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Department of Classics presents Haines-Morris Lecture "Reception ex nihilo: Doubling, improvisation, metatheater in Plautine comedy and Seinfeld" by T.H.M. Gellar-Goad

Lecture title: Reception ex nihilo: Doubling, improvisation, and metatheater in Plautine comedy and Seinfeld.

Lecture Description: This paper presents a focused comparative study of two of the most influential and most metacomedically aware sitcoms in the Western world: the Roman comedy of Plautus and the 1990s NBC series Seinfeld. Three kinds of dramatic techniques are particularly rich points of comparison. Both Plautus and Seinfeld use doubling of characters, plots, and scenes to tie together episodic narratives, to bring out aspects of characterization latent in stock types, and to draw attention to underlying themes or social issues. In each, both improvisation and especially scripted "improvisation" by characters drive plots forward (or derail plots in favor of funny business). And metatheater -- in its basic "play within a play" form, in fourth-wall-breaking jokes and storylines, and in comic parody of other genres -- is central to the character of Plautine comedy and Seinfeld both. While there are no direct allusions to Plautus in Seinfeld, paired close readings of comic routines and techniques illuminate understandings of each. Plautus helps us better see how the humor in Seinfeld functions, and Seinfeld vividly illustrates the successful staging methods and subtle acting choices that enlivened Plautine performance but have largely evaporated in the manuscript tradition.

Speaker Bio: T. H. M. Gellar-Goad is Associate Professor of Classics at Wake Forest University. He specializes in Latin poetry, especially the funny stuff: Roman comedy, Roman erotic elegy, Roman satire, and — if you believe him — the allegedly philosophical poet Lucretius. He is author of Laughing Atoms, Laughing Matter: Lucretius’ De Rerum Natura and Satire (University of Michigan Press), Plautus: Curculio (Bloomsbury), Masks (forthcoming, Tangent/Punctum Books), and A Commentary on Plautus’ Curculio (forthcoming, Michigan).

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Tuesday, April 18, 2023 at 5:45pm to 7:00pm

College of Law, Room 132
1505 W. Cumberland Avenue Knoxville, TN 37996-1810

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Lectures & Presentations


Humanities & Social Sciences


Current Students, Faculty & Staff, Alumni, General Public

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