General English


Media Studies

  • noun a comic drama in which ordinary people are caught up in extraordinary, usually ludicrous events


  • A play characterized by broad humour and a complicated andimprobable plot. The word comes from the Latin farcire meaning'to stuff', which was originally used to refer to the explanatorysentences added to the liturgy, then in the theater to the extra materialinterpolated into a play to delight and amuse.

    Early types of farce included the ancient Greek satyr-playand the Roman atellana with its stock clown characters. LaterRoman dramatists such as Plautus and Terence includedfarce in their works. It was also a characteristic feature of medievaland church drama, such as The Second Shepherds Play by the15th-century Wakefield Master. Secular farces in the Middle Ages dealtwith such subjects as marital infidelity and hypocrisy, the oldestsurviving example being a 13th-century Flemish work, The Boy andthe Blind Man. The roots of French farce can be found in the sotie,a political or religious satire in which all the characters were fools,and in the commedia dell'arte, which influenced Molière.Early German farces were called 'Shrovetime plays' with many of thebest written by Hans Sachs (1492 - 1576).

    Farce did not emerge as a distinct genre until the 16th century.In England an early example is John Heywood's Johan Johan (c.1520), but English farce did not really come into its own until EdwardRavenscroft adapted Molière for The Careless Lovers(1673).

    In the 18th and 19th centuries short farces were presentedin the British and US theaters as light entertainment after a tragedy.France's master of the genre Georges Feydeau wrote some 40in his lifetime. Famous examples of early full-length English farceswere Arthur Wing Pinero's series in the 1880s for the RoyalCourt Theatre and Brandon Thomas's Charley's Aunt (1892).

    The term is now most often applied to the bedroom farce,in which sexual innuendo is a major ingredient. Famous 20th-centuryBritish examples are the Aldwych farces of the 1920s and 1930sby Ben Travers, and the Whitehall farces of the 1950s and 1960sfeaturing Brian Rix.

    Farce is the essential theater. Farce refined becomes highcomedy: farce brutalized becomes tragedy.
    GORDON CRAIG: The Story of My Days


  • noun a French noun meaning stuffing

Origin & History of “farce”

Farce originally meant ‘stuff’ (widening gastronomic knowledge in the late 20th century has made us more familiar with its French cousin farcir ‘stuff’, and the force- of forcemeat (17th c.) is the same word). It came via Old French farsir from Latin farcīre ‘stuff’. The Latin verb was used in the middle Ages for the notion of inserting additional passages into the text of the mass, and hence to padding out any text. A particular application was the insertion of impromptu, usually comical interludes into religious plays, which had led by the 16th century to something approaching the modern meaning of farce.