Farce

Literary theorist and critic Eric Bentley described farce as 'practical-joking turned theatrical'.1 Farce is a genre that we are all familiar with, though we may not always be aware of it. Farce is a common style that pervades the boundaries of art formats. Let's say the comic movie that takes its comic bits to the limits of physical comedy can be characterised as a farce. Yet, the term farce is most commonly associated with theatre. We'll discuss the most popular farce comedies and examples of farce later!

Farce Farce

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Contents
Table of contents

    Farce, Satire, Dark comedy: Difference

    The key difference between farce and other comic styles like satire and dark or black comedy is that farce usually lacks the sharp critique and commentary the other formats are famous for. Black comedy uses humour to present heavy and serious themes in a humorous manner. Satire uses humour to point out social drawbacks or flaws in people.

    Farce: meaning

    In farce plays, we find characters with exaggerated features put in absurd situations.

    Farce is a comic theatrical work that presents unlikely circumstances, stereotypical characters, and taboo subjects, along with violence and buffoonery in performance. The term also stands for the category of dramatic works written or performed in this style.

    The chief purpose of a farce is to create laughter and entertain the audience. Playwrights use different techniques of comedy and performance to achieve this, often using fast-paced and humorous physical movement, dilemmas, harmless violence, lies, and deception.

    Farce: synonym

    Synonyms of the word farce include buffoonery, mockery, slapstick, burlesque, charade, skit, absurdity, pretence, and so on.

    This should give you a good idea of the nature of farce as a performance. While 'farce' is a more formal term used in literary criticism and theory, the word farce is sometimes used synonymously with the words mentioned above.

    Farce: history

    We can find the precursors of farce in ancient Greek and Roman theatres. However, the term farce was first used in 15th-century France to describe the combination of different types of physical comedy, like clowning, caricature, and vulgarity, into a single form of theatre. The term originated from the French cooking term farcir, which means 'to stuff'. In the early sixteenth century, it became a metaphor for comic interludes that were inserted into the scripts of religious plays.

    French farce gained popularity throughout Europe. It was adopted by the British playwright John Heywood (1497–1580) in the 16th century.

    Interlude: a short play performed during intervals of longer plays or events, which was popular around the fifteenth century.

    Farce emerged as a vital art form during the Middle Ages in Europe. Farce was a popular genre during the fifteenth century and the Renaissance, which counters the common perception of farce as 'low' comedy. It was a crowd-pleaser and also profited from the advent of the printing press. William Shakespeare (1564–1616) and the French playwright Molière (1622–1673) relied on elements of farce in their comedies.

    Renaissance (14th century to 17th century) is the time period in the history of Europe that followed the middle ages. It is described as a time of enthusiastic intellectual, cultural, and artistic activity. Many masterpieces of art and literature were created during the Renaissance in Europe.

    Although it diminished in fame in the theatre, farce stood the test of time and survived till the 19th and early 20th centuries through plays like Brandon Thomas's (1848–1914) Charley’s Aunt (1892). It found a new medium of expression with the help of innovative filmmakers like Charlie Chaplin (1889–1977).

    Although Farce originated in the theatre, it is very popular among filmmakers. It has even branched out into multiple categories with overlapping features on film, such as romantic farce, slapstick farce, farce satire, and screwball comedy.

    Farce farce play StudySmarterFig. 1 Example of a scene from a farce comedy

    As a theatrical style, farce has always been at the bottom of the rung in status and recognition. Early Greek playwrights to modern playwrights like George Bernard Shaw (1856–1950) have dismissed farce as inferior to other theatrical genres. The Greek playwright Aristophanes (c. 446 BCE–c. 388 BCE) was once quick to reassure his audiences that his plays were better than the cheap tricks found in farcical plays of the time.

    However, plays written by Aristophanes are often characterised as farcical, specifically, low comedy. It is important to note that there is a fine line between low comedy and farce. Some even consider farce a form of low comedy. Let's have a look at these categories in detail!

    High Comedy: High comedy includes any verbal wit and is usually considered more intellectual.

    Low Comedy: Low comedy uses lewd commentary and boisterous physical acts to inspire laughter in the audience. There are different types of low comedy, including slapstick, vaudeville, and of course, farce.

    Characteristics of farce

    The elements found in farce plays vary, but these are the common characteristics of farce in theatre:

    • Absurd or unrealistic plots and settings usually form the background for farce. Yet they tend to have happy endings.
    • Farce involves exaggerated scenes and shallow character development. The plot of a farce often contains role reversals that go against social conventions, unexpected twists, mistaken identities, misunderstandings, and violence resolved through comedy.
    • Instead of slow, in-depth development of the plot, farce comedies involve quick action suitable for comedic timing.
    • Unique character roles and one-dimensional characters are common in farce plays. Often, characters with little background or relevance are introduced for the sake of comedy.
    • Characters in farce plays tend to be witty. The dialogues include quick comebacks and sassy witticisms. The language and characterisation in the farce may not be politically correct or diplomatic.

    Farce: comedy

    Farce plays often contain horseplay, vulgarity and buffoonery, which were important features of comedy before Shakespeare. It is speculated that this was done to reflect the comic and unpredictable nature of life different from its idealistic portrayals. Farce is generally regarded as inferior in terms of intellectual and literary quality. However, the subject of farce varies from politics, religion, sexuality, marriage, and social class. As a theatrical genre, farce gives more importance to actions than words, and therefore dialogues are often less important than actions.

    In her book on farce, literary scholar Jessica Milner Davies suggests that farce plays can be classified into four types based on how the plot unfolds, such as deception or humiliation farces, reversal farces, quarrel farces, and snowball farces.

    Farce: example

    Farce is originally a theatrical genre, and it has been adopted and popularised by filmmakers.

    Farces are performed at the theatre and in movies. Films like The Three Stooges (2012), the Home Alone movies (1990–1997), The Pink Panther movies (1963– 1993), and The Hangover movies (2009–2013) can be called farces.

    Farce plays

    In medieval France, short farce plays were inserted or 'stuffed' into bigger, more serious plays. Therefore, the history of French theatre is incomplete without a consideration of the popular farce performances.

    Farce plays in French

    As you may understand from the titles, farce comedies are usually based on trivial and crude subjects. Many of these farces are of anonymous origins and were performed in France during the middle ages (c. 900–1300 CE).

    Prominent examples include The Farce of the Fart (Farce nouvelle et fort joyeuse du Pect), approximately created in 1476, and Monkey Business, or, A Marvelous New Farce for Four Actors, to Wit, the Cobbler, the Monk, the Wife, and the Gatekeeper (Le Savetier, le Moyne, la Femme, et le Portier), written between 1480 and 1492.

    Other notable farce productions from French theatre include Eugène-Marin Labiche’s (1815–1888) Le Chapeau de paille d’Italie (1851), and Georges Feydeau’s (1862–1921) La Puce à l’oreille (1907) as well as farces written by Molière.

    Bedroom farce is a type of farce play centred around sexual relationships, often involving conflicts and tension within the relationship. The play Bedroom Farce (1975) by Alan Ayckbourn (b. 1939) is an example.

    Shakespeare's comedies

    You may be surprised to know that despite its 'low' status, Shakespeare, who is widely regarded as one of the greatest playwrights of all time, wrote many comedies that are farcical.

    Farce farce comedy StudySmarter

    Fig.2 Shakespeare's Globe, located in London

    It is hypothesised that the model of farce in Shakespeare's comedies is based on the characters' refusal to be complicit in the social circumstances around them. The farcical nature of the comedies is, therefore, a manifestation of their rebellion. Famous comedies such as Taming of the Shrew (1592–4), The Merry Wives of Windsor (1597), and The Comedy of Errors (1592–4) contain an unmistakable element of farce.

    Joe Orton's What the Butler Saw (1967), The Importance of Being Ernest (1895) by Oscar Wilde, Dario Fo’s Italian play Accidental Death of an Anarchist (1974), Michael Frayn’s Noises Off (1982), Alan Ayckbourn’s Communicating Doors (1995), and Marc Camoletti’s Boeing-Boeing (1960) are more recent examples of farce.

    Farce - Key takeaways

    • Farce is a theatrical form that involves the use of physical comedy, unconventional and unrealistic plots, trivial narratives, and crude jokes.
    • The term farce originates from the French term farcir, which means 'to stuff'.
    • The name was inspired by the way comic interludes involving crude and physical comedy were inserted into religious plays in the middle ages.
    • Farce became popular during the middle ages in Europe.
    • Farce usually contains buffoonery, horseplay, sexual references and innuendos, violence, and jokes that are considered inappropriate.

    References

    1. Eric Bentley, Let's Get a Divorce and Other Plays, 1958
    Frequently Asked Questions about Farce

    What does farce mean?

    Farce refers to the type of comedy characterised by boisterous physical acts on stage, unrealistic plots, and crude jokes.

    What is an example of a farce?

    Shakespeare's comedies such as Taming of the Shrew and The Importance of Being Ernest by Oscar Wilde.

    What is farce in comedy?

    Farce is a theatrical form that uses unrealistic plot, boisterous characters, buffoonery and physical comedy.

    Why is farce used?

    The goal of farce is to inspire laughter through physical and explicit comedy. Like satire, it can also serve a subversive function to address issues that are taboo and repressed through humour.

    What are the elements of farce?

    Farce comedies use elements like absurd plots, exaggerated physical acts, crude dialogues, and boisterous characterisation. 

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