UCSB French Professor and Theater Historian Jody Enders translated a dozen 15th and 16th century satirical plays from their original French transcriptions into English for a book depicting medieval European life.
“The Farce of the Fart” and Other Ribaldries features humorous tales poking fun at a variety of topics including sex, religion and politics to entertain and provide an insightful perspective of everyday life during the time. Enders deciphered the works to help students struggling with the archaic language and plans to teach the material in an upper division course offered this spring quarter.
According to Enders, the medieval “sitcoms’” crude nature and characters such as “Dummy Downer” and “Frigid Bridget” accurately reflect the time’s culture and humor.
“There was no television, internet, movies. When people wanted pop culture in the Middle Ages, that’s what they did,” Enders said. “They’re vulgar and filthy and obscene and irreverent and fun, you know, any offensive adjective.”
Jason Narvy, a UCSB Ph.D. student who helped Enders translate the works, said the compilation portrays the fables in a manner accessible to modern audiences.
“The result is an anthology of extremely accessible medieval plays,” Narvy said “They flow like modern farces, they read like great humor. These are plays that could and should be produced in the future as a means to show certain universal truths. Though art can be a culturally constructed navigation between individual perceptions and the means through which the larger world reifies or threatens that perception, I think Dr. Enders has proven that audible flatulence has remained an important expression of the human condition.”
Some of the plotlines include a woman who disguises herself as a priest to drive incriminating confessions out of her husband as well as a tale mocking ‘stupid pretentious teachers.’
Enders said certain parts in the play required additional depictions with appropriate stage instructions and lines to accurately capturing the context and implied dialects.
“They are very violent — a lot of scenes [are] of beating and abuse …” Enders said. “There’s no way to capture that unless you stylize it [and] make it palatable for an American audience, turn it into a ballet or a scene of cheerleading or suggest it be choreographed. You can’t take what they did and translate it literally because it wouldn’t be funny, you have to stylize it.”
Babson College English Professor Beth Wynstra, a former UCSB Ph.D. student also working on the translations with Enders, said the book adds new life to the archaic French literature.
“Professor Enders has essentially rescued these wonderful, witty, definitely naughty and very funny farces from obscurity,” Wynstra said. “Her careful translating has resulted in farces that seem fresh and completely relevant and will definitely prove to be a delightful teaching tool in any Theater, Medieval Studies or English classroom.”
Enders said the French 153B offered this spring quarter will provide a fun and in-depth look into the vulgar-natured works.
“It’s really fun to get a scholarly opportunity to use my foul mouth for good,” Enders said. “In my [job], you have to speak very correctly. Somehow when [I] speak about farce, I get to say all those words I’m not allowed to say — all part of scholarship.”
Enders has written four books in addition to “The Farce of the Fart” and Other Ribaldries and plans to translate 48 more plays dedicated to her students.