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AN EARLY FARCE—BUT AS TIMELY AS TODAY’S HEADLINES PART 2

YESTERDAY IN PART 1, we met the characters of The Farce of Pierre Pathelin, a play from the fifteenth century that resonates today in its portrayal of mendacity. Today in Part 2, ne’er-do-well lawyer Pathelin and his wife Guillaumette, aka Billie to us, work a con on the skinflint Draper. The Draper gets doubly conned by a Shepherd with a particularly appropriate (and, in retrospect, timely) defense. And there’s yet a third con.

Wool Con Number 1. To satisfy his wife’s desire for fancy attire, Pathelin cons the Draper out of six ells of fine woolen cloth.

“Now, sir,” Pathelin says to the Draper, “will you trust me for them? … until anon, when you come? Nay, ‘trust’ is not the word, for you shall get your crowns at my door, in gold, or, if you like, in change.” This and other dialogue from harvestfaire.org. This image and others from WriteWork.

Pathelin even promises, “I’ll see to it you eat heartily…. At least you will come and try my wine. When your late father went by my house he used to sing out, ‘Hullo, old pal!’….”

Later, the Draper smirks, “That trickster is a big gull to buy at four and twenty pence an ell cloth not worth twenty!”

But then who’s the real gull?

Payment Time? The Draper shows up for his money, and Billie says, “Eleven weeks without a break he’s been lying there, poor soul.”

With a groan, Pathelin rolls over.

A 1907 facsimile reproduction by Guillaume Le Roy from a 1485 original. The “Eleven weeks” (Onze sepmaines) is seven lines down in Billie’s first passage here.

“Od’s blood,” says the troubled Draper. “I can’t imagine how this mishap could have befallen him; for he came this very day and we struck a bargain—at least it seemed to happen so, if I’m not mistaken.”

Pathelin Hallucinates a Defense. When the Draper tries a second visit, Pathelin, apparently “nearing death,” rambles on in dialects from all over France. With each rant, Billie justifies his sad condition to the Draper: The gibberish of Limousin? “He once had an uncle near Limoges, a brother of his aunt-in-law.” The Picard tongue? “His mother was raised in Picardy; so he speaks Picard now.” Norman? “His schoolmaster was a Norman; so in his last hour the memory of it comes back to him. He’s giving up the ghost!”

Then Pathelin picks up a broom, makes cabalistic figures on the floor, and “sits astride his broom and goes prancing off like a witch, continuing his mutterings.”   

The Draper says, “Od’s body kin! He mumbles so I cannot catch a word of it.”

“It’s Breton,” Billie says, “His grandmother on his father’s side came from Brittany.” 

The Draper is utterly befuddled, saying to Billie, “Pardon; for I take my oath I thought he had got my cloth. Good bye, ma’am; may God forgive me.”

Pathelin lies “mad abed.” Billie confronts the Draper. Image from an hilarious YouTube.

Wool Con Number 2. Defeated by Con Number 1 and turning his mind to other matters, the Draper comes to believe the Shepherd is fleecing him, shearing the sheep for sale elsewhere and feasting on the remains.

The Draper takes the Shepherd to court. And guess who the Shepherd hires as his defense lawyer? 

That ne’er-do-well rascal Pathelin.

The Shepherd’s Defensive. Pathelin concocts a defense echoed by Amy Coney Barrett’s recent Senate presentations: “Here’s the trick,” Pathelin explains to the Shepherd, “As soon as they call on you for trial, answer nothing but ba-a-a [mimicking a sheep’s bleat], whatever they say to you.”

The ba-a-a approach works splendidly.

A tense legal proceeding, filled with the ba-a-a defense.

The Judge’s Ruling. After enduring this nonsense, the Judge finally says to the Shepherd, “Get thee gone, my friend, and never return, whatever bailiff serves a warrant on thee. The court acquits thee. Dost thou comprehend?”

Pathelin: [to the Shepherd] Say ‘thank you, sir.’

Shepherd: Ba-a-a!

Yet a Third Con. Later, Pathelin approaches the Shepherd for counselor’s fee. Pathelin says, “Come, come! Nobody will overhear you. Speak right out. You needn’t fear. Pay me!” 

The Shepherd replies, “Ba-a-a!” ds

© Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays.com, 2020 

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