Theatergram is a term, introduced by Louise George Clubb in 1989 to designate the scene of repeated motifs. One can understand that the micro-motives of the individual plot constantly circulate in the European and already in the world drama. Mostly but not always they are comical in nature, and they may evolve a series of reincarnations. One of the most popular and enduring theatergram, which runs inside the theater scenes about the same number of times as there is a world drama, is the story of separated and tangled again finder of twins or in the other words, separated siblings. The “twin” theatergram opens a window of opportunity for a variety of variations and plot moves. This essay will help to follow the path of this conditional message from ancient Rome to the present day.
In fact, only two most famous playwrights of Roman period are known. They are Plautus, who wrote 20 plays, and Terentius, who is famous for his six pieces. Researchers believe that all these plays were a transcription of Greek originals. Thus, the playwrights just followed the Greek model. It is possible to assume that the idea of mixed-up twins Plautus also borrowed from the Greeks. Due to the extraordinary similarity of twins, his comedy Menaechmi (The Menaechmus Brothers) is a series of amusing and fun episodes. After many misunderstandings, twins finally meet each other, and the comedy ends with a scene of recognition.
Menaechni of Plautus is a brilliant comedy of intrigue. The author briefly outlines the characters, but the action is developing rapidly; one misunderstanding leads to another. Later, this play worked as the basis for The Comedy of Errors by William Shakespeare, who “largely looked to ancient Roman comedy as a paradigm for his play (Henke, 2014). Another comedy of Plautus, Amphitryon, as well as Menaechmus, is based on the twin motif, but it is quite different in style and construction. Due to the participation of gods, clownish scenes are interspersed with the serious and even pathetic episodes (Marrapodi, 1998).
At the same row with the mentioned masterpieces should be placed a play Calandro, written by Bernardo Dovizi, the future Cardinal Bibbiena. This play is the newly laid situation of Menaechmus, complicated with motives of Boccaccios stories. The twins here are the cross-dressed brother and sister, separated during the war with the Turks. This double dressing comedy brings in a lot of funny and ribald misunderstandings. For instance, the brother goes on a date, wearing a woman’s dress while his sister is playing the role of a groom.
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The selected theatergram repeats in Carlo Goldonis The Venetian Twins, which is typical for commedia dell’arte. The plot is traditionally built on coincidence, and the main feature is the radical difference between the brothers characters. Prudent, cool, bold, and sensible aristocrat Tonino and cheerful, open, and good-natured Dzanetto turned out in one city, unaware of each other’s existence. The things became even more complicated when they manage to fall in love with the same girl.
Another author from the circle of the commedia dell’arte, Flaminio Scala, also resorted to “twin” theatergram and reception mistaken identity. Scala uses false identities as regularly as any other comic dramatist, but he offers only three scenarios, involving twins. They are twin Pantaloni, twin Capitani, and “cross-gender example of physical similarity between a brother and a sister” (Andrews, 2008).
Therefore, the echoes of Plautuss plays are heard even in the Italian marketplace comedies. The heroes of The Menaechmus Brothers were so popular that they remained in the memory for a long time. In addition to the Harlequin in the commedia dell’arte, Renaissance audience was entertained by Meneghini.
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Thus, for the European theater, Plautus became relevant in the era of the Renaissance. His plays were translated, and there were various alterations and imitations. Motives of Plautuss comedies were handled by numerous playwrights such as Ariosto, Shakespeare, and Moliere. Comedy of Plautus determined for the other playwrights the theme of their works, composition of actors, and laws of composite construction.
However, how could a theatergram, “sent” by Plautus, reach central and northern Europe and resonate in the Italian dramatic texts and early modern English theater? There are several assumptions. Firstly, there was a library cultural exchange because Italian plays, printed in England both in Italian and in translation, could be easily found by English playwrights (Henke, 2014). Researchers also pointed the other possible channels of Italian theatergrams penetration in England which involve the meetings of British actors and British travelers with troupes of the commedia dell’arte in the transnational “contact zones” such as Paris or Prague (Henke, 2014).
Doubtless, the greatest expression of Plautus, theatergram received in the plays of William Shakespeare. The Comedy of Errors was the first experience of the British comedy classic. It was not an independent drama, but it had a brilliant style. Later, Shakespeare once again used this theatergram in Twelfth Night in a more complex and refined form, adding the difference between twins gender. Twelfth Night is unique in its combination of freedom, permutation, and various components. It has respect for the Italian comedy, but at the same time it is an innovation, “misleading to contrast the combined actions of mistaken identity of twins and reconciliation of lost relatives” (Orgel, 1999).
Nowadays, the story of separated twins is still topical, but it is more diverse. For example, in 1988, the writers of the movie Twins, described the meeting of absolutely dissimilar twins, portrayed by Arnold Schwarzenegger and Danny DeVito. In 1991, this movie was followed by Double Impact, directed by Sheldon Lettich. This film told a story about twins, which were separated 25 years ago. However, in 2015 this theatergram was turned entirely in a different way. For instance, in the film Twinsters, directed by Samantha Futerman, two completely different girls see themselves as twins.
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It should be mentioned that numerous film adaptations and theatrical productions of Shakespeare plays fueled the twins theme with new interpretations. The first in a series of bold reworking was probably the Broadway musical The Boys from Syracuse (1938). In 1940, it transformed into a movie, where Allan Jones played identical twins. Another adaptation the Trevor Nunn’s Twelfth Night: Or What You Will (1996) carries the film to the end of the nineteenth century, where the characters wear uniforms of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. However, the plot of Shakespeare’s plays is very formally stored in the Andy Fickman’s She’s the Man (2006), where the main characters are senior school pupils.
In the XXI century adapted version of the Shakespearean play was staged by Japanese Kabuki Theater. As only men play in this theater, the roles of Viola/Cesario and Sebastian were played by a young actor and characters-antipodes, Malvolio and Feste, by his father. As a result, it added even more confusion to this fascinating story.
Thus, in different contexts the number of disclosed features is very wide: the author can separate the characters with each other or with their parents, describe same-sex or opposite-sex twins. Heroes may be similar in all kinds, or they can possess visual similarities but at the same time have very different characters. Finally, in this equation with several unknown, even age can be variable.
All in all, a theatergram as a dramaturgic element has gone through many incarnations, according to writers imagination, viewers order, and time challenges. Nevertheless, after passing through centuries, the theatrical message of separated twins retained its appeal and relevance. It is the common pattern that received the extensive development and variety of interpretations.