These archetypes were employed repeatedly
by the Roman comic playwrights Plautus and Terence, though some had been used
even earlier by Greek comedians like Aristophanes. However, it was the Roman
writers who refined the types and certain stock situations which their large
audiences greeted with glee. As in all theatrical performances of classical
times, the actors wore masks, particularly exaggerated masks in the case of
comedy, which crudely emphasised the essential characteristics of each type.
Since all the parts were played by men, the female characters wore female masks
and wigs to denote their sex.
With the collapse of the
The traditional stock
characters may take on many forms – sometimes as satirical as the originals,
sometimes more mellow – but they crop up even today in such popular dramatic
forms as television situation comedy. The form is flexible. It can be used as
readily for political satire as for gentle family comedy. It is a great legacy
in our theatrical tradition, surely because it deals with many fundamental truths
about human behaviour.