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Last Updated on February 25, 2021, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 331

The literary definition of farce is a foolish show or a ridiculous sham. The term comes from a specific format of play called a farce, one which generally involves over-the-top characters and a ludicrous plot, creating a sort of farce of reality. A theatrical farce is a light, humorous play in which the plot depends upon a carefully exploited situation rather than upon character development. Farce is usually considered to be a boisterous comedy involving ludicrous action and dialogue which is intended to excite laughter through exaggeration and extravagance rather than by a realistic imitation of life. It contains exaggerated physical action which is often repeated, exaggeration of character and situation, absurd situations, and surprises in the form of unexpected appearances and disclosures. The characters and dialogue are almost always subservient to the plot and situation which are so complex that the events happen with bewildering rapidity. Elements of farce can be found in Classical Literature, and it is the mainstay of many television and film comedians.

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The literary term, farce, comes from the Vulgar Latin, farsa, which was derived from farcire, meaning “to stuff viands (food).” The term was used colloquially to refer to the brief interludes of farcical performances between more serious performances.

Farce was originally an impromptu interlude “stuffed in” between the parts of a more serious play and has been extant since Aristophanes. In fifteenth century France, farce was used by lay companies such as notaries and law clerks for their annual festivals.

Farce can be found in “The Miller’s Tale” from Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales. Shakespeare also used farce in his The Taming of the Shrew. In this play, a wild, unhappy, angry, and seemingly incorrigible young woman is not only “tamed,” but becomes a willing role model of womanhood and the young wife simply because her new husband has coerced her into this role; even in Shakespeare’s time, this was considered a ridiculous supposition.

see: the absurd, black comedy

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