Defining a Comic Tradition: Plautus and the Marx Brothers

John Gruber-Miller, Edwin R. and Mary E. Mason Professor of Languages, Cornell College

John Gruber-Miller delivers the talk Defining a Comic Tradition: Plautus and the Marx Brothers.

Critics of comedy have generally classified the Marx Brothers as Anarchists or as Ethnic comedians or as members of a larger Comedian tradition. None of these designations gives the Marx Brothers their due. In fact, these labels reduce their films to witty bits rather than take their entire comic world into consideration. In examining their success at creating this distinctive comic world, it becomes clear that the Marx Brothers are part of a long tradition going all the way back to the Roman comic playwright Plautus, best known for his tricky slaves, verbal pyrotechnics, actors’ rapport with the audience, and send-ups of romantic comedy.

An expert on Classics pedagogy, John Gruber-Miller is the editor of the book When Dead Tongues Speak: Teaching Beginning Greek and Latin (Oxford University Press, the author of the online educational site, Ariadne: Resources for Athenaze, and the founding editor of Teaching Classical Languages, a peer-reviewed, online journal dedicated to Latin and Greek pedagogy. He has received the Award for Excellence in the Teaching of Classics at the College Level from the former American Philological Association (now Society for Classical Studies). His latest project is Imagining Ancient Corinth: An Introduction to Greek Literature and Culture, designed for intermediate Greek students.

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