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"The Farce of the Fart" and Other Ribaldries

"The Farce of the Fart" and Other Ribaldries: Twelve Medieval French Plays in Modern English

Edited and translated by JODY ENDERS
Copyright Date: 2011
Pages: 496
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt3fhctm
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  • Book Info
    "The Farce of the Fart" and Other Ribaldries
    Book Description:

    Was there more to medieval and Renaissance comedy than Chaucer and Shakespeare? Bien sûr. For a real taste of saucy early European humor, one must cross the Channel to France. There, in the fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries, the sophisticated met the scatological in popular performances presented by roving troupes in public squares that skewered sex, politics, and religion. For centuries, the scripts for these outrageous, anonymously written shows were available only in French editions gathered from scattered print and manuscript sources. Now prize-winning theater historian Jody Enders brings twelve of the funniest of these farces to contemporary English-speaking audiences in "The Farce of the Fart" and Other Ribaldries. Enders's translation captures the full richness of the colorful characters, irreverent humor, and over-the-top plotlines, all in a refreshingly uncensored American vernacular. Those who have never heard the one about the Cobbler, the Monk, the Wife, and the Gatekeeper should prepare to be shocked and entertained. "The Farce of the Fart" and Other Ribaldries is populated by hilarious characters high and low. For medievalists, theater practitioners, and classic comedy lovers alike, Enders provides a wealth of information about the plays and their history. Helpful details abound for each play about plot, character development, sets, staging, costumes, and props. This performance-friendly collection offers in-depth guidance to actors, directors, dramaturges, teachers, and their students. "The Farce of the Fart" and Other Ribaldries puts fifteenth-century French farce in its rightful place alongside Chaucer, Shakespeare, commedia dell'arte, and Molière-not to mention Monty Python. Vive la Farce!

    eISBN: 978-0-8122-0501-5
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. On Abbreviations, Short Titles, Notes, and Bibliography
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Preface
    (pp. xi-xvi)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 1-32)

    Bawdy, scandalous, lewd, profane, obscene. Influential, dangerous, boisterous, subversive, even heretical.

    Modern audiences are all too familiar with the arsenal of adjectives that normally apply, even if they have never encountered a farce in their lives. It’s all part and parcel of the centuries of derision and mistrust to which theater itself has been subjected by a veritable chorus of philosophers on the politics and poetics of the human condition. From Plato to Marivaux to Adam Smith to George Bernard Shaw, the farce has suffered an unusually bad rap. Shaw famously excoriated it in these terms: “we find people who...

  6. About This Translation
    (pp. 33-54)

    Once upon a time, in a universe not so far, far away. . . .

    It was perfectly acceptable to pontificate publicly about assholes, farts, piss, shit, and sodomy, so long as no one took the name of the Lord in vain: “Golly gee whillikers, husband, why did you fuck me up the ass?”

    Such is the universe of the medieval French farce; so prepare to enter a world of jokes, gags, slapstick, and, above all, puns and double entendres that are frequently apparent in the characters’ very names—when they have names—and evidenced by the titles that I...

  7. Brief Plot Summaries
    (pp. 55-60)

    Note: More detailed information appears in the “Production Notes” to each play.

    1. The Farce of the Fart [Farce nouvelle et fort joyeuse du Pect]

    For four actors: Hubert; Jehannette, his Wife; the Judge; the Lawyer.

    When Jehannette “pollutes” her clean house by farting, she and Hubert appear before the Judge. The man of laws deftly and logically ascertains that, since Hubert sodomized his wife on their wedding night, then, ergo, Hubert married all of her, including her asshole. Hubert must thus share and share alike in all that it produces, including farts.

    2. The Edict of Noée, or, Shut...

  8. The PLAYS

    • Actors’ Prologue
      (pp. 63-64)

      Medieval theater troupes often opened and closed their dramas (comic or serious) with a plea for understanding. There, the actors begged the indulgence of their audience, hoping that they would not be held liable for offensive utterances not spoken in their own voices. They were acting, after all, not engaging in treason, lèse-majesté, libel, heresy, or the like. In our own age, the aforementioned trespasses no longer pose the same momentous threat; but they do indeed risk offending on the grounds of political correctness. Whence this humble offering, designed to soften the blows:

      ’Twas many years ago, in ages dark,...

    • 1. The Farce of the Fart
      (pp. 65-85)

      The Farce nouvelle et fort joyeuse du Pect, à quatre personnages, #7 in the Recueil du British Museum, appears in Viollet le Duc, Ancien Théâtre françois, 1: 94–110; and as #48 in Tissier, RF, 10: 21–63.¹ This anonymous play, whose author was “doubtless a Basochien” (RF, 10: 32), was also translated into modern French by Tissier as Le Pet (#48 in FFMA, 4: 13–26). Although the playtext was first published between 1532 and 1547, Tissier sets its approximate date of composition at 1476 (FFMA, 4: 15). It is 300 octosyllabic verses in the Tissier edition. (Viollet le...

    • 2. The Edict of Noée, or, Shut Up! It’s the Farce of the Rights of Women
      (pp. 86-106)

      The Farce nouvelle très bonne des Drois de la Porte Bodès et de fermer l’huis, à trois personnages appears as #20 in Cohen, Recueil, 159–64. The play is 388 octosyllabic verses. To my knowledge, it appears in the Recueil Cohen only; I know of no modern French translation. Alternate title: Marriage at the Thrash-hold.

      In the New Farce about the Rights of the “Gate of Bodès” and about Shutting the Door (as the French title translates), it is virtually impossible to present our usual five categories.¹ Plot blends with punning language, which has ramifications for characterization, staging, and even...

    • 3. Confession Lessons, or, The Farce of the Lusty Husband Who Makes His Confession to a Woman, His Neighbor, Who Is Disguised as a Priest
      (pp. 107-143)

      The Farce nouvelle de celuy qui se confesse à sa voisine qui est habillée en habit de prestre qui est le ribault marié, ou maugré jalousie appears as #2 in Cohen, Recueil, 9–20. It is 616 verses, mostly octosyllabic. To my knowledge, it survives in the Recueil Cohen only; I know of no modern French translation. Alternative titles: Dress Up, ’Fess Up, Mess Up; or Mea Gulpa!

      Despite Sara Beam’s observation that “specifically religious themes are rare in the farce” (LM, 28), Confession Lessons handily displays the contrary, as does the lusty monk whom we shall encounter in #9,...

    • 4. The Farce of the Student Who Failed His Priest Exam because He Didn’t Know Who Was Buried in Grant’s Tomb
      (pp. 144-158)

      The Farce nouvelle du Clerc qui fut refusé à estre prestre pour ce qu’il ne sçavoit dire qui estoit le père des Quatre Filz Haymon, à quatre personnages appears as #11 in Cohen, Recueil, 83–86. It is one of several extant medieval French plays devoted to the foolish country boy who thinks he is capable of learning. To my knowledge, this particular version, of 278 octosyllabic verses, survives in the Recueil Cohen only; I know of no modern French translation.¹

      To any reader who retains an unpleasant memory of an oral exam at college, I invite you to imagine...

    • 5. Blind Man’s Buff, or, The Farce of “The Chokester”
      (pp. 159-193)

      The Farce nouvelle à trois personnages appears as #45 in Cohen, Recueil, 357–67. The play is 616 octosyllabic verses. To my knowledge, it appears in the Recueil Cohen only; I know of no modern French translation. Alternate title: The Butt of the Joke. (Cohen abbreviates this play as the Farce du Goguelu, which suggests that the character is indeed a type who is known by his nickname.)

      If you’re a starving theater company, what kind of production should you mount to please the crowd, make a buck, and vent some hostility all at the same time? How about a...

    • 6. Playing Doctor, or, Taking the Plunge [The Farce of the Woman Whose Neighbor Gives Her an Enema]
      (pp. 194-218)

      The Farce nouvelle trezbonne et fort joyeuse d’une Femme à qui son Voisin baille ung clistoire, à III parsonnages appears as #28 in Cohen, Recueil, 219–26. The play is 388 octosyllabic verses and, to my knowledge, it survives only in the Recueil Cohen; I know of no modern French translation. Other possible titles or subtitles: The Doctor Is In; The Medicine Man.

      It is a relatively simple matter to summarize this particular plot, as long as you are not scared by a profusion of scare quotes. Is your dumb-ass husband getting you down? Do you need some doctoring? Get...

    • 7. At Cross Purposes, or, The Farce of the Three Lovers of the Cross
      (pp. 219-251)

      The Farce nouvelle de trois Amoureux de la Croix, à III personnages appears as #8 in Cohen, Recueil, 57–66; and as #57 in Tissier, RF, 11: 115–81. To my knowledge, the complete play survives only in the Recueil Cohen.¹ It was also translated into modern French by Tissier as Les Trois Amoureux de la croix (#57 in FFMA, 4: 147–66). There is a sixteenth-century prose version of the story too which might well have been influenced by our play: Tale 13 in Nicolas de Troyes, Le Grand Parangon des nouvelles nouvelles.² The Farce de trois Amoureux de...

    • 8. Shit for Brains, or, The Party Pooper-Scooper
      (pp. 252-278)

      The Farce nouvelle à III personnages fort joyeuse appears as #13 in Cohen, Recueil, 95–101; and as #49 in Tissier, RF, 10: 63–116. The play is 325 octosyllabic verses; and, to my knowledge, it survives only in the Recueil Cohen. Tissier also translated the play into modern French as Tarabin, Tarabas, et Tribouille-Ménage (#49 of FFMA, 4: 27–41). We know nothing of its date of composition, performance history, or provenance except for a scholarly suspicion that the text is from the Western part of France.¹ Alternative titles: Up Shit Creek; Beyond the Pail.

      Perhaps the best way...

    • 9. Monk-ey Business, or, A Marvelous New Farce for Four Actors, to Wit, the Cobbler, the Monk, the Wife, and the Gatekeeper
      (pp. 279-310)

      The Farce nouvelle tresbonne et fort joyeuse à quattre personnages appears as #33 in Cohen, Recueil, 259–68; and as #44, Le Savetier, le moine, et la femme, in Tissier, RF, 9: 127–94. The play is 572 octosyllabic verses; to my knowledge, it survives in the Recueil Cohen only. Tissier, who places its date of composition between 1480 and 1492 (RF, 9: 132–33), also translated it into modern French (#44 in FFMA, 3: 153–74). Alternate title: All Over Him.

      Monk-ey Business is zealously devoted to the importance of confession as a gateway to Heaven. But, wait! It’s...

    • 10. Getting Off on the Wrong Foot, or, Who’s Minding the Whore? for Three Actors, to Wit, the Lover Minding the Store, the Cobbler, and His Wife
      (pp. 311-332)

      The Farce nouvelle de Celuy qui garde les Patins, à trois personnages appears as #21 in Cohen, Recueil, 165–70. The play is 310 octosyllabic verses; to my knowledge, it survives in the Recueil Cohen only, but in two versions.¹ I know of no modern French translation. Alternative titles: Playing Footsie; The Slippery Slope; By the Bootstraps; Loose Lips Sink Slippers.

      In a new domestic comedy about two—count ’em, two!—unfaithful spouses, the dimwitted cobbler Jack falls prey to the ruse of his wife’s lover, who lives next door. To round out the cast in which Jack is the...

    • 11 Cooch E. Whippet, or, The Farce of Martin of Cambray
      (pp. 333-367)

      The Farce nouvelle à troys personnages appears as #41 in Cohen, Recueil, 317–26; and as #64, Martin de Cambrai, in Tissier, RF, 12: 143–204. To my knowledge, this farce of 489 octosyllabic verses survives in the Recueil Cohen only; but, as Tissier has shown, it is an expanded copy and reworking of another play: Le Savetier Audin.¹ Tissier also translated our play into modern French as Martin de Cambrai(#64 in FFMA, 4: 251–66). Alternate title: Below the Belt

      Cooch E. Whippet is another play—one of Cohen’s personal favorites (Recueil, xvi)—about who wears the pants in...

    • 12. Birdbrain: A Musical Comedy? or, School Is for the Birds
      (pp. 368-400)

      From the Recueil du British Museum, the Farce joyeuse de Maistre Mimin, à six personnages appears in Fournier, TFR, 314–21; and as #17 in Tissier, RF, 3: 213–72.¹ Tissier also translated the play into modern French as Maître Mimin, Étudiant (#17 of FFMA, 1: 301–17), as did Bernard Faivre (Farces, 2: 331–407). It is 418 octosyllabic verses in the Tissier edition (Fournier does not provide verse numbers). This farce was first published, it seems, between 1547 and 1557, although Tissier estimates that it was written between 1480 and 1490 (RF, 3: 218; and FFMA, 1: 303)....

  9. Appendix: Scholarly References to Copyrighted Materials
    (pp. 401-410)
  10. Notes
    (pp. 411-462)
  11. Bibliography
    (pp. 463-474)
  12. Acknowledgments
    (pp. 475-477)