CHAPTER III
THE ART OF FARCE

IN THE FRENCH FARCES AN ENGLISH PLAYWRIGHT OF Henry VIII's time would find, not merely a new form of comedy, but a dramatic technique strikingly different from his own. It is not, of course, a technique which we can now describe with much precision. A collection of frothy popular pieces, composed, over a long period, by authors the most various, for a great diversity of audiences and occasions, can be the subject of few accurate generalizations; while our uncertainty as to when most of the extant pieces were written, and when theatrical fashions began, makes it difficult to bring a given epoch into clear focus. We know, however, that farce had flowered before Heywood commenced playwright,1 and that it embodied certain permanent tendencies which he that ran might read. It is with these, not with fine shades and passing phases, that I have here to do.

In point of construction the farces are, of course, various and irregular; and, by comparison with later drama, their art is naçve enough. Despite their brevity, they begin at the beginning and develop the story easily, often with a liberal allowance of trifling introductory or liaison scenes. In the highly sophisticated La cornette there is no complex organization of parts, though the whole is presented with grace and economy; and in Le meunier et le gentilhomme three witty answers give birth to six scenes. Even the definition of a farce as 'a dramatic treatment of a single comic incident'2 is often wide of the mark. Some farces lack incident entirely; some, like Le médecin qui guérit, sprawl from one incident to another; some, like Le bon payeur, throw a couple of stories into the frame of a play; and even in Pathelin two intrigues are loosely though effectively interwoven, that the wheel of comic justice may at last come full circle.

But, though one cannot reduce the craft of the farce

____________________
1
The second half of the fifteenth century is the golden age of farce ( Philipot, Trois farces, p. 43).
2
Young. p. 100. I cite a phrase only from his definition.

-37-

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French Farce & John Heywood
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page 3
  • Acknowledgments 7
  • Contents 9
  • Introduction 11
  • Chapter I - The Family of Farce 13
  • Chapter II - The Matter of Farce 24
  • Chapter III - The Art of Farce 37
  • Chapter IV - The Case Stated 49
  • Chapter V - Pernet and John 56
  • Chapter VI - La Farce D'Un Pardonneur, Pardoner and Friar, the Four Pp 70
  • Chapter VII - Le Dialogue Du Fou Et Du Sage and Witty and Witless 87
  • Chapter VIII - A General Survey 97
  • Appendix A - List of Farces 121
  • Books Summarily Cited and Abbreviations 164
  • Index 169
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