Said in jest: Who's laughing at the middle ages (and when)?

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The essay begins with a negative image of a medieval scene in Monty Python and the Holy Grail, which is used to point out that the scene is a knowing parody rather than founded on a genuine belief in an unmitigatedly dark age. I argue that the humor emerges from this disjunction rather than because a depiction of shit-covered medieval peasants is innately funny. I briefly look at the lineage of the notion of a dark age, before turning to some texts in order to discuss the question of when and why the medieval period became humorous. I look first at episodes in Don Quixote, before turning to a little known humorous story, the Iest of Dane Hew of Leicester, a text printed in the later sixteenth century but usually taken as a fifteenth-century work. I argue, instead, that it is self-conscious medievalism of the Elizabethan period, and I look at the way in which humor is used in it to confirm the periodizing divide between the Middle Ages (a term not yet current at that time) and the printer's present moment. © 2014 Macmillan Publishers Ltd.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)126-139
Number of pages13
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2014


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