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Roman architecture is still quite impressive today, as is the statuary and city-planning of ancient Italy.
As a rule, they turned out better engineers than artists, generals than philosophers, scenic designers than playwrights—with some notable exceptions, as we'll see!
In most arts, then, the Romans serve as transmitters more often than innovators, a reputation they themselves neither disputed nor disparaged.
"Spectacle," "circus," "perform," "impersonation" and "actor" are originally Roman words, not to mention "operatic histrionics," "sports personality," "nudity," "violence," "transvestism" and "stupid farce." To put it succinctly, the Romans liked their shows grandiose, something that appealed to both eye and ear—and heart and mind, if convenient—and we their heirs follow in their noisy, motley steps.
For a people who adopted and realized a vision of world conquest, it was natural to think sumptuously, a perspective they did not apply to the theatre.
In studying Roman theatre, then, we are really investigating one aspect of the merger of Greek and Roman culture in the third and second centuries BCE.
One of the most successful experiments ever in multiculturalism, Greco-Roman civilization was conceived when all sorts of Greek arts, drama included, began to infiltrate Rome.Thus, at its best Latin drama can be said to be eminently workable, some of the most feasible theatre ever created, at least to judge from its enduring presence on the stage, but it was neither as innovative as Greek drama at its finest nor as subtle or profound.The Roman dramatist Plautus, for instance, concocted masterful, effective comedies, still fully playable on the modern stage.Last and late, Seneca's tragedies may be brilliant if understood to be meta-tragic parody—if not, they are simply too tragic to work effectively on stage—but in either case they make a sad and fitting finale for the histrionic genre of classical tragedy.In sum, while Greco-Roman drama, as perhaps it should be called, is well worth studying, it never achieved the summits that Greek drama before it had. Italy is the boot-shaped peninsula to the west of Greece in the Mediterranean Sea, with the long, narrow Adriatic Sea separating them.—rather, their work was the extension of Greek art forms migrating across the Adriatic Sea and undergoing the modifications necessary to please a different audience and age.