautine plays, Pseudolus is the most apt to answer this question, as the production and experience of illusion are thematised in the play. Pseudolus, as a producer of illusion, is asking for credit, while his audiences on and off stage are doubting whether to give him this credit or give heed to the warnings they receive. Moreover, the presence of metatheatrical comments justifies abstracting conclusions about audience experience from behaviour of characters that take on the role of audience-on-stage. On top of that, there is a doppelganger motif in the figure of Simia taking on the role of Harpax. This duplication of a performance within the play opens the possibility of looking for other doubles within and outside of the text.
By exploring the way in which the three aforementioned factors (audience, producer, credere and cavēre) are connected in Pseudolus and establishing their relation to the parameters of the concept of dramatic illusion, this thesis contributes to a better understanding of the intricate ways in which dramatic illusion is undermined, stimulated, or played with in Plautus’ Pseudolus.