The banner for the 2023 NEH Institute for Higher Education Faculty, "The Performance of Roman Comedy." A beige background. At top, in black Art Deco capital lettering, reads: The Performance of Roman Comedy. Below that, in white sentence-case Art Deco lettering, reads: Boston College & Wake Forest University • Chestnut Hill, MA • July 9–August 4, 2023. Below that, four Art Deco figures in bright colors representing ancient Roman actors, left to right: a red-skinned bald person with a beard and asymmetrical eyebrow, wearing a yellow toga, on a sky-blue background; a light-skinned person with brown hair and a slate palla playing the double pipes on a green background; a red-skinned bald beardless person with a big smile and a blue toga with arms stretched overhead, on a mustard background; and a light-skinned figure wearing red palla and head covering with Green skirt with a big frown, on a red background. In the bottom left, in tiny letters: art by Kevin Quigley.

The Performance of Roman Comedy

NEH Institute for Higher Education Faculty
July 9–August 4, 2023
in person at Boston College (Chestnut Hill, MA)

Roman comedy is one of the primary and oldest forms of theater that ancient Romans produced and watched. Nevertheless, all that survives of Roman comedy are its scripts, mere dialogue with no blocking or stage directions. This fact has often resulted in the genre’s being treated as purely textual or entirely ignored in classroom settings. The past few decades, however, have seen the publication of an abundance of scholarship that focuses on the performative nature and performance contexts of Roman comedy. We are now in a position to bring these texts to life, to promote the teaching of them at the college level and beyond, and, in doing so, to illuminate why and how they are so significant for understanding the meaning, comic and dramatic traditions, and cultures of both the ancient world and our own.

An ancient mosaic of actors backstage preparing for a play. Seven men, all but one standing, in various stages of dress and costume. One is playing a set of double pipes. The seated one is pulling a mask from a box of masks. One is helping another put on a shaggy full-body costume. A mask sits on a table to the right. The dominant colors are white, yellow, red, blue, black, gray, and tan (this last for the skin color of the actors).

Actors and Musicians” by minifig is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 .

Over the course of four weeks this summer, and under the instruction of visiting experts representing three generations of scholarly excellence and a wide variety of research specialties, participants in this Institute will study ancient evidence for and modern experiments in the performance of these plays; the social, historical, and literary contexts of the plays; and their continuing significance and influence. Participants will put their instruction to use by staging and filming scenes from Roman comedy in multiple styles, as well as developing pedagogical modules to apply and share what they have learned from the Institute. Participants in the Institute will come away with an expert handle on cutting-edge scholarship on Roman comedy, with extensive hands-on experience in bringing Roman comedy to life, and with profound effects on their own scholarship and teaching.

The Institute will take place on the campus of Boston College, situated in a vibrant, culturally energetic metro area. Participants will be able to take advantage of an active arts scene and calendar, including world-class museums such as the Museum of Fine Arts and the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum.

Institute activities

An Art Deco figure in bright colors representing an ancient Roman actor: a light-skinned person with brown hair and a slate palla playing the double pipes on a green background. Art by Kevin Quigley.

Support for participants

Each participant will receive a stipend of $3,450 (this is taxable income), intended to cover the cost of travel, lodging, meals, and incidentals. We have arranged for reasonably priced lodging for participants on the campus of Boston University, a short trip on public transit from Boston College, where all Institute activities will take place. See the housing page for more details.

Participant expectations

An ancient silver coin depicting the muse of comedy. A stick figure of a woman wearing a chiton and holding a smiling mask in her hand. Hard-to-decipher Greek letters running vertically in front of and behind the figure.

File:Muse Thalia, Denarius, 56 B.C., Rome.jpg” by Quintus Pomponius Musa is licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 .

The Performance of Roman Comedy has been made possible by a major grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities: Democracy demands wisdom.

The official logo of the NEH. On the right, in all caps, "National Endowment for the Humanities." On the left, the seal of the NEH: A blue circle with "National Endowment" in all caps along the upper half, a star at the left and right midpoints of the circle, and "for the Humanities" in all caps along the lower half. Within the circle, on a white background, is the coat of arms of the United States of America: a bald eagle looking to its right with wings and legs spread. Above its head, a circular white cloud surrounding a hexagonal blue sky with thirteen white stars in it. In its beak, a gold ribbon that flows out to the right and left sides of its head, reading, in all caps, E Pluribus Unum. On its breast, a shield with a horizontal blue rectangle at top and 13 vertical stripes below, 7 white, 6 red. In its right talons, an olive branch. In its left talons, a bunch of 13 arrows.

Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this program do not necessarily represent those of the National Endowment for the Humanities.