Comic Medievalism

Comic Medievalism: Laughing at the Middle Ages

Louise D’Arcens
Series: Medievalism
Copyright Date: 2014
Edition: NED - New edition
Published by: Boydell and Brewer,
Pages: 210
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.7722/j.ctt6wpbp8
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  • Book Info
    Comic Medievalism
    Book Description:

    The role of laughter and humour in the postmedieval citation, interpretation or recreation of the middle ages has hitherto received little attention, a gap in scholarship which this book aims to fill. Examining a wide range of comic texts and practices across several centuries, from Don Quixote and early Chaucerian modernisation through to Victorian theatre, the Monty Python films, television and the experience of visiting sites of "heritage tourism" such as the Jorvik Viking Museum at York, it identifies what has been perceived as uniquely funny about the Middle Ages in different times and places, and how this has influenced ideas not just about the medieval but also about modernity. Tracing the development and permutations of its various registers, including satire, parody, irony, camp, wit, jokes, and farce, the author offers fresh and amusing insight into comic medievalism as a vehicle for critical commentary on the present as well as the past, and shows that for as long as there has been medievalism, people have laughed at and with the middle ages. Louise D'Arcens is Associate Professor in English Literatures at the University of Wollongong.

    eISBN: 978-1-78204-375-1
    Subjects: Language & Literature, Film Studies

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-vii)
  3. Illustrations
    (pp. viii-viii)
  4. Acknowledgements
    (pp. ix-x)
  5. I The Set Up

    • Introduction: Laughing at, with and in the Middle Ages
      (pp. 3-22)

      Medievalism – the citation, interpretation or recreation of the Middle Ages – has had a major presence in the cultural memory of the modern West. Whether the medieval period is evoked as a superseded age of ignorance and cruelty, a venerable origin of national cultures or a lost age of beauty and social unity, it provides a reservoir of images and ideas that have been crucial to defining what it is to be ‘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 it is a...

    • 1 The Cervantean Paradigm: Comedy, Madness and Meta-Medievalism in Don Quixote
      (pp. 23-40)

      The man crashes to the dirt floor and lies motionless, unhorsed by the blow of a lance to his chest. His alarmed opponent leaps from his horse and runs to the man’s aid. ‘Well done, good sir’, says the vanquished knight, ‘you are the victor; but we will meet again.’ As the weary men rise, gauntlets clasped above their heads in camaraderie, the crowd roars at the lengthy and violent spectacle it has just witnessed. The date is 1996; the place is the Buena Park outlet of the theatre-restaurant chain Medieval Times; and the men are Chip Douglas and Steven...

  6. II Oldies But Goodies:: Comic Recovery

    • 2 Scraping the Rust from the Joking Bard: Chaucer in the Age of Wit
      (pp. 43-67)

      In 1694, the young Joseph Addison, later a playwright, essayist and notorious strander of prepositions, published ‘An Account of the Greatest English Poets’ in the fourth part of John Dryden’sMiscellany Poems. A verse account of the visitation of the Muses (‘the Tuneful Nine’) to writers of ‘British Rhimes’ past and present, it nominates Geoffrey Chaucer as the first great poet in the English tradition:

      Long had our dull Fore-fathers slept Supine,

      Nor felt the Raptures of the Tuneful Nine;

      TillChaucerfirst, a merryBard, arose;

      And many a Story told in Rhime and Prose.

      But Age has Rusted...

    • 3 Medievalist Farce as Anti-Totalitarian Weapon: Dario Fo as Modern Giullare
      (pp. 68-88)

      When considering the post-medieval reanimation of comic modes as a form of ‘comic medievalism’, one of the thornier issues to negotiate is how the various modern adaptors actually view ‘the medieval’ – or, alternatively, constructions such as the ‘gothic’, or even the ‘old’, which operate analogously with ‘the medieval’ – and, in particular, whether they are well disposed toward the Middle Ages’ comic culture. In the Enlightenment, when Chaucer was regarded as a ‘merry’ precursor of modern wit, this was, until later in the eighteenth century, largely at the expense of seeing him as medieval; he was, rather, exceptional to...

  7. III Hit and Myth:: Performing and Parodying Medievalism

    • 4 Pre-Modern Camp and Faerie Legshows: Travestying the Middle Ages on the Nineteenth-Century Stage
      (pp. 91-111)

      Perusing the front matter of the libretto toWhittington, Junior, and his Sensation Cat, an ‘Original Civic Burlesque’ which premiered at London’s New Royalty Theatre on 23 November 1870, one is struck by an intriguing contradiction. First, in a blithely ahistorical gesture, the author Robert Reece waves away the necessity for ‘of-the-Period’ characterisations, asserting, tongue in cheek, that the demands of ‘Burlesque [are] superior to the dull realities of History’.¹ Decidedly less arch, however, are his protestations that the production’s costumes are ‘historical’, the appearance of its auxiliary players ‘copied from contemporaneous prints’, and its music ‘selected … from rare...

    • 5 Up the Middle Ages: Performing Tradition in Comic Medievalist Cinema
      (pp. 112-136)

      At the end of Michael Kidd’s 1958 musical comedyMerry Andrew, the amateur archaeologist Andrew Larabee, played with customary hapless charm by Danny Kaye, faces a difficult choice: whether to return to school teaching or pursue his newly discovered facility as a natural clown. His dilemma is resolved when his father reveals that Andrew’s clowning skills have an honourable pedigree, having been inherited from a distant ancestor, Thomas Larabee, who had been jester to a king. As the film’s title confirms, Andrew’s name signals the atavistic return of a lost ancestral line of ‘merry-Andrews’, buffonic entertainers associated with London’s Bartholomew...

  8. IV That’s Edutainment:: Comedy and History

    • 6 ‘The Past is a Different and Fairly Disgusting Country’: The Middle Ages in Recent British ‘Jocumentary’
      (pp. 139-160)

      The phrase used in the title of this chapter is taken from the back cover blurb ofThe Worst Jobs in History, the book accompanying the 2004 Channel 4 television series of the same name hosted by the actor, presenter and face of popular history in Britain, Tony Robinson (also known as ‘Baldrick’ in the famous BBC comedy seriesBlackadder, and host of Channel 4’s long-running popular archaeology programmeTime Team). The phrase is not the invention of the book’s publishers but is Robinson’s own, also featuring on the book’s opening page. It is of interest for several reasons. First,...

    • 7 Smelling the Past: Medieval Heritage Tourism and the Phenomenology of Ironic Nostalgia
      (pp. 161-180)

      A question that has exercised numerous theorists of comedy, humour and laughter is what Simon Critchley has called ‘the ethos and ethnos’ of humour; that is, its reinforcement of cultural and ethnic distinctions through the ridicule of foreigners, minorities and other outsiders.¹ But, as discussed in the previous chapter, by contrast almost nothing has been said about how received ideas about the present, and about modern Western personhood, are perpetuated by humorous representations of the pre-modern past and its people. It is perhaps unsurprising that this question has not detained these theorists, whose concern has generally been with the social...

  9. Afterword: Laughing into the Future
    (pp. 181-184)

    In the essay ‘A Drama of Dolls’, which appeared in the 1911 volumeAlarms and Discursions, G. K. Chesterton tells of a trip to the Yorkshire dales where he saw ‘an old puppet-play exactly as our fathers saw it five hundred years ago’. This puppet show, based on the legend of Faust, leads Chesterton into a meditation on inversive medieval humour that could almost be described as Bakhtinianavant la lettre. Most striking in this short meditation, however, is the conclusion Chesterton draws about the strange, contradictory comedy of the medieval puppets and the effect it had on him: ‘[t]he...

  10. Bibliography
    (pp. 185-200)
  11. Index
    (pp. 201-210)
  12. Back Matter
    (pp. 211-211)