His ‘Last Jest’: On Laughter, Edgar Allan Poe and ‘Hop-Frog’
The critic J. Marshall Trieber claims that Edgar Allan Poe’s sense of humour consists of ‘sadism, … Schadenfreude … [and] scorn, wherein our own superiority is tacitly affirmed.’ Like many critics of Poe’s humour, Trieber implicitly appeals to the well-known ‘superiority theory’ of laughter. This chapter explores the relation of superiority theories to Poe’s late tale, ‘Hop-Frog’ (1849), and the ways in which these theories are interrogated, modified and subverted by Poe. The chapter demonstrates how the superiority afforded by laughter simultaneously encodes its opposite—and is hence all-too-easily overturned. For Poe, this overturning is not only a jest, but also a game of ‘hop-frog’ or ‘leap-frog’—a game Poe himself is said to have enjoyed.