Congreve’s common passions: Humor, affectation and the work of satire

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This essay argues that William Congreve, influenced by Lockean empiricism, intervenes influentially in the development of eighteenth-century models of selfhood. Congreve takes Locke’s mimetic model of the mind, in which we copy and contain the afterimages of sensory input, and modifies it, using ideas that belong to comic theory and to seventeenth-century philosophies of the passions. His literary criticism thus reveals the way in which the self depicted in Jonsonian comedy, driven historically by the humors, gives way to a new, imitative model of the self driven more overtly by affectation. This imitative model prefigures the Humean self, in which sympathy is essential to subject-formation. By understanding comic practice as fundamentally a practice of depicting the psyche, and by insisting on the centrality of affective processes to self-making, Congreve shows us what empiricism owes to comic theory.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)421-447
Number of pages26
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 2017


  • William Congreve
  • empiricism
  • humors comedy
  • affectation
  • passions
  • sympathy

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