A. Schoeman


The term "metatheatre" is used by Abel for "theatrically self-conscious theatre"
(1963 :passirn), while it is used by Gentili to indicate "plays constructed from
previously existing plays" (1979: 15, 33-35). The title of Slater's work, The Theatre of
the Mind: Metatheatre in Plautus (1981), offers in itself the most succinct definition
of metatheatre. In "theatre of the mind", Slater refers to Plautus' creation of "a form
of drama strikingly self-conscious of its own theatrical nature" (1981 :iv). This selfconsciousness
is what constitutes metatheatre, and is prevalent throughout the
Plautine corpus, especially in those plays in which one of the characters actually takes
on the role of playwright (1981:v). In addition to this, there are numerous references
to the playas a play/ to the performers as players and playwrights, and to theatrical
conventions, all of which imply a keen theatrical awareness on the side of playwright,
players and audience. Slater's fusion of the two definitions (1981: 15) as plays
modelled on the Greek originals (Gentili 1979) and manifestations of theatrical selfconsciousness
(Abel 1963) is therefore perfectly accommodated in Plautus' comedies
which may be regarded as the very paradigm of metatheatre.

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