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  Farce (Latin, ‘stuffing’) is a genre of comic drama, characteristically presenting an anarchic world in which authority, order and morality are under threat, and in which ordinary people are caught up in extraordinary goings-on or extraordinary people are caught up in ordinary goings-on. At its best it gives subversive expression to our wilder imaginings and rebellious instincts. Although farces may steal from comedy and comedy may incorporate the farcical, farce on the whole devotes less attention to character, and has more manic physical activity and accelerating momentum in its plots.

In farce at its best, the successive discoveries, reversals, coincidences and repetitions are worked into an intricate and completely satisfying pattern, which persuades an audience of the logic of each successive step along the way, even if the final result seems supremely illogical. Disguise, role-playing and frantic improvisation are forced upon the characters to keep them one step ahead of disaster, or enable them to keep up appearances as events spiral out of control. A degree of manic activity results, drawing extensively on the physical skills of the actor. Farces often rely heavily on stereotypes—stuffy matriarch, henpecked husband, bimbo, apoplectic military man, etc. Inventively handled, these can be very funny and an essential part of the farcical mechanism. Uninventively handled, they can reinforce prejudice and create easy laughs. Some contemporary farces effectively challenge stereotypes, as Stoppard does in Dirty Linen (1976), where the ‘dumb blonde’, Maddie Gotobed, turns out to be far from dumb, or as Orton does in his general onslaught on sexual compartmentalization.

Many of the plays of Aristophanes and Plautus offer fine examples of farcical techniques and structure, and it was also a characteristic feature of much medieval secular and religious drama. Since the Renaissance, three periods of particular creative activity in farce may be distinguished. The first is Commedia dell\'arte in 16th-and 17th-century Italy, with its stock characters, situations, improvisations and comic routines. The second is France between the mid-1800s and the 1920s, where such prolific writers as Labiche and Feydeau satirized bourgeois life and the institution of marriage. Recently farce techniques and episodes have been extensively used for their subversive potential in ‘serious’ plays, which seek to challenge conventional sexual, political or social responses, for example, (in the UK) Caryl Churchill\'s Cloud Nine (1979) and Edward Bond\'s Early Morning (1968), and (in the US) Albee\'s and Kopit\'s plays of the absurd. TRG SS

See also theatre of the absurd; tragedy.Further reading Jessica Milner Davis, Farce.



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