farce, light, comic theatrical piece in which the characters and events are greatly exaggerated to produce broad, absurd humor. Early examples of farce can be found in the comedies of Aristophanes, Plautus, and Terence. During the Middle Ages the term farce designated interpolations made in the church litany by the clergy. Later it came to mean comic scenes inserted into church plays. The farce emerged as a separate genre in 15th-century France with such plays as the anonymous La farce de Maître Pierre Pathelin (c.1470). In England two of the earliest and best-known farces are Ralph Roister Doister (1566) and Shakespeare's Comedy of Errors (c.1593). Instances of farcical elements, such as broad, ribald humor, physical buffoonery, and absurd situations can be found in many plays that are not termed farces, such as the comedies of Molière. In the 19th and early 20th cent. plays called
best exemplified in the works of Feydeau, were popular. Usually French or modeled on the French, they had suggestive dialogue, and they usually concerned erring husbands and wives, silly servants, and mistaken identity. In the 20th cent., farce found new expression in the films of Charlie Chaplin, the Keystone Kops, and the Marx Brothers.
See A. Bermel, Farce (1983).