Holy Deadlock and Further Ribaldries: Another Dozen Medieval French Plays in Modern English

Holy Deadlock and Further Ribaldries: Another Dozen Medieval French Plays in Modern English

Holy Deadlock and Further Ribaldries: Another Dozen Medieval French Plays in Modern English

Holy Deadlock and Further Ribaldries: Another Dozen Medieval French Plays in Modern English


Did you hear the one about the newlywed who rushes off for legal advice before the honeymoon is over? Or the husbands who arrange for an enormous tub in which to cure their sugary wives with a pinch of salt? How about a participatory processional toward marriage so sacrilegious that it puts Chaucer's pilgrimage to shame? And who could have imagined a medieval series of plays devoted to spouse-swapping? Jody Enders has heard and seen all this and more, and shares it in her second volume of performance-friendly translations of medieval French farces. Carefully culled from more than two hundred extant farces, and crafted with a wit and contemporary sensibility that make them playable half a millennium later, these dozen bawdy plays take on the hilariously depressing and depressingly hilarious state of holy wedlock.

In fifteenth- and sixteenth-century comedy, love and marriage do not exactly go together like a horse and carriage. What with all the arranged matches of child brides to doddering geezers, the frustration, fear, anxiety, jealousy, disappointment, and despair are matched only by the eagerness with which everybody sings, dances, and cavorts in the pursuit of deception, trickery, and adultery. Easily recognizable stock characters come vividly to life, struggling to negotiate the limits of power, class, and gender, each embodying the distinctive blend of wit, social critique, and breathless boisterousness that is farce. Whether the antics play out on the fifteenth-century stage or the twenty-first-century screen, Enders notes, comedy revels in shining its brightest spotlight on the social and legal questions of what makes a family. Her volume defines and redefines love and marriage with a message that no passage of time can tear asunder: social change finds its start where comedy itself begins--at home.


Why farce? Why comedy at all?

If only in terms of commercial hits at the movies, comedy is much beloved. But not since Annie Hall (1977) has it been a winner. Sure, in 2009, the Academy made room for our vulgar propensities by expanding the field of nominees for Best Picture, the better to acknowledge films that were huge box-office draws. There’s art; and there’s art that people really like.

Medieval and Renaissance French people really liked farce.

Farce was popular culture. It was a forerunner of the sitcom. It anticipated the variety sketches of Saturday Night Live and the mockumentaries of The Daily Show. It was even a harbinger of the spouse-swapping spectacles of reality tv. and yet, farce remains the black sheep of the theatrical family and the runt of the comic litter. It’s the “also-ran.” It’s the ne’er-do-well flip side of tragedy. It’s the long forgotten Side B of that old 45-rpm record, dwarfed by the Top 40 smash of Side A. Flip that record, though, and many a highbrow scholar has been known to flip out upon encountering politically incorrect humor that left no stone unturned. Medieval farce had the stones to engage every hot-button issue in the book even as books themselves were only beginning to enjoy mass dissemination: the inequities of the legal system, the separation of church and state, access to education, gender roles, the very definition of marriage. Joyously and relentlessly, in send-up after hysterical send-up, early satirists shone their harshest spotlight upon the deep instability that underlies any veneer of social stability. They poked, prodded, and palpated the dark underbelly of life. Old age meets youth, holy roller meets nympho, servant meets master, snake-oil salesman meets mark, moron meets PhD, doctor meets patient, foreigner meets local, artisan meets artless, seducer meets prude. And, for the most part, funny meets unfunny as farce rubs everybody’s noses in the malodorous fruits of its asinine labors—albeit not as literally as it did in The Farce of the Fart—perhaps nowhere more so . . .

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