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A farce is a comedy written for the stage, or a film, which aims to entertain the audience by means of unlikely and extravagant - yet often possible - situations, disguise and mistaken identity, verbal humour of varying degrees of sophistication, which may include puns and sexual innuendo, and a fast-paced plot whose speed usually increases even further towards the end of the play, often involving an elaborate chase scene. Broad physical humor, and deliberate absurdity or nonsense, are also commonly employed in farce.

As opposed to romantic comedies, farces usually do not contain a traditional plot involving frustrated young lovers who eventually surmount all obstacles. Rather, they frequently focus on a transgressive act, or on a character's urge to hide something from the other characters, and the unforeseen chain reaction that results. In staged farce there is usually only one setting throughout the play, often the drawing room of a family home which has numerous doors (and possibly French windows) leading to bedrooms, the kitchen, cupboards, and the garden. Alternatively, the setting can be a hotel or hospital room or an office. Film farces are typically much more expansive in the use of space.

Having no time to step back and consider what they have been doing or will be doing next, the character who has something to hide soon passes the point of no return, erroneously believing that any course of action is preferable to being found out or admitting the truth themselves. This way they get deeper and deeper into trouble. The protagonist is usually presented sympathetically, encouraging the audience to identify with them and hope for their success.

This "skeleton in the closet" may be real or merely a misunderstanding or misinterpretation of facts. It is sometimes a secret which concerns the immediate present or the long-forgotten past and has just re-emerged and started to threaten the main character's security or peace and quiet. The secret typically reflects the social mores of the time: In the late 19th century, it might be a woman lying about her real age, or a man having fathered an illegitimate child. In the 20th century, it was mainly infidelity, with the protagonist trying to prevent their extra-marital affair from becoming publicly known.

Many farces move at a frantic pace toward the climax, in which the initial problem is resolved one way or another, often through a deus ex machina twist of the plot. Generally, there is a happy ending. The convention of poetic justice is not always observed: The protagonist may get away with what he or she been trying to hide at all costs, even if it is a criminal act.

Farce in general is highly tolerant of transgressive behavior, and tends to depict human beings as vain, irrational, venal, infantile, and prone to automatism. In that respect, farce is a natural companion of satire. Farce is, in fact, not merely a genre but a highly flexible dramatic mode that often occurs in combination with other forms, including romantic comedy.

As far as ridiculous, far-fetched situations, quick and witty repartee, and broad physical humor are concerned, farce is widely employed in TV sitcoms, in silent film comedy, and in screwball comedy. See also bedroom farce.

Japan has a centuries-old tradition of farce. Kyogen are plays that are performed as comic relief during the long, serious Noh plays.

Representative examples: A chronology



  • Georges Feydeau: Le Dindon (1896) (aka Sauce for the Goose )
  • Marc Camoletti : Boeing Boeing (1960) and Pyjama pour Six (1985) (aka Don't Dress for Dinner ) [1]


  • Carl Laufs & Wilhelm Jacoby : Pension Schöller (1901)
  • Franz Arnold & Ernst Bach : Weekend im Paradies (1928) [2]


United States

Last updated: 06-01-2005 22:03:02
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