The Pot of Gold is an example of Plautus’s dramaturgy at its best. The plot has two strands of action: Euclio’s frantic attempts to keep his pot of gold safe from thieves and Phaedria’s offers of marriage on the very day she gives birth to Lyconides’ illegitimate baby. The two lines of action are skillfully interwoven, the dramatic pace is swift and purposeful, and each scene arises from the last with no digressions. This farce also exhibits Plautus’s verbal exuberance—his punning, his comic alliteration, his idiomatic language, his metrical variety, and his keen sense of timing—to good effect. Few playwrights of that era knew how to handle a joke with such deftness. Merely reading Plautus’s plays—especially in translation—can be tiresome, however. It is necessary to visualize the action taking place on a stage to get some idea of Plautus’s ability.
Plautine drama was quite similar to nineteenth and twentieth century musical comedy in that it used song and dance as part of the action, it was best presented by actors with considerable theatrical experience, and the plays were based on adapted works. Plautus borrowed heavily from the Greek writers of the New Comedy, and it is often conjectured that The Pot of Gold was taken from a play by Menander, although it is impossible to determine which one. The miser has been a stock figure of farce almost from the genre’s inception.
The text of The Pot of Gold is no longer complete, as the conclusion is missing. On the basis of the two “Arguments” summarizing the plot—verses that preface the play, added by later Roman editors—the ending can, however, be reconstructed.
The main interest of this play lies in the character of Euclio. Three generations of poverty, hard toil, and thrift have had their effects on his...
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This work focuses on the way that wealth may not be quite the blessing that humans assume it is. This is shown through the central symbol of the pot of gold, which Euclio rediscovers thanks to his daughter's piety. The obsession that he forms concerning this pot of gold prevents him from being able to trust other characters and to accept the generosity that they offer him. For example, when Megadorus, a wealthy man in his own right, offers to marry Euclio's daughter without a dowry, and even says he will pay for the cost of the feast and ceremony, Euclio's immediate reaction is to suspect him of wanting to gain the "pot of gold" that he is so concerned about keeping away from everybody:
When he agrees to give he wants to grab! Mouth wide open to gobble down my gold! Holds up a bit of bread in one hand and a stone in the other! I don't trust one of these rich fellows when he's so monstrous civil to a poor man. They give you a cordial handshake, and squeeze something out of you at the same time. I know all about those octopuses that touch a thing and then--stick.
The irony of this quote is of course that Euclio, for all of his attempts to describe himself as a "poor man," is actually a perfect example of the kind of greed that he himself deplores in Megadorus. The overwhelming theme of this work, therefore, is to point out the danger inherent in owning wealth and the way that it can destroy you. It is highly significant that Euclio only gains a measure of happiness once he gives the pot of gold to his daughter and new son-in-law at the end of the play. A pot of gold is shown to be more of a curse than a blessing through the impact that it has on Euclio.