Shakespearean laughter: A study of Shakespeare's bases of laughter and their implications
Edwards, Ralph William
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In attempting to discover the significance of laughter in interpreting Shakespeare's plays, one must realize that laughter is not always certain in any given instance, that no single, simple explanation of laughter either of the past or of the present will cover all kinds of laughter, and that people in different countries and periods laugh at different things differently. It is possible, nevertheless, to discover with considerable certainty what people laughed at in Elizabethan times. Although the small amount of sixteenth century theory about laughter probably had little direct influence upon the Elizabethan dramatists, a study of contemporary comments on the theater, of some plays by Shakespeare's contemporaries, of Elizabethan jigs, and of the jest-books of successful Elizabethan comedians indicates that certain actions, speeches, topics, and types of characters and situations were likely to evoke laughter. I drew up a list of these topics and devices for securing laughter and selected those often repeated in the various sources. The similarity of topics and devices appearing in both dramatic and non-dramatic sources makes it reasonable to believe that certain things had become established as evocative of laughter in Elizabethan times. A study of selected early religious plays, of moralities, and of school, court, and professional plays shows that certain topics on the already developed lists keep reappearing and become traditional sources of laughter and that laughter varies with the kind of audience for which a play was designed. It also shows that the repetition of certain topics for securing laughter in the same play and the constant direction of the laughter of the audience at a certain person and with others emphasized the theme of the play as, for example, in Wyt and Science with its praise of the academic virtues and the condemnation of idleness and ignorance [TRUNCATED]
Thesis (Ph.D)--Boston University.
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