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13.07.07, Enders, ed. & trans., "The Farce of the Fart" and other Ribaldries

13.07.07, Enders, ed. & trans., "The Farce of the Fart" and other Ribaldries

Professor Enders' felicitous rendering in modern English of twelve medieval French farces constitutes a highly valuable and very fresh (pun intended) contribution to medieval comedic drama scholarship, and, in the author's own words, "unbelievably enough, essentially doubles [the] number" (37) of farce translations available to Anglophone readers. It provides functional and fortunate access to the realm of these plays for students of letters, medieval studies, comparative literature, drama, and, above all, to theater companies willing to revive the spirit and merriment of the late medieval tradition of farce in France.

An outstanding scholar in the field of comparative medieval drama, whose major contributions to the field include Murder by Accident, Death by Drama and Other Medieval Urban Legends, The Medieval Theater of Cruelty, and Rhetoric and the Origins of Medieval Drama, [1] Jody Enders offers a translation fully coded in the of spirit of the farceurs, brimming with joy and jollity, tinged with cruelty and violence, unabashedly politically incorrect, and fully written in performance mode.

In addition to the anthology of play scripts, the book contains a sizable introduction wherein the author proposes to answer the Who? What? Where? When? Why? (3) questions with which medieval farce critics have grappled over the years. In her subsequent essay entitled About This Translation, Professor Enders playfully tells the riveting tale--à la Da Vinci Code--of Professor Jelle Koopmans' sleuthing on the trail of the Recueil Cohen and establishes her translator's M.O. which becomes readily apparent from the opening lines of the very first play. Her endeavor is to transpose the 15th- and 16th-century French cultural standards, settings, situations, places, ironies, and language that occur in the plays to their 21st-century U.S. equivalents, effecting a trans-lation in the etymological sense of the word transferre: medieval French shenanigans, high jinks, and tomfoolery become modern plays drawing on "American sitcoms, stand-up comedy, Saturday Night Live, political gaffes, widespread litigiousness, the excesses of university life, twentieth and twenty-first-century slang, and whatever music rises and falls on the pop charts, especially country music" (34).

The wholeheartedly performance-friendly--nay, performance-provoking--volume includes the following 12 plays, all anonymous and believed to have been originally written and staged between 1460 and 1530: The Farce of the Fart (Farce nouvelle et fort joyeuse du Pect), The Edict of Noée, or, Shut Up! It's the Farce of the Rights of Women (Farce des Drois de la Porte Bodès), Confession Lessons, or, The Farce of the Lusty Husband Who Makes His Confession to a Woman, His Neighbor, Who Is Disguised as a Priest (Farce de celuy qui se confesse à sa voisine), The Farce of the Student Who Failed His Priest Exam because He Didn't Know Who Was Buried in Grant's Tomb (Farce du Clerc qui fut refusé à estre prestre), Blind Man's Buff, or, The Farce of "The Chokester" (Farce du Goguelu), Playing Doctor, or, Taking the Plunge (The Farce of the Woman Whose Neighbor Gives Her an Enema) (Farce d'une Femme à qui son Voisin baille ung clistoire), At Cross Purposes, or, The Farce of the Three Lovers of the Cross (Farce de trois Amoureux de la Croix), Shit for Brains, or, The Party Pooper-Scooper (Farce de Tarabin-Tarabas), Monk-ey Business, or, A Marvelous New Farce for Four Actors, to Wit, the Cobbler, the Monk, the Wife, and the Gatekeeper (Le Savetier, le Moyne, la Femme, et le Portier), Getting Off on the Wrong Foot, or, Who's Minding the Whore? for Three Actors, to Wit, the Lover Minding the Store, the Cobbler, and His Wife (Farce de Celuy qui garde les Patins), Cooch E. Whippet, or, The Farce of Martin of Cambray (Farce de Martin de Cambray), and Birdbrain: A Musical Comedy? or, School Is for the Birds (Farce joyeuse de Maistre Mimin). The rendering in modern English of ten of the plays is based on the published Recueil Cohen; two of the comedies, The Farce of the Fart and Birdbrain, the French originals appear in Viollet le Duc's Ancien Théâtre français, and Edouard Fournier's Théâtre français avant la Renaissance, respectively.

Before each play Professor Enders provides excellent prefatory remarks called Production Notes that outline the plot and present several set rubrics containing à propos information and named, respectively, Characters and Character Development, Language, Sets and Staging, and Costumes and Props List. Her ample, very useful, and detailed footnotes aptly complement the opening critical narrative and provide scholarly elucidations that include references to other plays, alternate readings from other translators, explanations of wordplay, or annotations that clarify difficult passages in Middle French.

The volume's tone, style, and language, throughout the book, are noteworthy, and make for pleasurable reading. In the non-translation part of her work the author refreshingly marries erudite criticism with informal, lively language, reflecting and cleverly sustaining farce's over-the-top linguistic zaniness. She takes quite a few liberties with the original text, but adroitly renders the spirit and context of these medieval farces with their hysterical displays of pranks, puns, mischief, gags, clowning, and jokes. She puns like the best of the Basochiens with admirable panache, and dispenses with decorum and bienséance--feigned or not--as scandalous behavior is on full display on stage and, as did those of the farceurs, her characters let fly an unbridled stream of expletives, curse words, scatological terms, and irreverent double entendres. In Playing Doctor, for example, jealous Dummy Downer has second thoughts about having sent his wife Frigid Bridget for treatment at his neighbor Doc Double-Talk's home and soliloquizes (214):

What the heck was I thinkin' anyhow? I shoulda gotten my sorry ass over there with my wife in tow. If my neighbor's over there playin' hide the sausage, then he's really got me by the balls. Anyhow, if they're playing doctor, then I'd better hop to it right now and go listen at the door. Suspicion, heal thyself!

Jody Enders also shows an impressive knowledge of pop and country music and song lyrics, with which she very appropriately peppers her play scripts, enlivening them and cleverly bringing them into the contemporary realm of modern audiences. And it can only be assumed that the ubiquitous appearance of the words provided that all requisite permissions have been cleared (passim), or one of its close variants, sounding like a broken record refrain throughout the volume, is, à la farceur, meant in jest.

In conclusion we commend the author for proposing, with The Farce of the Fart and Other Ribaldries, highly contemporary and exceedingly playable little comedies, enabling both actors and spectators to fully capture and experience the uproarious flavor of those irreverent and outrageous performances that long ago amused town folk in the squares, schools and market halls of late-medieval France.



[1] Jody Enders, Murder by Accident: Medieval Theater, Modern Media, Critical Intentions (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2009); eadem, Death by Drama and Other Medieval Urban Legends (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2002); eadem, The Medieval Theater of Cruelty: Rhetoric, Memory, Violence (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1999); eadem, Rhetoric and the Origins of Medieval Drama (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1992).