Barbara Bowen

title.none: Rousse, La scene et les treteaux (Barbara Bowen)

identifier.other: baj9928.0508.029 05.08.29

identifier.issn: 1096-746X

description.statementofresponsibility: Barbara Bowen, Vanderbilt University,

publisher.none: .

date.issued: 2005

identifier.citation: Rousse, Michel. La scene et les treteaux: Le theatre de la farce au Moyen Age. Series: Medievalia, vol. 50. Orleans: Paradigme, 2004. Pp. 338. 36 EUR (pb). ISBN: 2-86878-244-2.

type.none: Review

relation.ispartof: The Medieval Review

The Medieval Review 05.08.29

Rousse, Michel. La scene et les treteaux: Le theatre de la farce au Moyen Age. Series: Medievalia, vol. 50. Orleans: Paradigme, 2004. Pp. 338. 36 EUR (pb). ISBN: 2-86878-244-2.

Reviewed by:

Barbara Bowen
Vanderbilt University

French farce of the late Middle Ages and early Renaissance has always been one of literature's poor relations. Apart from Maître Pierre Pathelin (which Rousse, in an article not reproduced here, has claimed is France's first Renaissance comedy and not a farce), few of these short comic plays with mainly domestic subjects are ever read or analyzed. So this volume, compiled by the team of medieval specialists at the University of Rennes, is doubly welcome. Firstly because Michel Rousse has not heretofore received due credit for his work as the doyen of the genre, and secondly because little research seems currently to be in progress on this inexhaustibly rich field.

The volume is prefaced by Jean Dufournet, who pays tribute to Rousse's erudition, meticulous research, intellectual and artistic curiosity, and also to his "délicatesse de coeur" (8); by a photograph (a poor one, unfortunately) on p. 18; and by a bibliography which includes the information that Rousse's Doctorat d'État dissertation runs to five volumes (!). Then follow 16 articles, reprinted from journals and homage volumes ranging in date from 1978 to 1997; the editors probably chose them partly because the original publication is no longer easily accessible. They are not in chronological order, but divided into four sections, although some overlap in subject matter is necessarily involved. The first section, on theatrical space ("L'espace du jeu"), includes four articles and three illustrations of theatrical performances, all familiar to theater specialists. The articles deal mainly with two of Rousse's recurring preoccupations: what did the farce stage actually look like? (probably a raised scaffolding with a curtain at the back for entrances and exits), and when should we date the beginning of farce as a theatrical genre? (he makes a good case for the fabliau called the Dit de dame Jouenne and for the narrative Courtois d'Arras as adaptations of earlier plays). There may even, by the fifteenth century, have been acting companies, especially in Arras where a number of relevant texts originated.

The second section, "Théàtre de clercs, théàtre de jongleurs," broadens our perspective by discussing the twelfth-century comic Latin poem Babio, which could well be a play; stage props and techniques in the well-known Jeu de saint Nicolas; and the rôle of the actor in a number of texts datable between the tenth and thirteenth centuries. In section three the focus is on the place of farce in the social life of its time: Adam de La Halle's Jeu de la feuillée and May celebrations, official documents from the "fief de la jonglerie" in Beauvais (which contain, among much interesting material, the first known use of the word "farsses" in 1389), two monologues from Angers, the well-known Franc Archer de Cherré and very little known Pionnier de Seurdre, and the relationship between farces and the mystery plays in which they sometimes functioned as interludes.

The final section includes a celebrated 1978 article on comic objects in farces (urine flask, washtub, crossbow, dirty clothes), more information on the farce/mystery play connection, two articles on the place of songs in farces, and the striking suggestion that the fabliau Estormi may be the oldest French puppet play.

So this book covers a good deal more material than the title suggests. Rousse can provide a lively close reading of an individual play (Le Gentilhomme et Naudet, 71-91), or discuss farce in general in relation to religious theater, narrative literature, or communal events and ceremonies. His detailed research on the elusive semi-professional entertainers called jongleurs has illuminated their contribution to the theatrical life of the late Middle Ages, and this book should interest not only literary specialists but social and music historians. To theater enthusiasts Rousse's most important contribution will probably remain his 1978 assertion (229-260) that French theater of this period is not, as it is too often called even now, 'popular theater.' Farce authors were demonstrably educated men (257-8), and mystery plays can be considered as social ceremonies glorifying the established order (239).

I hope that these collected articles, as well as providing specialists with a useful compendium of authoritative work, will encourage a renewal of interest in one of France's least-studied literary genres.