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Farce is a genre of comedy characterised by highly exaggerated characters, improbable situations, slapstick humour, and a fast-paced, often chaotic plot. The plot of a farce may usually contain many twists and random events, including mistaken identities and misunderstandings. It aims to provoke laughter through absurdity and physical comedy rather than subtle wit or social commentary.

The origins of farce can be traced back to classical antiquity, particularly the works of Aristophanes in Greece and Plautus in Rome, who utilised exaggerated characters and slapstick humour. The term “farce” itself comes from the Latin word “farcire”, meaning “to stuff”, referring to the comedic interludes stuffed into religious plays during the medieval period to entertain audiences. Farce became more defined as a genre in Renaissance France, with plays like La Farce de maître Pathelin exemplifying its characteristics. Farce influenced the works of playwrights like William Shakespeare, who incorporated farcical elements into some of his comedies, like The Comedy of Errors.

Comedy vs. Farce

Comedy is a dramatic work that makes people laugh. Some comedies aim only to create laughter, whereas others aim to expose and criticise society’s vices and follies while creating laughter. Farce is a type of comedy characterised by highly exaggerated and comic situations and crude and one-dimensional characterisations. It has no other aim than creating laughter.

Themes of Farce

    • Thrives on the disruption of order, showcasing the chaos that ensues when social conventions are upended
    • Authority figures, such as politicians, judges, and police officers, are often targets of ridicule and subversion
    • Highlights human weaknesses, such as greed, vanity, and hypocrisy, exaggerating these traits for comedic effect

Implausible and Improbable Situations

Farces often revolve around highly improbable and exaggerated situations that defy logic and realism. These situations are intentionally absurd and designed to create humorous chaos and confusion.

Stereotypical and Exaggerated Characters

Characters in farces are often one-dimensional and exaggerated stereotypes, such as the bumbling fool, the domineering wife, or the lecherous old man. These stereotypes contribute to the absurdity and humour of the situations.

Mistaken Identities and Misunderstandings

A common trope in farces is the use of mistaken identities, where characters are mistaken for someone else, leading to hilarious misunderstandings and comical situations.

Physical Humour and Slapstick

Farces relies heavily on physical humour, such as slapstick comedy, pratfalls, and exaggerated physical actions. Characters often engage in comical chases, doors opening and closing rapidly, and other forms of physical humour.

Fast-paced Action and Rapid-fire Dialogue

Farces are characterised by fast-paced, breakneck action and rapid-fire dialogue, which creates a sense of chaos and adds to the comedic effect.

Outrageous Coincidences and Plot Twists

Farces frequently involve outrageous coincidences and unexpected plot twists, further escalating chaos and confusion.

Satire and Social Commentary

While primarily designed for entertainment, farces can also contain elements of satire and social commentary, poking fun at societal norms, institutions, or human behaviour.


Some notable examples of farces include Tartuffe and The Miser by Moliere, A Flea in Her Ear by Georges Feydeau, Noises Off by Michael Frayn, The Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde and The Physicists by Friedrich Dürrenmatt. These works exemplify the genre’s emphasis on exaggeration, physical humour, and absurd situations.

The primary aim of farce is to entertain through laughter, making it a popular genre in theatre, film, and television. It provides a lens through which societal norms and human behaviours are examined and critiqued, often highlighting the absurdity of social conventions. Farce has influenced many comedic genres and continues to inspire contemporary comedy, emphasising physical humour, rapid pacing, and exaggerated situations.

Farces have been prevalent throughout history, offering audiences a chance to escape reality and indulge in pure, unadulterated laughter. Their ability to stretch the boundaries of plausibility and create hilarious chaos on stage has made them a beloved and enduring form of theatrical comedy.