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  • Print publication year: 2020
  • Online publication date: January 2020

Chapter 12 - Laughable Poetry

from II - Developments


By the end of the eighteenth century, laughter was becoming an increasingly ambiguous affect. Hobbes’s cry of ‘sudden glory’, a scornful expression of superiority over ‘some deformed thing in another, by comparison whereof they suddenly applaud themselves’, had been challenged by philosophers (Hutcheson, Kant, and others) who read laughter as a non-judgemental response to a perceived incongruity. And yet, while both the superiority and incongruity theorists tended to consider laughter as a transitive force – as ridicule aimed at an object, or as amusement at something oddly compounded within it – poets were focusing on the phenomenology of laughter. This emphasis led them to see the laugh itself as an incongruity. My essay considers a range of Romantic and post-Romantic poems in order to explore what the lyrical and the laughable might have in common.