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Farce is a comic style, signifying broad, unsubtle, uncharactered, often physical humor appealing to the “lower” audience appetite, often associated with vaudeville, slapstick routines, and raucous stage behavior. It purpose is to mock the subtle sophisticated posturing of high society and its pretenses. Moliere, a quite verbal and subtle writer, limits his “lower humor.” In Tartuffe, an example might be the business of putting Orgon under the table in the drawing room rather in a closet, to hear Tartuffe wooing Orgon’s wife:
Elmire (To her husband, who is now under the table.)
But mind, I'm going to meddle with strange matters;
Prepare yourself to be in no wise shocked.
Whatever I may say must pass, because
'Tis only to convince you, as I promised. (Act IV Scene iv)
In The Misanthrope, the rapid listing of Celimene’s possible lovers, based on the possible recipients of her letter, might be considered “lower humor” of the farcical kind, but since the action is so well imbedded in the play’s theme of honesty vs. duplicity, it lacks farce’s usual distance from character action. It is from Moliere’s keen eye toward social convention that the play takes its humor.
Arsinoe (to Celimene). “Alas! and do you really think the number of your lovers, of which you seem so vain, can trouble others; or that we do not find it easy to appraise the price at which you gain them? Do you think to persuade us who see how things are going that your good qualities alone attract your followers; or that they burn for you with honest love, and court you solely for your virtue?” (Act III Scene v)
Celimene. “No, the letter is to Oronte; I wish it to be believed. I receive his attentions with great pleasure; I admire what he says, I value what he is. I am ready to agree to all you say.” (Act IV Scene iii.)
So, while the term “Farce” may seem to apply to these works by Moliere where he exaggerates the action, the true humor lies elsewhere, in his ability to dramatize the hypocrisy and duplicity of social discourse, and his ability to put his condemnations into the mouths of appropriate characters; the term “comedy of manners” gets closer to the essence of his popularity.
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