The Puritans and laughter

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:
The Puritans and laughter

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This chapter examines attacks on laughter by Puritans and religious reformers, arguing that it was not laughter per se that troubled them. It is gratuitous laughter that serves no other purpose than to please. Puritans' strictures on laughter were focused in anti-theatrical invective. Interestingly, Puritan censure of the theatre was inextricably bound up with a critique of the market economy. The chapter focuses on a few selected examples from the body of anti-theatrical literature. One of the best-known works was Philip Stubbes's Anatomy of the Abuses in England, first published in 1583. The chapter also looks at John Falstaff, William Shakespeare's greatest comic creation, who embodies many of the elements of the caricature of Puritans that gained such popularity in the early modern stage. Puritans were parodied as hypocritical windbags who secretly indulged in the excesses they publicly deplored, lechery and gluttony, but Falstaff also stands for the idea of obsessive play and pleasure as an end in itself. And it was precisely this notion that anti-theatrical critics identified in the commercial theatre.

Keywords: Puritans; religious reformers; laughter; John Falstaff; William Shakespeare; market economy; anti-theatrical literature; Philip Stubbes; Abuses in England; pleasure

Chapter.  20063 words. 

Subjects: Shakespeare Studies and Criticism

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