Von allen Geistern die verneinten
ist mir die Schalk am wenigsten zur Last.
[Of all the spirits of negation
rogues like you bother me the least.]—Goethe, Faust, 338-39
As many of his enemies have repeatedly emphasized, laughter is the devil. A long line of humorlessness, and especially a demonization of laughter, runs through the history of Christianity. Above all, it was the ancient Christian monkhood and the Church Fathers who accused laughter of being incompatible with human dignity. This tradition of an conservative hatred of laughter reaches from the seventeenth century's Jesuit and Jansenist critique of the comedy of the seventeenth century to Charles Baudelaire's essay De L'Essence du rire (1855), in which he reveals laughter to be the signature of fallen humanity, the trait of the satanic in mankind: “un des plus clairs signes sataniques de l'homme” (one of the clearest satanic signs of man). In paradise, laughter would have been unknown, and Christ never laughed—but he did cry—which, for Baudelaire, confirmed the antidivine character of laughter.
Two major works of modern art and literature, not least inspired by Baudelaire, have moved laughter into the sphere of evil. It is in Wagner's Parsifal that Kundry, the female main character, laughed at the cross-bearing Jesus on his journey of suffering and, as a result, was condemned like Ahasuerus, the eternal Jew, to wander through history until the end of days in “cursed laughter” (verfluchtem Lachen).