Arts Design & Architecture

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  • (1970) Colman, Ernest Adrian Mackenzie

  • (1971) Milner, Jessica R.
    This thesis examines the mechanical comic techniques which are characteristic of farce as a dramatic forma in the European theatre. It briefly traces the origins of the term in the mediaeval liturgical drama and the history of its critical usage. Contemporary criticism of the genre rests upon the common, though ill-defined, understanding that farce is a specific form of comedy and that certain distinguishing characteristics are associated with plays which may be described as farces; although farcical techniques and scenes of farce may also be utilized by other comic forms for their own dramatic purposes. Some of those characteristics are examined in detail -- farce's exclusive concern with laughter and its lack, as a genre, of any more serious dramatic purpose; its spirit of festive liberation; its obscenity and its essential conservatism; its irregularity and improbability in plot structure; its dependence upon predictable co-incidence and other mechanical patterns of events; its use of stock, or 'type' characters and its association with masks; its exploitation of visual comedy and its relationship to the actor's art. Brief historical outlines are given of the chief period of farce in the European theatre, between the development of the Graeco-Roman stages and the close of the nineteenth century. These range from the crude and traditional folk-performances and the buffooneries of the fairground and the boulevarde to the sophisticated 'manners-farce', the vaudeville and the 'naturalistic' farces constructed in the style of the 'well-made play'. From the most popular and best-known pieces of these different periods a total of twenty-four plays is taken for detailed discussion. The analysis of each deals firstly with the broad structure of the plot, with the targets of the aggression in the play and with the pattern of resolution of the conflict. Secondly, it examines within that structure the use of recurring mechanical devices or motifs, such as those identified by Bergson, Hughes, Bentley and others: repetition, reversals, disguise and trickery, physical violence, mental and physical 'fixations' in the characters and so forth. Given this approach, which sets aside particular concern with wit and verbal comedy, some of the plays are studied in English translation after careful comparison with the original text. From these analyses it is apparent that the mechanical devices invest both the broad structure of the plot and the individual farce-scenes with a fundamental balance between the opposing forces in the farcical conflict. This balance is achieved in different ways for different structures depending upon the complexity of the conflict. In the plays in which a single rebellious impulse carries the conflict forward, the rigidity of the victim restores him a the resolution to his position of authority. In others, the aggressors suffer a specific reversal and the action is resolved in a draw between the two sides. In others, the victims directly earn their humiliation by their own repressive action and the aggressions are equally balanced from the outset. In still others, the mechanical devices are applied so minutely that they remind the audience at all times that aggressors victims alike are puppets reacting to interventions beyond their control. A pattern of co-incidence visible only to the audience may be invoked to overwhelm all the characters with a mutual humiliation. Farce proclaims its own characters; but when such a rule is allied to sympathetic and human characterization and to a serious social concern, the result may be that farcical techniques powerfully serve some other dramatic purpose.