A History of English Laughter: Laughter from Beowulf to Beckett and Beyond

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Manfred Pfister
Rodopi, 2002 - Literary Criticism - 201 pages
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Is there a 'history' of laughter? Or isn't laughter an anthropological constant rather and thus beyond history, a human feature that has defined humanity ashomo ridens from cave man and cave woman to us? The contributors to this collection of essays believe that laughter does have a history and try to identify continuities and turning points of this history by studying a series of English texts, both canonical and non-canonical, from Anglosaxon to contemporary. As this is not another book on the history of the comic or of comedy it does not restrict itself to comic genres; some of the essays actually go out of their way to discover laughter at the margins of texts where one would not have expected it all – in Beowulf, or Paradise Lost or the Gothic Novel. Laughter at the margins of texts, which often coincides with laughter from the margins of society and its orthodoxies, is one of the special concerns of this book. This goes together with an interest in 'impure' forms of laughter – in laughter that is not the serene and intellectually or emotionally distanced response to a comic stimulus which is at the heart of many philosophical theories of the comic, but emotionally disturbed and troubled, aggressive and transgressive, satanic and sardonic laughter. We do not ask, then, what is comic, but: who laughs at and with whom where, when, why, and how?

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