Formalizing English Farce: Johan Johan and Its French Connection


In lieu of an abstract, the first paragraph of the essay follows:

Although Noah's wife and Mak with his "sothren tothe" may possibly provide earlier examples of farcical action in the Towneley cycle, Johan Johan, published by William Rastell in 1533, is the first play printed in England to represent farce as a dramatic form. Attributed to John Heywood by the bookseller Francis Kirkman in 1671, Johan Johan has long been recognized as vastly different in form and style from Heywood's known plays or those of his contemporaries. Karl Young in 1904 sought to explain these differences by suggesting that Heywood was influenced by French farce in several of his plays and that Johan Johan was drawn from the Farce de Pernet qui au vin.1 Later scholars elaborated this argument, and in 1946 Ian Maxwell published what was thought to be the definitive work on this matter: French Farce and John Heywood.2However, with the appearance of Gustave Cohen's Recueil de Farces franrçaises inédites du XVe siecle in 1949,3 William Elton and T. W. Craik almost simultaneously noted that Johan Johan was in fact a translation of Farce nouvelle très bonne et fort joyeuse du Pasté (XIX in Cohen's Recueil de Farces). Elton describes Johan Johan as "a fairly literal translation, with some minor differences,"4 and Craik, claiming that the translator "has taken very few liberties with his real source," says that "Johan Johan is a close (though none the less spirited) translation."5 Both accept the traditional view that the translator is Heywood, though neither supplies evidence on this point. Craik discusses some variations in the French and English versions, most notably the priest's accounts of the three miracles and the endings of the two plays; but neither Elton nor Craik investigates the hundreds of variants in details or considers the implications of these changes. What a close examination of the two texts reveals is that Johan Johan is in fact a very careful adaptation of the French farce to the English cultural and dramatic context.

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