Ancient Comedy Reloaded: Aesthetics and Moral Reflection in Lessing’s Rewriting of Plautus

Giovanna Pinna


The reception of Plautus plays an important role in the development of Lessing’s theory and practice of comic writing. In this article, I will take into consideration Lessing’s rather neglected early play Der Schatz, which is based on the Plautine Trinummus, placing it against the background of Lessing’s early production. Subjecting it to a close reading, compared with its antique hypotext, I demonstrate that the modifications in dramatic structure and the characters respond to the need that the dramatic action be adapted to the ethical norms which inform social relationships and behaviors in Enlightenment Europe. Thus, since his early years, Lessing engages in comedy-writing and reflects on the essence of comedy, seeking in the Roman author the universal psychological mechanisms that produce laughter and humoristic effects. At the same time, he tries to outline a modern idea of comedy, built on the sensitivity and moral conceptions of his own epoch. (GP)

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