14 Examples of Farce in Literature and Film

Modern films and classic plays show many examples of farce. These 14 examples will help you understand this literary device well.

In many literary works, writers use humor to make a point. Farce is a type of comedy that uses physical humor, like slapstick, clowning, horseplay, crude characterizations, and ludicrous situations to make the play funny.

The word farce comes from a Middle French word that means forcemeat or stuffing. It came to be when actors added unscripted buffoonery to religious plays to make the audience laugh. Soon the word stuck about physically humorous plays, and around the 15th century in Europe, it became an official literary genre.

Most examples of farce are found in plays. The slapstick nature of farce requires live acting to show the humor. Here are some of the top examples of farce from classic and modern literature.

Examples of farce in literature and film

1. The Taming of the Shrew by William Shakespeare

The Taming of the Shrew is a farcical play where the characters and writing style draw humor from the audience. The play has stereotypical characters, including Katherina, the boisterous headstrong wife who plays the shrew, and Bianca, their father’s favorite child. The plot plays out like a situational comedy with a romantic subplot.

The favoring father creates trouble for his daughter and her lover in this play. He requires the younger child to wait until the older one marries to wed her lover, but Katherina’s shrewd personality made that difficult. What follows is the story of what happens when she weds Petruchio and must try to tame the shrew.

You might also find these examples of tragic flaw in literature interesting.

“She is your treasure, she must have a husband: I must dance barefoot on her wedding day…”

William Shakespeare
The Taming of the Shrew by William Shakespeare
  • Shakespeare, William (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 105 Pages - 03/25/2020 (Publication Date) - Independently published (Publisher)

2. La Cage Aux Folles by Jean Poiret

La Cage aux Folles is a French farce that tells the story of when Laurent, the son of a nightclub owner, brings a same-sex lover to dinner in a home of ultraconservative parents. The play premiered in Paris at the Theatre du Palais-Royal in 1973, and since that time, it has been adapted into a musical for American audiences. It also served as the plot line for the movie The Birdcage.

La Cage aux Folles uses stereotypes to bring out farce. It also uses gags to create humor for the audience, exaggerating things larger than they would be in real life.

“There comes a time in every Salome’s life when she should no longer be dropping the last veil.”

Jean Poiret

The Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde

La Cage Aux Folles
  • Fierstein, Harvey (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 102 Pages - 08/01/2014 (Publication Date) - Samuel French, Inc. (Publisher)

3. It’s Only a Play by Terrence McNally

When some of the leading players in a play get together to wait for reviews, their egotistical and flamboyant personalities create the perfect setting for a face. The play gets terrible reviews, and the character of the individuals starts to come out. The narcissism, childish behavior, and irrationality that come out at this point in the play show what farce truly is. 

It’s Only a Play opened off-Broadway in 1982 in New York City. It pokes fun at the reality of the business of producing a play.

It's only a play: A comedy
  • Hardcover Book
  • McNally, Terrence (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 115 Pages - 12/01/1986 (Publication Date) - N. Doubleday (Publisher)

4. The Comedy of Errors by William Shakespeare

Examples Of Farce: The Comedy of Errors by William Shakespeare
Image Source: The Comedy of Errors (Folger Shakespeare Library), Amazon

The Comedy of Errors was the shortest and most farcical of Shakespeare’s early plays. It uses slapstick and a case of mistaken identity, and plenty of puns and wordplay to create humor. In the 24-hours of the play, so many things go wrong that “Comedy of Errors” is now a synonym for a series of ridiculous events.

In this play, two sets of identical twins were separated at birth. When, as adults, the twins end up in the same town, unbeknownst to them, a series of funny coincidences occur when each twin gets mistaken for the other. Several remakes of the play, including musicals on Broadway, exist.

“If everyone knows us and we know none,
‘Tis time, I think, to trudge, pack and be gone.”

William Shakespeare
The Comedy of Errors (Folger Shakespeare Library)
  • Shakespeare, William (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 272 Pages - 06/09/2020 (Publication Date) - Simon & Schuster (Publisher)

5. She Stoops to Conquer by Oliver Goldsmith

First performed in London in 1773, this comedy play still gets studied by English literature classes today. In the story, Mr. Harcastle plans to marry his daughter Kate to his friend’s son, while Mrs. Harcastle wants to marry her son to their ward, who happens to be in love with someone else. This leads to a series of mishaps as one character tricks others into believing their home is an inn, another poses as a servant to win the heart of her true love, and the children try to get out from under the clutches of their parents.

She Stoops to Conquer seeks to make fun of the sentimental comedies of its day. The characters are particularly well-made, making the misunderstandings and fibs even more entertaining. It is a comedy of errors and a comedy of manners.

“Ask me no questions, and I’ll tell you no lies.”

Oliver Goldsmith
She Stoops to Conquer (Dover Thrift Editions: Plays)
  • Oliver Goldsmith (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 80 Pages - 06/01/1991 (Publication Date) - Dover Publications (Publisher)

6. Waiting for Godot by Samuel Beckett

Waiting for Godot is a 1953 play by Samuel Becket. In this play, Vladmir and Estragon have discussions while waiting for Godot, a character who never arrives. It was originally performed in Paris, France, and is considered a tragicomedy, a mixture of tragedy and comedy.

This play is a unique example of a farce. It sets up many farcical situations, but it is also a tragedy as the two main characters are tramps with no significance in the world. The farcical elements combined with the tragic ending make it a mixture of two types of plays.

“The tears of the world are a constant quantity. For each one who begins to weep somewhere else another stops. The same is true of the laugh.”

Samuel Beckett
Sale
Waiting for Godot: A Tragicomedy in Two Acts
  • Beckett, Samuel (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 128 Pages - 05/17/2011 (Publication Date) - Grove Press (Publisher)

7. Tartuffe by Moliere

Tartuffe is a 1664 play by French playwright Moliere. This play offers several examples of farce, including some nonsensical rhymes delivered to make the audience laugh. The puns are obvious, and it is a bawdy type of comedy that continues to appeal to modern audiences.

In this play, Tartuffe is called the “patron saint of swindlers.” He charms his way into being wed to an aristocratic family through marriage, working to create a situation where he stands to gain financially.

“Beauty without intelligence is like a hook without bait.”

Moliere
Tartuffe
  • Moliere (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 99 Pages - 07/03/2019 (Publication Date) - Independently published (Publisher)

8. Charley’s Aunt by Brandon Thomas

Charley’s Aunt is a three-act play from London from 1892. It ran for 1,466 performances, breaking the historical record for the world’s longest-running play. It eventually went to Broadway, where it found success, and it has since had many revivals.

When Jack and Charley want to declare their love to their sweethearts, they need a chaperone, so they invite the girls to lunch with Charley’s Aunt Donna Lucia. However, her visit is delayed, and they ask Lord Fancourt Babberley to dress up as Charley’s Aunt. As can be expected, this creates a significant number of improbable situations that are genuinely hilarious.

“She’s not coming!
JACK. But she must! Go—wire—telegraph—
CHARLEY. No use. There’s no time.
JACK. But hang it! The girls won’t remain without a chaperone. What are we to do?”

Brandon Thomas
Charley's Aunt: A Play
  • Thomas, Brandon (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 112 Pages - 08/15/2016 (Publication Date) - CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform (Publisher)

9. Noises Off By Michael Frayn

Examples Of Farce: Noises Off By Michael Frayn
Image Source: Noises Off, Amazon

In this 1982 play, Michael Frayn tells the tale of performing a play within a play, and it has plenty of examples of farce throughout the three acts. The play features plenty of onstage bedlam as the crew tries to pull off each scene. Characters play off each other’s flaws, and slapstick is abundant.

What makes Noises Off unique is that the second scene shows the play from backstage, so the audience gets a look at the politics, romances, and quarrels that occur when making a performance come to light.

“Why did I lock the door? Why did YOU lock the door? Someone locked the door…”

Michael Frayn
Noises Off
  • Used Book in Good Condition
  • Frayn, Michael (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 182 Pages - 02/10/2010 (Publication Date) - Samuel French, Inc. (Publisher)

10. It Pays to Advertise by Roi Cooper

It Pays to Advertise is a three-act play that shows many examples of farce. It opened on Broadway in 1914 at the Cohan Theatre and ran for a year. The play opened to good reviews.

It Pays to Advertise tells the story of the idle son of a rich manufacturer who decides to set up a business to compete with the one set up by his father. Instead of making his own product, the son buys his father’s product and sells it at a higher price, but with a great amount of advertising.

It Pays to Advertise
  • Megrue, Roi Cooper (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 366 Pages - 08/31/2012 (Publication Date) - Ulan Press (Publisher)

11. The Play That Goes Wrong by Henry Lewis

The Play That Goes Wrong is a modern example of a farce. This 2012 play shows everything that could possibly go wrong when putting on a Broadway performance. The play won Best New Comedy in the 215 Laurence Olivier Awards and has been running since 2012 in London.

This play explores what happens when a fictitious drama society receives significant money and is asked to put on a 1920s murder mystery play. As they perform, everything that could go wrong does, ending in the entire set collapsing at the end. Nevertheless, it is a hilarious play that leaves audiences rolling with its slapstick humor.

“We are particularly excited to present this play because, for the first time in the society’s history, we have managed to find a play that fits the company’s numbers perfectly. If we’re honest, a lack of numbers has hampered past productions, such as last year’s Chekov play; Two Sisters. Or last Christmas’s The Lion and the Wardrobe, and of course our summer musical, Cat.”

Henry Lewis
The Play That Goes Wrong: 3rd Edition (Modern Plays)
  • Lewis, Henry (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 80 Pages - 02/13/2015 (Publication Date) - Methuen Drama (Publisher)

12. National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation by John Hughes

In National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, a cult classic holiday film, the absurd plot and slapstick humor combined with miscommunications make the movie hysterically funny. Chevy Chase’s famous character can’t catch a break as he tries to create the perfect holiday movie.

Though the plot of the movie exists as the family welcomes out-of-town guests for the holiday, the mishaps along the way make it truly memorable. Few scenes are quite as iconic to the holidays as those of Clark Griswold lighting the Christmas lights only to have them shockingly burn out.

“Surprised, Eddie?… If I woke up tomorrow with my head sewn to the carpet, I wouldn’t be more surprised.”

John Hughes
National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation
  • Amazon Prime Video (Video on Demand)
  • Chevy Chase, Beverly D'Angelo, Juliette Lewis (Actors)
  • Jeremiah S. Chechik (Director) - John Hughes (Writer) - William S. Beasley (Producer)
  • English (Playback Language)
  • English (Subtitle)

13. The Marriage Proposal by Anton Chekhov

Examples Of Farce: The Marriage Proposal by Anton Chekhov
Image Source: A Marriage Proposal: A Comedy in One Act, Amazon

This one-act farce was written in 1889 and is a fast-paced play with situational humor and dialogue-based action. Though it is a short play, it packs quite a bit of humor into each part.

The Marriage Proposal opens when a young man, Lomov, comes to propose to Natalya, his neighbor. Unfortunately, the two keep fighting, and Chekhov uses the farce to show how superficial his world is. Hilarity ensues as Lomov’s hypochondriac tendencies take over during the meeting.

“It’s cold … I’m trembling all over, just as if I’d got an examination before me. The great thing is, I must have my mind made up. If I give myself time to think, to hesitate, to talk a lot, to look for an ideal, or for real love, then I’ll never get married. … Brr! … It’s cold!”

Anton Checkhov
A Marriage Proposal: A Comedy in One Act
  • Anton Chekhov (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 20 Pages - 12/02/2022 (Publication Date) - Samuel French (Publisher)

14. Monty Python and the Holy Grail by Graham Chapman

The 1975 movie Monty Python and the Holy Grail is another example of farce. This movie is inspired by the Arthurian legend and is performed by the Monty Python comedy group. The hilarious movie has become a cult classic.

The movie opens in 932 AD when King Arthur and his men decide to seek after the mythical Holy Grail. Along the way, they experience several mishaps and monsters. It even features some musical numbers to add to the farce. This movie has been the subject of several spoofs since its air date.

“We dine well here in Camelot. We eat ham and jam and spam a lot.”

Knights of Camelot
Monty Python And The Holy Grail
  • Amazon Prime Video (Video on Demand)
  • Graham Chapman, John Cleese, Eric Idle (Actors)
  • Terry Jones (Director) - Terry Gilliam (Writer) - Mark Forstater (Producer)
  • English (Playback Language)
  • English (Subtitle)

If you are interested in learning about more techniques, check out these examples of how metaphor is used in literature

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