English Literatures Program, University of Wollongong, Australia
¶ 1 Leave a comment on paragraph 1 0 This issue explores the role of laughter and humour in medievalism. The medieval period has long provided a fund of images and ideas that have been vital to defining ‘the modern’. For today’s audiences viewing medievalism via the body of heroic and fantastic texts emerging out of the nineteenth-century tradition, it would seem that revisiting, reinterpreting, and recreating the Middle Ages is a very serious business. Yet from the earliest parodies of medieval chivalry, such as Chaucer’s Tale of Sir Thopas, through to the scatological humour of contemporary televisual and internet medievalism, it is clear that as long as there has been medievalism, people have been encouraged to laugh at, and with, the Middle Ages. Comic affective engagement with the Middle Ages has had a vital role in the postmedieval imaginary, and thus warrants serious attention, but to date it has not received any sustained analysis. While there has been no shortage of scholarship mentioning popular comic texts, this has not yet led to the development of a critical language to understand the ‘affective-historical’ responses they generate. Furthermore, mirth, and its expressions in laughter, is a neglected area in the existing scholarship on affect in medievalism, which has so far focused on longing, nostalgia, and historical melancholy. This issue of postmedieval will move beyond, but also supplement, this more sombre emotional spectrum by focusing on the emotional and affective states generated by humorous medievalism, exploring how these foster, or, conversely, block attachments to the medieval past.
¶ 2 Leave a comment on paragraph 2 0 Ranging from anonymous verse of the sixteenth century, across the ‘adolescent’ prurience of eighteenth-century theatre and verse, and the often overlooked humor of Walter Scott, and arriving at late twentieth and twenty-first-century televisual, cinematic, and internet culture, the essays in this issue address a range of key questions, including: when did the Middle Ages become an object of laughter, and why? What registers of medievalist humor can be identified, and what do they ‘do’ to and with the medieval past? How does laughter engage with temporal and historical sensibilities? Does medievalist humor laugh mostly at the past, or, as an interpersonal and communal practice, does it use the past to laugh at the present? Challenging post-Bakhtinian truisms about humor as an inherently subversive phenomenon, these essays together disclose the affective and cultural complexity of laughing at the Middle Ages. Taken together, they demonstrate comic medievalism’s capacity to both (and even simultaneously) query and reify historical periodisation, as well as its tendency to preserve cherished notions of the Middle Ages (whether heroic and pious or anarchic and bawdy) even as it appears to question them.