A Flea in Her Ear (1907)
by Georges-Léon-Jules-Marie Feydeau (1862-1921)
The word “farce” comes from the Latin farcire meaning “to stuff”—an apparent reference to the padding used to extend the bellies and bosoms of the actors who originated this hilarious style of drama as early as the fifth century BCE in Greece. Americans can get a good idea of this style of comedy if they can recall the films of Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton, Harold Lloyd and the Marx Brothers.
Psychology provides a deeper understanding of the work of the Marx Brothers. “They expressed anger at what people could not understand, control or do and their insecurities at the difficulty of functioning in a complicated world.”[i] From this observation, we see why farce is still a relevant and successful form of entertainment today.
The above quote describes a suffering humanity unaware of the nature of reality and unable to respond in an effective way to the world in which they find themselves. We are unconscious of the existence of the false self or the basic motivations of human behavior. All human beings construct a survival strategy in order to cope with the exigencies of life. Beginning at birth the human being must discover ways to meet the basic needs of security (to feel safe), power (to feel in control), and sensation (to obtain pleasure, affection and esteem) or they feel their very lives are at risk.
Characters in a farce can be seen acting out various combinations of these three so-called “energy centers.” “The characters are usually pursuing either basic needs or those that society makes desirable: love, sex, food, money, power and glory. They characterize the very human traits of greed, lechery, avarice, arrogance or pomposity.”[ii]
This last quote reveals the unconsciousness that characterizes even the most basic aspects of human behavior. It is not “society” as the first sentence states that “makes” human behavior “desirable.” The behaviors described are structurally inherent in each human being—they form the psychological nature of each person and, in fact, are necessary. However, it is possible and arguably natural for most human beings to transcend these false-self behaviors. Those of us who fail to do so are doomed to a farcical life of confusion and suffering.
In a way the behaviors of the actors on the stage are attacking the human frailties flowing from the false-self energy centers. “[Farce] attacks all pretensions, all masks, and tends to attack in the simplest way, a physical way with a kick in the pants or a knock on the head. In the world that farce inhabits, people get their just desserts. Finally, farce goes for the belly and the backside; it makes us laugh at the fact that we look funny when we’re at a disadvantage, when we’re caught with our pants down.”[iii]
Perhaps the only way we can survive the absurdity of our self-destructive behaviors is to find a way to laugh at them. In the meantime, given that the current behaviors of humanity are unsustainable, we had all better wake up from our farcical dream and pull our pants back up.
[i] Inside/Out. “A Flea in Her Ear.” Denver Center Theatre Company, October 2005, page 7.
Find a much more in-depth discussion in printed books by Roy Charles Henry.