Farce (Literature)

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Farce. Type of stage or film comedy in which all rules of propriety, likelihood, and common sense are equally violated. The absurd and unlikely are to farce what the ridiculous is to comedy.

The main humor in a farce usually stems from the increasingly futile attempts of one party to deceive another. The audience is made privy to the deception in the first moments of the story, and is thus free to laugh at the absurdity of the ever thinning deception, and the fact that the fooled party, or parties, continue to believe the story.

Often the story begins with only one deceiver, but as the farce progresses, each person who discovers the deception, is recruited into assisting it is. Other times, the characters, individually, or in groups, are all simultaneously deceiving one another and too wrapped up in maintaining their own deceit to realize they are being deceived by the others.

The set of a stage farce is, more often than not, riddled with doors thru which the characters are forever missing one another, often with one or more doors flying open at any time another is slammed shut, and staircases, which actors are constantly running and falling up and down, and which lead to upper levels with more doors, allowing for the simultaneous entrance and exits of characters, without either of them seeing one another, as one is exiting thru a door in the back wall, and the other entering out and not up or down at the other level.

Timing is critical in a farce, as any early entrance, or late exit which causes two characters who should not see one another to meet, would lead to a situation where the audience can no longer understand why the deception has not been discovered.

Examples of Farce

Noises Off - Is a play within a play, which is also a Farce within a Farce. The deception in the inner farce, revolves around a real-estate agent trying to impress a young woman by claiming an expensive house is his, and the real owners of the house who are supposed to be in tax exile narrowly missing one another thru doors, while the housekeeper, who could care less, is aware of the presence of both couples, and no one is aware of the presence of a burglar. Meanwhile, in the outer story the director of the play is carrying on with both the female stage manager, and one of the actresses, the real life couple in the cast are having a marital dispute in which the wife thinks that her husband is having an affair with the actress playing the housekeeper, who thinks she’s just friends with the husband, and everyone is trying to keep the bottle of bourbon that the director brought to the theater, out of the hands of the hopelessly alcoholic actor playing the burgalar.

Arsenic and Old Lace – Two homely old women hide from their nephew Mortimer the fact that they are serial poisoners. They are also deceiving their other nephew, Mortimer’s brother Teddy, who thinks he is Teddy Roosavelt, and their victims have died of the yellow death, and he must burry them in the basement. Mortimer’s other brother Jonathan, is also present, and hiding a body of a man HE killed by moving it from room to room to avoid its discovery.

The Importance of Being Ernest – Is a Victorian Farce, in which a man takes on two separate identities, a serious one named Jack (his real name) for the benefit of his ward, Cesily, and a rascal named Ernest for the woman he is courting, Gwendolyn. Unfortunately the woman is in love with him partially because she loves the name “Ernest.” When Ernest and Jack must appear together for Cecily's benefit, Jack’s friend and Gwendolyn’s cousin, Algernon is roped into playing the role, and Jack’s ward falls in love with the other “Ernest.” The two young women of course think that they are in love with the same man.

History of Farce

Whilst some attempt to demean farce as a "low" form of humor, the fact that one often has a good time at the performance of a farce is an undeniable fact. The Romans deserted the theatre of Terence to run to the acrobats, and in early modern France, Mérope[1] and Le Méchant[2] in their novelty had scarcely drawn a crowd for two months, while the most montrous farce has sustained its performance for two whole seasons.


  1. Tragedy by Voltaire first presented at the Comédie Française on February 20, 1743. Mérope was parodied March 16, 1743 at the Théâtre de l’Opéra Comique in a play entitled Marotte by Pannard, Gallet and Pontau. The Marionettes of Bienfait also presented a parody by Valois entitled Javotte at the Foire St-Germain in 1743.
  2. Comedy by Jean-Baptiste Gresset first presented at the Comédie Française on April 15, 1747.