Did you hear the one about the Mother Superior who was so busy casting the first stone that she got caught in flagrante delicto with her lover? What about the drunk with a Savior complex who was fool enough to believe himself to be the Second Coming? And that's nothing compared to what happens when comedy gets its grubby paws on the confessional. Enter fifteenth- and sixteenth-century French farce, the "bestseller" of a world that stands to tell us a lot about the enduring influence of a Shakespeare or a Molière. It's the sacrilegious world of Immaculate Deception, the third volume in a series of stage-friendly translations from the Middle French. Brought to you through the wonders of Open Access, these twelve engagingly funny satires target religious hypocrisy in that in-your-face way that only true slapstick can muster. There is literally nothing sacred.
Why this repertoire and why now? The current political climate has had dire consequences for the pleasures of satire at a cultural moment when we have never needed it more. It turns out that the proverbial Dark Ages had a lighter side; and France's over 200 rollicking, frolicking, singing, and dancing comedies—more extant than in any other vernacular—have waited long enough for their moment in the spotlight. They are seriously funny: funny enough to reclaim their place in cultural history, and serious enough to participate in the larger conversation about what it means to be a social influencer, then and now. Rather than relegate medieval texts to the dustbin of history, an unabashedly feminist translation can reframe and reject the sexism of bygone days by doing what theater always invites us to do: interpret, inflect, and adapt.
Jody Enders is Distinguished Professor of French at the University of California, Santa Barbara. She is editor and translator of "The Farce of the Fart" and Other Ribaldries: Twelve Medieval French Plays in Modern English and "Holy Deadlock" and Further Ribaldries: Another Dozen Medieval French Plays in Modern English, also available from the University of Pennsylvania Press.
"Scurrilous, sexy, stupid, satirical, scatological, side-splitting, and probably something else beginning with 's,' Jody Enders's translation of twelve French farces is a real discovery that goes a long way to readjusting our perception of the Middle Ages. Enders is a great champion of comedy at its most vulgar and hilarious. She points out that however silly or banal these farces may appear to us, they nonetheless confront the real controversies of their day over the law, politics, religion, social order, or the battle of the sexes. Thoroughly grounded in her academic approach to the subject, Enders nevertheless writes with liveliness and humor and wit. She is unafraid to reference modern comedy in her translations and insists on the primacy of performance in assessing these comedies from half a millennium ago."—Terry Jones, on Enders's Farce of the Fart
Winner of the Lois Roth Award for a translation of a literary work, granted by the Modern Language Association