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Caught in the (One-)Act: Staging Sex in Late Medieval French Farce
Sharon D. King
Paper given at the 14th Triennial Colloquium of the Société Internationale pour l’étude du Théâtre Médiéval Poznań, Poland, 22nd – 27th July (2013)
Among the myriad subjects for comical delectation of audiences of late medieval France,the rules and roles of men and women were eternal favorites. Gender war play in the farces, moralities and sermons joyeux that were occasionally intercalated into large theatrical presentations served as a kind of foreplay for the larger, meatier productions displaying the passions of sundry saviors,saints,and martyrs. Often the gender bending urban legends that were fabliaux and nouvelles were transformed into comic theatre, as in tricks his aging wife, just back from pilgrimage, into letting him sleep with her chamber maid by himself feigning pregnancy.
Virtually all of these were domestic farces.which humorously depicted gender through stereotypical sex roles and behavior, representations which might be akin to those found in modern Western sitcoms such as Married…with Children and Fawlty Towers. It is evident that the mostly anonymous (with some notable exceptions) playwrights of late medieval and early modern French domestic farce were, so to speak, intimately aware of how well sexual situations and suggestive dialogue worked on their stages. Both recognizably realistic and humorously improbable, sexually charged characters and ribald predicaments are among the best tools in the comic performance toolkit, then and now.