Laughter and recreation in the Shakespearean theatre

Indira Ghose

in Shakespeare and Laughter

Published by Manchester University Press

Published in print June 2008 | ISBN: 9780719076923
Published online July 2012 | e-ISBN: 9781781700983 | DOI:
Laughter and recreation in the Shakespearean theatre

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This chapter explores ideas about laughter that circulated in early modern discourse. Renaissance scientists and scholars were fascinated by the phenomenon of laughter, and a number of theories were put forward to explain what triggered it. While most philosophers continued to draw on the classical idea of laughter as an expression of ridicule, increasingly the idea was mooted that laughter might be bound up with pleasure, not derision. Humanist scholars such as Erasmus and Sir Thomas More were enthusiastic collectors of jests and witty apophthegms and lauded the effects of pleasurable recreation. Interestingly, it was Erasmus who spearheaded the campaign to reform manners that gained particular momentum in the age of religious reform. The eradication of the tradition of mystery plays led to the birth of a professional theatre based in London. Recreation became a commodity purveyed in a fledgling entertainment industry. The main function of laughter in the Shakespearean theatre was to create social cohesion within an audience drawn from all ranks of society. This chapter looks at laughter in William Shakespeare' A Midsummer Night's Dream.

Keywords: laughter; theatre; William Shakespeare; Midsummer Night's Dream; Renaissance; pleasure; Erasmus; Thomas More; recreation; social cohesion

Chapter.  18944 words. 

Subjects: Shakespeare Studies and Criticism

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