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See A. Bermel, Farce (1983).
(1) A genre of folk theater and literature that was widespread in Western Europe from the 14th to 16th centuries. Farce was humorous and often satirical and was marked by realism and cheerful free-thinking. The heroes of farce were city dwellers; the peasantry and petty nobility were always satirized. The genre’s stock characters, devoid of individualized features, such as the stupid husband, shrewish wife, dull-witted judge, charlatan, pedantic scholar, and swindler, represented the first attempt to create social types. Farce made extensive use of buffoonery.
Such 15th-century French farces as The Washtub and The Lawyer Pathelin attained the greatest popularity. Farce influenced the democratic trend in French acting, as represented by the 17th-century farce-players Tabarin, Gros-Guillaume, Gaultier-Garguille, and Turlupin. Farce also influenced the plays of Molière.
The traditions of Italian farce became the basis of the commedia dell’arte. English farce was reflected in Shakespeare’s comedies, and Spanish farce, in L. de Rueda’s one-act plays and Cervantes’ intermedia. German farce, or Fastnachtspiel, was reflected in works by H. Sachs.
Farce underwent a certain revival in the late 19th century and the 20th century in the satirical plays of A. Jarry and B. Brecht. The techniques of farcical buffoonery survive in the performances of circus clowns.
(2) In the 19th and 20th centuries, a bourgeois dramatic genre unrelated to folk traditions; a superficial, frivolous, and often risqué comedy.