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|Characters||Pseudolus, slave of Calidorus
Simo, father of Calidorus
Callipho - neighbor of Simo
Ballio, Phoenicium's pimp
Harpax, slave of an officer
Charinus, Calidorus' friend
Simia, slave of Charinus
Young Slave, of Ballio
|Setting||a street in Athens, before the houses of Simo, Callipho, and Ballio|
Pseudolus is a play by the ancient Roman playwright Titus Maccius Plautus. It is one of the earliest examples of Roman literature. The play begins with the shortest prologue of any of the known plays of Plautus, though it is not known whether Plautus wrote this prologue himself or if it was added later.
Simo - An Athenian gentleman
Calidorus - Simo's son
Pseudolus - Simo's chief slave
Callipho - a neighbor and friend of Simo
Charinus - a friend of Calidorus
Ballio - a pimp
Phoenicium - (mute) a girl in the possession of Ballio and loved by Calidorus
Harpax - an officer's orderly
Simia - a slave
Pseudolus and Calidorus enter, Calidorus has been miserable the recent days and Pseudolus desires to help. Pseudolus is given a letter to read, mocking it ("All these letters - they seem to be playing at fathers and mothers - crawling all over each other"-23) eventually we find out that Calidorus is in love with Phoenicium, a prostitute owned by Ballio. It doesn't seem like a viable prospect to acquire her, Calidorus has no money to buy her with. Pseudolus will help him, he doesn't know how but he knows "by the twitch of this eyebrow" that he can help him. Calidorus is melodramatically appreciative and still sad ("All my hope of life rests on you"). Pseudolus warns all people (audience included) to be wary of him in his task.
Ballio enters, whipping his slaves and commenting how bad (thieving, useless) they are. It is his birthday and all his slaves must work to make it the best yet, especially the prostitutes, they each have a customer base in trade (oil, grain) and should acquiesce all they can for Ballio's birthday. Pseudolus and Calidorus have interchanges during his speeches, which resume with him wanting more materials from his slaves. Ballio leaves his house and Pseudolus and Calidorus intercept him, Pseudolus sings 'Happy Birthday' to him, Ballio is not a friendly man ("Jupiter destroy you, whoever you are"-250). Refusing to speak to them until Pseudolus proposes a proposition, Ballio resumes his cruelness ("I'd be sorry for you - only I can't feed my family on sympathy"-300).
All Ballio wants is money, he doesn't care for Calidorus' love interest, they talk about ways to acquire money to pay; nothing comes to fruition. Ballio says "Your girl is not for sale any more", Calidorus rejoices, Ballio meant that she had already been sold to a Macedonian officer. They must find 2000 drachma soon or she is gone forever. They insult him, a lot. (380). If Calidorus brings the money Ballio will give him to her in spite of the previous deal. Ballio and Calidorus exit. Pseudolus psyches himself up for the challenge when Simo and Callipho arrive. Word has reached Simo his son is in love with a prostitute and he isn't happy. They overhear Pseudolus agreeing with Callipho (a well mannered and good person) and call him into investigation. There is a subversion of Master/Slave, Pseudolus has far more rights than normal slaves should ("do not let my displeasure (with Simo)"-500). Pseudolus tells Simo of Calidorus' plan, Pseudolus says he shall try and get the money, in fact he is "sure of it" (520) that Simo will give him the money himself. Pseudolus warns them to be on their guard against him, he tells that of his war against Ballio and how he shall have two victories by the end of the day, if not, he will go to the Mill. Callipho drops his day's appointments and offers his help to Pseudolus. Simo and Callipho leave. Pseudolus addresses the audience he assures them he hasn't "the slightest idea how I'm going to do it [makes his plans work-594]
Pseudolus reappears after the interlude, "No more doubts, no more fears; I've got it all safe in here" (601). He has his plan. He sees a stranger, with a sword, he spies on him. It's Harpax and Pseudolus drops all his plans and moves in, he pretends to be a slave of Ballio's house; Syrus. 'Syrus' is a "sub-ballio" and tries to convince him using the knowledge he got from Ballio earlier to get the money, but Harpax is not losing the money and just hands out a letter, with a seal of the General on. Harpax will remain in his inn until Pseudolus sends for him. Harpax leaves, Pseudolus speaks to the audience again (703), Harpax coming, he says, has "saved the day". He aggrandizes himself, Pseudolus is an awesome trickster, "that little fib was worth its weight in gold". Calidorus arrives with Charinus, Pseudolus addresses him in his best manner, "Hail to Pseudolus's lord and master - with, O king.." (717). Pseudolus tells Calidorus that he has the letter, and also says that Charinus won't be any use to him. He says "You're going to have your girl free and in your arms today" (740), Charinus actually will be useful, he shall provide a recently arrived slave, he also secures 500 drachmas from him. They outlines some deals and 'Simia' will be fetched for Pseudolus' scheme. They leave Pseudolus alone on the stage, he addresses the audience again, "That sets my mind completely at rest; any doubts or uncertainties I had before are quite cleared away" (795) He leaves the stage for the first time.
A boy appears on stage, of Ballio's house. He's an ugly slave boy in a house of female prostitutes, under the threat of death if he can't present Ballio with a present, which he can't. Ballio returns with a cook. Ballio says "I couldn't have found a more garrulous, glib-tongued, stupid, and useless specimen" (793) about 'Cook'. Cook suggests he's actually very good, just expensive and mocks the decent cooks for using good ingredients when he uses (obviously fake) ingredients such as "ciciliander or cipoliander or macarosis or secatopsis...chicimandrium, halitosis, or cataractium" (864). Ballio sets a slave to watch over him and make sure he doesn't steal from him, as well as on the Cook's assistants. Food is served and Ballio talks about the thieving slaves and "[Simo] warns me most emphatically to beware of his slave Pseudolus" (919), he has a plot to steal Phoenicium.
Pseudolus arrives on stage with Simia (though Simia isn't on stage when Pseudolus starts talking, he's lagging behind), he is hailing Simia for how brilliant a chap he is. They have some slave banter, both being annoying, witty slaves to one another. "-I swear, Simia, you're such a crafty fellow I love you, I respect you, I look up to you" (962). Ballio comes out of the house, Simia assumes the role of Harpax to trick Ballio. He is looking for a "lawless, shameless, faithless, godless sinner", Ballio thinks it's him, and it is. Simia almost falters when he doesn't know the general's name, but he spins it to Ballio, if Ballio knows then 'Harpax' knows he is the real recipient of the letter. "Polymachaeroplagides". They read the letter and everything works out. They go into the house to complete the deal. Ballio triumphs at his victory over Pseudolus, it becomes worse for Ballio when Simo arrives and he confidently says that if Pseudolus gets the girl he'll give Simo 2000 drachma..
They talk about how Pseudolus failed and Ballio tells Simo that he has been sold to the soldier now, so Pseudolus cannot get her. The real Harpax arrives and is angry about the slave who delayed and intercepted him, he wants to fulfil his task. Ballio and Simo think it's not a real Harpax and play games with him. Harpax tries to give him the money to collect the girl, they mock Harpax until.... "How much did I cost you to hire this cloak?.. And that sword..." And then they still think he is Pseudolus' employee, until Harpax says "His name was Syrus".. it clicks for Ballio.. now in despair.. and he must pay 2000 drachma to Harpax and Simo. Simo leaves to give Pseudolus his money. Pseudolus reappears, drunk. He knocks on Simo's door after arguing with his feet, and he takes the money and takes Simo with him, to where the drink is flowing. However, he doesn't invite the audience, "they never invite me anywhere".
(Translation used: E. F. Watling)
- The clever slave - Pseudolus is an example of the stock character of the clever slave, common in Plautus' works.
A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum - The basic plot, as well as the character Pseudolus
- Latin text of Pseudolus, from the Perseus Digital Library
- Review of translation (2008) by David M. Christenson