Sunday, March 20, 2016

THE POT OF GOLD by Plautus

Writing about comedy is too often like explaining a joke--pointless and self-defeating. But here goes:

There's an interesting misprision about halfway through Plautus's Aulularia (The Pot of Gold), when the miserly Euclio misinterprets Lyconides confession of deflowering his (Euclio's) daughter as an admission of stealing the eponymous pot. The comic confusion of goldpot and honeypot suggests an identification, a reading of the play in which the pot of gold rather obviously represents Euclio's unseen daughter (tellingly reduced to a symbol of her genitalia). The work thus comments satyrically upon a society bonded by the circulation of women, a circulation entirely controlled, like the movements of the pot (symbolizing monetary circulation), by men. One might understand the confusion as satire of a society that objectifies and commodifies women to the point that even the most desirable among them is seen as no more human than a container of valuable coins. On a more abstract level, both pot and daughter can be understood as MacGuffins, objects of desire that impel narrative action by their movement in fictional space. They might be the archetype-establishing MacGuffins in the Western canon--unless one is tempted, as I often am, to proclaim Homer's Helen the great-grandmother of all MacGuffins... Anyway, there's surprisingly much for an au courant feminist reading to chomp on in this ancient little play.

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