Classical Culture and Society
“Jeeves and the servus Callidus: scheming servants in Wodehouse and Plautus”
I've enjoyed Wodehouse's stories for a long time, and I knew I wanted to do a project dealing with the relationship between a more modern work and something in the classical tradition. I realized that while Jeeves was clearly part of the servus callidus tradition, no one had gone through and demonstrated the ways in which he was similar to those characters, and from there I found that the real interest was in looking at the differences between the two authors and their different takes on the clever- servant role.
In P.G. Wodehouse’s short stories, the valet Jeeves plays the same role as a servus callidus, or clever slave, in the roman comedies of Plautus; both Jeeves and the Plautine slaves act as the driving forces of their works, assisting their young masters and bringing off forbidden romances. But Jeeves, as an individual character rather than a comic mask, is characterized with more depth and nuance than the Plautine slaves, and is presented as a more infallible, benevolent gure. This lends a very different feeling to the two authors’ forms of social commentary: while the clever slaves are sympathetic for their potential failures, and the natural violence of slavery grounds the holiday atmosphere of roman comedy in reality, Jeeves is so completely in control of his plots that the social question is about why he is in such a subservient role. Both works use canny servant characters to re ect and comment on their respective societies; though Jeeves and the clever slaves play the same role in the plot, they are different in personality.
This text originally appeared in the Class of 2015 Senior Thesis Abstracts book.