Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Quote of the Day

The farceur does not show man as a little lower than the angels but as hardly higher than the apes. He shows us man in the mass, in the rough, in the raw, in anything but fine individual flower. If Mr. Auden is right in saying that "art can have but one subject; man as a conscious unique person," then farce is not art. The Oxford Companion seems to regret that the characters of farce are stupid. But they are deliberate monuments to stupidity, disturbing reminders that God has lavished stupidity on the human race with His own prodigality.

-Eric Bentley, The Life of the Drama


Thomas Garvey said...

Is Algernon Moncrieff stupid? Is Antipholus of Syracuse? Are Josephine and Daphne in "Some Like It Hot"? The counter-examples to Bentley's argument are numerous, and Auden's proclamation is just silly. Sometimes it's criticism that's a farce.

Art said...

To answer your first question: Yes.

Just about everybody in The Importance of Being Earnest is a ridiculously silly human being. Driven by the barely concealed want to jump somebody else's bones or protect or gain massive sums of money. They eat, consume, carouse and try to will their lightest fantasies into being. Not to mention they will, if the moment presents itself, delight in watching their friends twist and turn like butterflies pinned. Oscar Wilde had not the slightest illusions about this crew. Why should we?

And, yes, of course, that is point, but it is also Bentley's point.

Ian Thal said...

More farces about aestheticians who don't grasp farce. More satires about aestheticians who don't grasp satire.

Ironic how Auden, a reader of Kierkegaard, a great fan of farce, or at least the creator of an alias who was a great fan of farce, could be so clueless about farce.

Thomas Garvey said...

Well, I couldn't disagree more. Surely "The Importance of Being Earnest" is nothing less than a crushing critique of the moral pretensions of critics like Bentley, who comes off in that killjoy passage as quite a bit like Lady Bracknell. Everyone in "Earnest" is highly self-aware, and very intelligent - they're certainly in "high individual flower," and if they are "silly," that doesn't make them stupid, or "hardly higher than apes." Indeed, at least as much farce as has been made out of characters who are too clever by half than out of characters who are "rough" and "stupid." It strikes me that Mr. Bentley and his ideas are rather overdue for farcical treatment themselves.

Art said...

Perhaps, Thom, your view IS the dominant one. Which might explain why many contemporary productions of Earnest elicit only mild titters rather than good laughs? :)

But honestly, Thom, isn't farce about laying waste ALL pretensions? Again Bentley's point here.

Or maybe Earnest is more Comedy than Farce? In that case we're talking past each other here.