Laughter and Power in the Twelfth Century

Source : OUP

Peter J. A. Jones, Laughter and Power in the Twelfth Century, Oxford University Press, 2019

Towards the end of the twelfth century, powerful images of laughing kings and saints began to appear in texts circulating at the English royal court. At the same time, contemporaries began celebrating the wit, humour, and laughter of King Henry II (r.1154-89) and his martyred Archbishop of Canterbury, Saint Thomas Becket (d.1170). Taking a broad genealogical approach, Laughter and Power in the Twelfth Century traces the emergence of this powerful laughter through an immersive study of medieval intellectual, literary, social, religious, and political debates. Focusing on a cultural renaissance in England, the study situates laughter at the heart of the defining transformations of the second half of the 1100s. With an expansive survey of theological and literary texts, bringing a range of unedited manuscript material to light in the process, Peter J. A. Jones exposes how twelfth-century writers came to connect laughter with spiritual transcendence and justice, and how this connection gave humour a unique political and spiritual power in both text and action. Ultimately, Jones argues that England’s popular images of laughing kings and saints effectively reinstated a sublime charismatic authority, something truly rebellious at a moment in history when bureaucracy and codification were first coming to dominate European political life.

Introduction: Laughter and Power in Medieval Europe
1: The Making of Powerful Laughter, c.1100-1200
2: Powerful Laughter in Twelfth-Century Narrative
3: Laughter and Power at Henry II’s Court
4: Thomas Becket, The Laughing Saint
5: Henry II, The Laughing King
Conclusion: Between Laughing Saint & Laughing King
Appendix: Henry’s Courtiers
Bibliography