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Repression and Resistance in Roman Comedy


Rape plays an essential role in Roman comedy plays, also called palliatia, which is a difficult subject matter for relatively humorous plays to include and tackle. What makes these comedies unique in the context of Roman literature is their portrayal of domestic scenes: the marketplace, the neighborhood street, the home. In these comedies, we get a sense of the ways in which Romans thought of the processes of gender power played out in the places where rape happened the most. The critical literature has taken a piecemeal approach to addressing the approach palliatia has taken towards rape and its victims and, for the most part, considers these plays liberatory. That is, the literature’s perspective on palliatia is that they subvert repressive elements of Roman culture such as patriarchy and heteronormativity. This paper presents a contrasting view in my comprehensive overview of rape in these comedies: while these plays enact certain scenes of liberatory elements, they are ultimately repressive. Repression is the dominant force that crushes and appropriates the energy expressed in liberatory elements, always leading to endings that systematically exclude victims from their own narratives. This paper will seek to answer the following questions: how do dominant groups within comedies such as fathers and rapist feign sympathy with the victim while still performing repressive acts? What incentives do traditionally subordinate groups have to support these dominant groups? Above all, what is the cost to the victim each time these actions are taken?

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