Cover image for Farce
Davis, Jessica Milner.
Personal Author:
[Updated edition].
Publication Information:
New Brunswick, N.J. : Transaction, [2003]

Physical Description:
xi, 191 pages ; 23 cm.
General Note:
Originally published: London : Methuen, 1978.
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
PN1942 .D3 2003 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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Farce has always been relegated to the lowest rung of the ladder of dramatic genres. Distinctions between farce and more literary comic forms remain clouded, even in the light of contemporary efforts to rehabilitate this type of comedy. Is farce really nothing more than slapstick-the "putting out of candles, kicking down of tables, falling over joynt-stools," as Thomas Shadwell characterized it in the seventeenth century? Or was his contemporary, Nahum Tate correct when he declared triumphantly that "there are no rules to be prescribed for that sort of wit, no patterns to copy; and 'tis altogether the creature of imagination"? Davis shows farce to be an essential component in both the comedic and tragic traditions. Farcesets out to explore the territory of what makes farce distinct as a comic genre. Its lowly origins date back to the classic Graeco-Roman theatre; but when formal drama was reborn by the process of elaboration of ritual within the mediaeval Church, the French term "farce" became synonymous with a recognizable style of comic performance. Taking a wide range of farces from the briefest and most basic of fair-ground mountebank performances to fully-fledged five-act structures from the late nineteenth century, the book reveals the patterns of comic plot and counter-plot that are common to all. The result is a novel classification of farce-plots, which serves to clarify the differences between farce and more literary comic forms and to show how quickly farce can shade into other styles of humor. The key is a careful balance between a revolt against order and propriety, and a kind of Realpolitikwhich ultimately restores the social conventions under attack. A complex array of devices in such things as framing, plot, characterization, timing and acting style maintain the delicate balance. Contemporary examples from the London stage bring the discussion up-to-date and reveal farce as a complex and potent comic form, with its own history, rules and traditions. Farcesheds light on the genre, its history, and usage in terms of dramatic critics. Davis examines the recurring themes in farcical comedies including rebellion, revenge, and coincidence. This classic work, updated with a new introduction and 50% new material, has been a staple of literary and humor studies libraries for years. It is part of the Transaction Series in Humor edited by Arthur Asa Berger.

Author Notes

Jessica Milner Davis co-ordinates the Australasian Humour Scholars Network from the University of New South Wales in Sydney as a Visiting Fellow in its Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences

Table of Contents

Prefacep. vii
Introduction to the Transaction Editionp. 1
1. What is Farce?p. 69
2. The World of Rebellionp. 89
3. Tit-for-Tat, the World of Revengep. 105
4. The World of Coincidencep. 121
5. On the Borderlinep. 141
Suggestions for Further Readingp. 157
Additional Readingsp. 163
Indexp. 185