The farce of Master Pierre Patelin


This play is a comedy – without any moral, that is not its purpose.

It is one of the oldest pieces of French comedy – and as it was then, it is anonymous, & now scholars are lost in conjecture as to who could have written such an ugly thing.

In the Middle Ages, in France, when you were recognized in your profession, you were called: Master. It was quite a classy thing to do.

Our Master Patelin was a Master of Law. Then he was a lawyer. The office of judge was more expensive – but paid more.

Pathelin and the Draper and Pathelin before the Judge, illustration from \’The Farce of Master Pathelin\’, c.1489 (engraving) (b/w photo) by French School, (15th century); Bibliotheque Nationale, Paris, France.

What is this play about? Deceivers. The liars, the cunning, the clever, the deceivers of all kinds.
Its context? The law- of course, and especially the court.
Its modernity? hmmm, are you kidding? we are immersed in a world of deceivers, of crafty guys who think they are smart, of tricksters, and all this beautiful world has only one desire: to win the jackpot in court.

The court – Jean Trechsel, Žd. ˆ Lyon, 1493, Bibl. des Arts dŽco.

Who said that humanity had evolved?

Then, Master Pierre Patelin is a lawyer by profession. Not a rogue – although… well.
Before he had a bad reputation – as people are mean… that too is unchangeable – he earned a very good living, he was fat – fat as it should be – a sign of wealth in ancient times.

And now, nobody trusts him anymore.
He will be forced – the poor man – to cunningly get cloth. He goes to buy a roll of cloth – asks the merchant to come to his house to be paid. Of course, Master – Master, please, that means he’s clever – so Master Patelin does not want to pay. How to do it? It is very easy. He will make the draper believe that it was not true, that he, the good and brave and so honest – yes milady, yes milord, so honest – lawyer, he was tricked by the devil himself who came to take the roll of cloth in his place. The draper can’t believe it – but what to do? He sees the lawyer at two minutes of death, he does not insist. Maybe it’s true. The Devil is so mean too.

Okay – Patelin the Master only had a bad cough and death went away as quickly as the draper.

And now, miraculously, a shepherd asks him, Patelin, the great lawyer, for help. The owner of the sheep accuses the shepherd of having killed some of the sheep for him. How to defend himself?
Don’t worry about it and do what the lawyer will recommend to the judge.

In court, here are the instructions given to the shepherd: play the fool – it’s very easy – to the point of looking completely stupid and answer all the questions only by bleating.
The case was going well, the judge was exasperated.
Alas, who attends the trial? The draper – who realizes that he has been robbed by Patelin and launches into an endless intervention – everything becomes infernal, it bleats and it rages, the court is evacuated.

Does the story end there?

Do you know many lawyers who let their clients go without paying?
Here’s Patelin running after the shepherd – he worked, he should be paid.

How was he rewarded?
Do we really need to emphasize the basic wickedness of men? On their general ill will? On their dubious sense of humor?
I won’t.
The farce does it for me to end the play – poor Mr. Patelin, nobody loves him.

Totally entertaining comedy, and so, so in tune with our times.
Mocking lawyers and judges was a great occupation in the Middle Ages – it seems to me that it is time to revive that mockery. We are back to where they were.

Especially if I add – but would I dare to add this arrow of the Parthian ? – that the two important professions of the Middle Ages were the Jurist and the Physician.
Fortunately, I dare not add that.
The correspondence with our time would be luminous – but so perfidious.
They were backward – we are enlightened.
No ?

Home Page

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s