The Aesthetics of Farce: La Jalousie Du Barbouille

By Maskell, David | The Modern Language Review, July 1997 | Go to article overview

The Aesthetics of Farce: La Jalousie Du Barbouille

Maskell, David, The Modern Language Review

The anonymous La Jalousie du Barbouille brought to light in the eighteenth century is now commonly accepted as an early farce by Moliere and printed with his works. (1) Whilst this secures for it a degree of attention it might otherwise not command, the play suffers from being a small star in the bright Moliere constellation. For Calder 'we are barely aware of the plot's existence. [...] It does not explore the issues of love and marriage. Nor does it offer any sustained character interest' (p. 28). Even a sympathetic editor notes that 'l'intrigue de La Jalousie, decousue et rudimentaire, temoigne du caractere incomplet de la piece'. (2) Negative judgements such as these, which do not go beyond plot and character, fail to do justice to the play. A summary of the text shows that these judgements are correct as far as they go, but that they address the wrong issues: a husband deliberating how to punish his flirtatious and disobedient wife consults a Doctor, who rudely dismisses him (Scenes 1-2). The husband accuses his wife of consorting with another man and generates noisy family recriminations. The Doctor offers to mediate, but instead of listening to the parties, he gives lessons in correct speech until he is dragged off by the enraged husband (3-6). Locked out of the house at night after a ball, the wife tricks her husband into letting her in by feigning suicide, thereby making her husband appear at fault, not herself. Her father enforces peace and the Doctor offers a lecture on harmony (7-13). (3) The purpose of this article is to explore the aesthetics of farce through a combination of three interconnected readings (generic, carnival, and theatrical) that, in the case of La Jalousie, produce more positive results than consideration of plot, character, or issues. The conclusions reached do not depend on Moliere being the author of the text but reinforce the hypothesis that he is.

To what genre does La Jalousie belong? Bernadette Rey-Flaud's analysis of farce between 1450 and 1550 concludes that the essence of farce is deception, trickery, or ruse: 'Farcer signifie tromper [...] toute farce est la mise en oeuvre d'une tromperie.' (4) Her syntax of farce posits three elements: (a) initial situation (b) deception (c) final situation. The deception acts like a verb in changing the situation usually from victory to defeat or vice versa. The basic structure may be repeated with variations to generate more complex farces. In the seventeenth century the mechanism of tromperie is popular in tragedy as well as in farce. (5) This definition has therefore to be qualified by specifying that farce employs a low or vulgar stylistic register, though on occasion it may parody the elevated register of tragedy. In a subsequent study, Rey-Flaud applies her definition to Moliere and finds the classic farce formula in Scene 11 of La Jalousie. (6) The wife arrives home late. Her husband refuses to let her in and occupies the moral high ground. After the wife's feigned suicide the positions are reversed. His wife hurls abuse at her husband in the street and he is humiliated. His victory has turned to defeat.

However, identifying the farcical mechanism of Scene 11 raises a problem of unity. Although the ruse is prepared for in Scenes 3-4 and 7-10, it is the Doctor, a commedia dell'arte character, who has the dominant role for more than half the play, yet he plays no part in the tromperie that constitutes the essence of the farce, a duplicity of action noted by critics: 'Ce theme du mari confondu [...] est double d'un second motif auquel il se rattache de facon assez lache: les interventions repetees d'un philosophe' (Grimm, p. 55). A generic reading of La Jalousie therefore poses problems that are apparently exacerbated by inconsistencies in the Doctor's role. For whilst he is aggressively authoritarian in Scenes 2 and 6, he is mild and peaceful in the final scene. To say only that the scenes are there to 'provide one or two lively farcical interludes' (Calder, p. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Cite this article

Cited article

Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25,

Note: primary sources have slightly different requirements for citation. Please see these guidelines for more information.

Cited article

The Aesthetics of Farce: La Jalousie Du Barbouille


Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25,

    New feature

    It is estimated that 1 in 10 people have dyslexia, and in an effort to make Questia easier to use for those people, we have added a new choice of font to the Reader. That font is called OpenDyslexic, and has been designed to help with some of the symptoms of dyslexia. For more information on this font, please visit

    To use OpenDyslexic, choose it from the Typeface list in Font settings.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Author Advanced search


    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.