Humour in Anglo-Saxon Literature by Jonathan Wilcox

By Jonathan Wilcox

Humour is never obvious to elevate its indecorous head within the surviving corpus of outdated English literature, but the worth of studying that literature with a watch to humour proves massive whilst the correct questions are requested. Humour in Anglo-Saxon Literature presents the 1st book-length remedy of the topic. In all new essays, 8 students hire assorted ways to discover humor in such works as Beowulf and The conflict of Maldon, the riddles of the Exeter publication, and previous English saints' lives. An introductory essay presents a survey of the sphere, whereas person essays push in the direction of a particular thought of Anglo-Saxon humour. via its strange concentration, this assortment will offer an beautiful creation to either well-known and lesser-known works for these new to outdated English literature, whereas these accustomed to the standard contours of previous English literary feedback will locate the following the price of a clean technique.

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MacGalliard (Notre Dame, 1975), pp. 50–61, at 57; Raymond P. , Literary Essays on Language and Meaning in the Poem called ‘Beowulf’: Beowulfiana Literaria (Lewiston, NY, 1992), pp. 267–78; and Stephen O. 1 (1987), 1–9, at 9. L. Risden, ‘Irony in Beowulf’, in a forthcoming volume in honor of Raymond Tripp. 4 Brewer, Medieval Comic Tales, p. xiv. , Robert Henryson: Poems (Oxford, 1963; 2nd edn 1974), p. 33. 34 FOLLY AND WISDOM IN ANGLO-SAXON HUMOR * I begin with the observation (its limitations are exposed elsewhere in this volume) that while it is no longer possible to say for sure what Anglo-Saxons found funny, it is possible to count and categorize the contexts in which they felt it appropriate to record laughter.

When a man of stature in the Homeric poems appears in public, as Michael Nagler has shown,25 he is regularly accompanied by a pair of male attendants (or, if the leading figure is female, a pair of serving maids). The presence of a pair of attendants serves the function of auxesis: it marks out the attended person as important. Surely this is a motif drawn from life. In addition, however, the regular occurrence of Homeric attendants in pairs, governing a grammatically dual verb form, rather than as individuals or in groups of three or four or some unspecified number, is a literary topos.

His laughter, like Skarpheðinn’s grin or Hallgerðr’s laughter, marks him out at once from people of ordinary stature or of a more bland or passive disposition, but there the resemblance between these figures ends. To judge from these examples, laughter can signify a person’s ‘self-marking’ as someone to be reckoned with. A gesture of this kind asserts a person’s claims to dominance, just as a spear that is raised above one’s head signals the delivery of a formal speech. Although this latter image too is likely to be drawn from life, it has a literary integrity.

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