La Farce du Ramoneur is essentially a double entendre on the idea of sweeping chimneys as a sexual act. The Chimney Saeep laments that when he was a young man, he could sweep many chimneys but now that he is old, he barely manages to sweep his own. There are many jokes here about impotence and the phallic object of the chemney sweep's stick, but truly it is a play with very little action. What I believe is the difference between farces of the 16th century and the comedies of the 17th is the plot. Farces act as one joke, or one scene that could be a part of a larger comedy. Comedies however, involve a story that must find a resolution beyond the punchline of the joke.
La Farce du Chaudronnier is another farce that takes as its subject a marital dispute, but frames it as a battle of silence. A wife and her husband are arguing and he claims that she can't keep her mouth shut. As a result, she devises a game in which they must both stay silent and the first to speak must buy a kettle of soup. During the process of this game, a Kettle Maker appears, intent on making the couple talk, which he does when the husband responds to the Kettle Maker fondling his wife. While it would seem to a reader that a game of silence is antithetical to a farce, the reader is forgetting that farces were equally based on physical humor as they were based on puns. The Kettle Maker dressing the husband up as a saint is equally comic as the quick witted spars between the couple. Farces do not necessarily have to run at a break neck speed, but performers can also take their time to draw out jokes that an audience finds particularly entertaining. It is sure that farces comprised a certain amount of improvisation on the part of the actors in order to react to the audience.
La Farce de la Cornette is an absolutely delightful play on words. A wife tricks her husband into believing that when his nephews come to talk about her infidelity, they are really talking about his bonnet. The play here is that the french "elle" can refer to both the wife and to the bonnet. Rather than operating on the simple humor of physical comedy, this play relies on dramatic irony, or the fact that the audience knows more than the characters. We are in on the joke and can therefore laugh about it with the wife and her valet. Like La Farce de Calbain, this play puts the woman in a position of power where she can use her wit to get what she wants. While in the period this may have contributed to the stereotype of the wife as a trickster, in a modern performance we can see it as an empowering step for women who had few other options than to trick their spouses.
La Farce de Calbain is a refreshing respite from the repetition of spousal abuse in many of the other farces of the period. The wife wants a new dress because up until this point she has been wearing rags, but every time that she asks her husband for money, he responds in song. She seeks advice and is told that she should drug her husband so that while he is asleep, she can steal his purse. He awakes, discovering the robbery and demands his wife to return his money. However, she responds in turn by singing. He threatens to beat her, but she declares that she will leave him, bringing him to apologize and soften his ways. This is one of the common comic devices of farce, that the deceiver is deceived. Here, it is remarkable to see the woman taking control of the man's tools and using them against him in order to succeed. Whereas other wives are described and conniving, licentious, and controlming, this wife is portrayed as perfectly reasonable and justified in her actions, bringing a bit of balance back to the marital relationship which is nonexistant in other farces.
La Farce du Meunier combines two of the genre's favorite comic devices, spousal abuse and scatalogical humor. The miller is on his deathbed begging his wife to call the priest, who she is in fact having an affair with. While shenanigans are taking place at the miller's house, Lucifer is directing one of his devils on how to capture a human soul, telling him that the soul comes out the bottom. While the priest is reading the miller his last rights, the miller is overcome with diarrhea which the demon catches in his sack. He returns to hell, proud of his accomplishment, only to be berated by Lucifer for stinking up hell. As noted by several scholars this play is meant to be performed in concert with the Mystère de Saint-Martin, mirroring the holy scent at the ascent of Saint Martin. It makes me think of the old saying that cleanliness is next to godliness, but truly, in a period where sanitation is next to non-existant, one has to imagine that such smells were rather commonplace. This play would be an interesting case study for anyone who is interested in sensory studies.
La Farce du Pont aux Anes relies heavily on the physical comedy typical of farces, and by physical comedy I mean beating a woman. Like La Farce du Cuvier, the husband is emasculated by his wife who does nothing. The husband goes to seek advice and is told to go observe the donkeys on the bridge. He sees that one can only make a donkey move by beating it, and takes it as a metaphor where his wife is the donkey. In the period, women were not allowed to perform onstage, and so the physical violence acted out on stage is not against a women, but a crossdressed man. Still, the prevalence of physical violence as a raw material for comedy is a troubling reflection of the status of women in society and its expectations of them. We will continue to see this comic material even in the work of Molière, despite the fact that his women are more developed and independant agents in their own lives.
La Farce du Pâté et de la Tarte like many other farces of this period, relies on physical humour primarily in the form of beating people. The play follows two poor beggars who come to a pastry shop. The couple gives them nothing, but they hear the man tell his wife that he will be going out to dine, and that she should give the pâté he made to a valet. One of the beggars comes to take the pâté claiming to be the valet. This leads to the husband returning, enraged to find that his wife has given away the pâté. He beats her, and then the two beggars in turn for having eaten the pâté. These acts of physical comedy, though we may not find them as funny now, display the influence of commedia dell'arte on French farce of this period. We can see the creation of stock characters who are easily recognizable to an audience, with a list of phrases and actions typique to them, allowing actors to improvise within the form.
La Farce du Cuvier is a short but biting family farce about a husband who is subjugated by his wife and her mother to do all the chores. The wife accidently falls into a vat of dirty washing, and when she calls to her husband to help her out, he responds "This is not on my list". Eventually he helps her out after she promises to do all the housework. This period in history is interesting in terms of marital relations in that there is a historical understanding that women had few rights and often suffered under their husbands, but at the same time in popular literature we see the opposite dynamic, where women are seen as the agressors to their poor husbands. We might think of the Quinze joies de mariage as an exemple of this relationship. This popular representation of women as the "old ball and chain" exists today, making the farce both antiquated and contemporary from a feminist perspective.
Le Testament de Pathelin is a part of the Pathelin trilogy, but like Le Nouveau Pathelin it lacks the humor and bite of the original. In fact, Le Testament de Pathelin feels like an apology for the two previous plays where Pathelin scammed merchants and lied to priests and judges. Here we see Pathelin on his deathbed with a priest and an apothecary, laying out his will before he dies. The joke here is that Pathelin has nothing to leave anyone but rude remarks. It seems to make the argument that even clever tricksters like Pathelin will never escape death.
After the success of La Farce de Maître Pathelin, the sequel followed to cash in on the hit's popularity. Unfortunately, the sequel does little to add to the ingenuity of the first. It takes almost the exact plot, where Pathelin flatters a merchant with stories of his father in order to steal his goods, the difference being that here he lies to two people, the merchant and a man of the church in order to set them up for a hilarious conversation of misunderstanding. This conversation is rife with wit and miscommunication which makes the play interesting, but up until this point, the text could have been taken exactly from the original. I loved the original for its innovative use of the ensemble, but this play has narrowed the players to three, making the personality of Pathelin the real star of the show. We can think of this play as a precursor to series that stagnate due to their own popularity. There is a third play in the series, so who knows, Pathelin may come back around.