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date: 16 November 2019

Abstract and Keywords

The rhetorical tradition demands a sense of humor. Thanks to the highly influential group of late medieval French lawyers and legal apprentices (Basochiens), we know that comedy is deeply imbricated in forensic rhetoric, declamation, and delivery (actio) as well as in the law itself. The farcical, forensic antics of the Society of the Basoche shed new light on the intertwined histories of law, rhetoric, theater, and performance studies. Inasmuch as over 200 French farces are extant—many obsessed with juridical discourse—it is clear that the comedic dimensions of rhetoric constitute far more than a silly footnote. Quite to the contrary, when learned medieval rhetoricians theorized and practiced comedy, they articulated not only a view of the five canons of rhetoric but also a dramatic response against the obscenity of social injustice. In so doing, they also showed the transcendence of an expression that remains popular today: That trial is a farce!

Keywords: forensic rhetoric, farce, comedy, law, Basoche, performance studies, obscenity, delivery, humor, five canons of rhetoric

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