Humour in Old English Literature: Communities of Laughter in Early Medieval England
Published: October 2023© 2024
Imprint: University of Toronto Press
Page Count: 358 Pages
Dimensions: 6.00 x 9.00
358 Pages, 6.00 x 9.00 in
Ebook - ePub
Humour in Old English Literature deploys modern theories of humour to explore the style and content of surviving writing from early medieval England. The book analyses Old English riddles, wisdom literature, runic writing, the deployment of rhymes, and humour in heroic poetry, hagiography, and romance.
Drawing on a fine-tuned understanding of literary technique, the book presents a revisionist view of Old English literature, partly by reclaiming often-neglected texts and partly by uncovering ironies and embarrassments within well-established works, including Beowulf. Most surprisingly, Jonathan Wilcox engages the large body of didactic literature, pinpointing humour in two anonymous homilies along with extensive use in saints’ lives. Each chapter ends by revealing a different audience that would have shared in the laughter.
Wilcox suggests that the humour of Old English literature has been scantily covered in past scholarship because modern readers expect a dour and serious corpus. Humour in Old English Literature aims to break that cycle by highlighting works and moments that are as entertaining now as they were then.
Introduction: Old English Literature and Humour
1. Risible Riddles and Witty Wisdom: The Appeal of Playful Puzzles
2. Laughing at Letters: Runic Riddles and Riddling Runes
3. Metrical Mirth: Sonorous Sounds and Rambunctious Rhymes
4. Heroic Humour: Comic Insouciance and Embarrassments of Etiquette
5. Playing with Parody to Comic Effect
6. Homiletic Humour: Christian Laughter and Clerical Satire
7. Hagiographic Humour: Decorous Delight and Full-Throated Funniness
8. Relishing Romance: Horror and Happiness in Apollonius of Tyre
"In Humour in Old English Literature, Jonathan Wilcox explodes Old English literature’s reputation for ponderous solemnity. With witty, illuminating close readings that range from proverbial poetry to homiletic prose, Wilcox uncovers a hidden world of weird jokes, comic mishaps, and early medieval audiences eager for entertainment. From the Beowulf poet’s social comedy to hagiographers’ slapstick, readers of Humour in Old English Literature will experience the corpus as they’ve never seen it before and will finish this engaging, fast-moving book with a new appreciation for Old English literature’s subtlety and variety of tone."Emily V. Thornbury, Associate Professor of English, Yale University
"This is an impressively wide-ranging discussion of humour in Old English literature that goes well beyond the expected – that is, the rude riddles. In addition to discussing a number of riddles that are normally read straight, Wilcox analyses a comprehensive variety of genres, from wisdom and epic poetry to prose homilies and saints’ lives, among others. Wilcox compellingly explores the many ways that Old English literature toyed with incongruity of sense and incongruity of style, and the many new interpretations offered in this volume will prove an essential read for researchers of Old English literature."Megan Cavell, Associate Professor of English Literature, University of Birmingham
"Humour in Old English Literature is an important book for the community of medievalist scholars and students. I particularly liked the fresh and useful sections on the comic insouciance of heroes, humour in Andreas, and homiletic humour in Ælfric. With this adaptability and in being able to communicate with a wide and diverse readership, Jonathan Wilcox occupies an important position in the current field of Old English studies."Christine Rauer, Reader in Medieval English Literature , University of St Andrews