CFP: Laughter and Satire in Europe, 1500-1800

Deadline: 13 January 2014

This interdisciplinary conference aims to explore the roles which satire and laughter played in the society and culture of Early Modern Europe, with a particular focus on Britain. Traditionally approached through the study of literary ‘greats’ of Augustan satire, in recent years scholars have begun to approach satire as a mode of writing rather than clearly defined genre. This has led to recognition of its relatedness to other areas of British culture – libel, popular festivity, visual culture, shame and the policing of moral mores, polemic – and defining the relationships between these areas more precisely is a major aim of this conference. We seek papers from scholars working on any aspect of Early Modern satire from the sixteenth to the eighteenth century in order to address how prevalent satire was in European and British cultures, the extent to which points of contact can be drawn between ‘popular’ and ‘elite’ satires and satirists, and the way(s) in which satire developed over the course of the sixteenth, seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Two concerns pertaining to satire will be particularly prevalent: 1) the role of satire in forming and sustaining stereotypes as a form of political discourse; and 2) the development of visual satire over the course of the period. Papers which make recourse to either of these areas will be warmly received.

Laughter has been less explicitly studied than satire. Whilst unpicking the relationship between the two is a major aim of this conference, we also hope to foster new ways of analysing a ubiquitous – if under-studied – part of Early Modern political and religious polemical discourse with the hope of shining a new light on the period. The value of laughter was ambivalent and contradictory – seen as both a marker of good fellowship and sociability, in other contexts it could be an affront to honour, a mark of sedition, or a punishment levelled at those who transgressed social values. In political contexts laughter was often seen as an inherently dangerous phenomenon capable of wounding its object (by suggesting that they were worthy of ridicule) and was thus a potentially dangerous and de-stabilising factor of polemical discourse. Christian traditions also inveighed heavily against laughter, seeing ‘mirth’ as a concern of this world which acted as a barrier to contemplation of the next. Considering how such prohibitions interacted with actually instances of laughter – and what they tell us about the power which satire/laughter had in Early Modern society – this conference seeks to understand political debate and news discourse in fresh ways, fostering research synergies with a view to producing a volume of essays which will sharpen understandings which will make a significant contribution to our understanding of the period.

Topics for consideration include (but are not limited to):

  • Constructing a history of laughter
  • How laughter was understood and used in Early Modern Britain
  • Laughter in political culture
  • Laughter as a sign of sociability
  • Physiological and philosophical understandings of laughter
  • The dangers of laughter
  • Satire as a ritual behaviour
  • The relationship between satire and humour
  • The relationship between learned and lowly satire
  • The relationship between satire, sedition and libel
  • The legacy of classical culture in literary satires
  • Satire as a genre or a mode of writing
  • Visual and material culture

Speakers include Vic Gattrell, Andrew McRae, Claude Rawson and Steven Zwicker. The deadline for submitting proposals (up to 300 words, for 20 minute papers) is 13 January 2014. Proposals should be sent to

Please contact the organisers and for further details.


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