Many apologies have been invented in the early modern period by those who have made readers and audiences laugh, at least those that have left written traces of this activity. Laughter brings wisdom, they assured, it strenghtens morality and comforts the soul. Certainly, the ancient poetics of comedy and the ridiculous are much to be blamed for this colonization of laughter. In the sixteenth century they were rediscovered and became influential among the literate.1 But already in the middle ages the connection between laughter, sinfulness and the devil, made by the Church, had brought the comic in disrepute. It had never completely disappeared, however, and became in the fourteenth and fifteenth century even more widespread than ever.2 At that time, the legitimation of humour was largely the business of citizens enjoying economic prosperity and gaining political influence. They thrusted their ethical convictions on the city’s population at the time of carnival and other grotesque occasions.3 In general, the steep rise in comic literature since the late middle ages prompted more reflection on what it meant to make others laugh.


Eighteenth Century Seventeenth Century Sixteenth Century Fifteenth Century Early Modern Period 
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© Johan Verberckmoes 1999

Authors and Affiliations

  • Johan Verberckmoes
    • 1
  1. 1.History DepartmentCatholic University of LeuvenBelgium

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