Essay, Research Paper: Amphitryon By Plautus


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The play Amphitryon, by Plautus, revolves around a small circle of characters.
The major roles in the play are those of Amphitryon, Jove, and Alcamena. Two
slightly lesser roles, though of equal importance, are those of Mercury and
Sosia. These two characters act as main intermediaries for their masters. This
is one of the similarities I found in their roles. However, I also found many
differences in these two characters. I believe the roles of Mercury and Sosia to
both be important ones, with similarities as well as differences, which can be
clearly seen in their relationships with their masters, the audience, and
Alcamena as well. I think that both Sosia and Mercury respect their masters.
Although in the beginning, both characters complain about being servants. Sosia
says, “No easy job, this serving a millionaire; A rich man’s servant leads a
lousy life. All his nights and days it’s just a constant strife”(7). This
quote shows early in the play Sosia’s displeasure in being a servant. Mercury
complains about his service to Jove as well. When he hears Sosia complain he
states, “Hey, I’m the one who should complain that way! Till Papa pressed me
into service today I’d no idea what slavery meant. Now, he’s been used to
being a slave.”(8). Despite these complaints about slavery, I think both of
them enjoy serving their masters but for different reasons. Early in the play
Sosia tells the audience of how his master “led us like a wonder”(9). He
refers to the victory in battle Amphitryon had over the Thebans. I believe that
Sosia is rather proud of his service to Amphitryon and respects his master’s
nobility and bravery. Mercury also shows signs of respect for Jove, his master
and father. Mercury, the patron god of thieves, enjoys playing tricks and
causing mischief. I believe this to be the reason he enjoys helping his father
in this situation. Jove is playing one big joke on everyone, and Mercury likes
this very much. Of his father he says, “ A smooth operator, this one here. And
why not? He’s my father. Watch how he’s going to butter the girl up.”(25).
In different ways, I can see how Mercury and Sosia are very similar in respect
to their masters. Differences between Mercury and Sosia arise in their dealings
with the audience. I think that these characters' monologues to the audience
give insight into their personality. Sosia’s dealings with the audience make
him out to be a coward as well as a fool. When Sosia hears Mercury talking of
harming someone coming his way, Sosia cowers to the audience and says, “I’m
so scared, I’m numb all over!”(16). When Sosia gathers enough courage to
confront Mercury, the god easily convinces him that he is not himself. Sosia
says to the audience, “He’s convinced me. I’ll have to find another
name!”(22). In almost all his dealings with the audience, Sosia is baffled and
dumb struck. The audience knows what is happening so Sosia is made out to be a
dumb character. Conversely, Mercury’s dealings with the audience show him to
be a cunning trickster. Being a god, Mercury has everything planned out and
reveals his plans to the audience. On scarring away Sosia, he says to the
audience, “this job went off very nicely”(24). Mercury’s monologues to the
audience are almost like narration as he tells them what happens and what will
happen. Enjoying this chaos he helped create, he says to the audience: “I’ll
get both of them all mixed up and drive them and Amphitryon’s whole household
crazy, until Father’s had enough of his inamorata. Then, when it’s all over,
they’ll all find out what happened, and Jove at the end will restore Alcamena
and her husband to their former married bliss”(24). In this quote, Mercury
basically describes the rest of the play to the audience; most of whom, I
believe already knew the story. Another difference between the characters of
Mercury and Sosia deals with each characters handling of Alcamena, wife of
Amphitryon. When Mercury acts as Sosia, he has minimal dealings with Alcamena. I
think his opinion towards her is amusement in the role she plays in his and his
father’s game. He says chuckling, “Didn’t I tell you he’d do this? A
little buttering up, and he has the poor girl eating out of his hand”(26).
Amused by his father’s skill in seducing women, Mercury even tries to help.
When Jove gives Alcamena the gold cup as a gift Mercury says to her, “Say
rather a wonderful gift as wonderful as the getter”(27). While Mercury treats
Alcamena with amusement, Sosia regards her sourly. He thinks she’s crazy
because he knows nothing of the tricks the gods are playing. At first he thinks
she’s gone crazy because she claims she’s seen him even though she hasn’t.
He says to Amphitryon, “Don’t you understand? If you try to say no to a
madwoman, you’ll make the crazy thing crazier...”(38). His being unaware of
the tricks, causes him to treats her rather crudely because he believes her to
be crazy. This is another main difference I see in the characters of Sosia and
Amphitryon. I believe that by examining the relationships of Mercury and Sosia
with other characters in the play, I was more able to clearly explore their
relationships. After examining these relations I believe that Mercury and Sosia
are indeed more different than they are alike. The reason for this could be that
one character has godly powers, but maybe not. Mercury seems to be just as
common and scheming as any man.
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