The humour of humours: Comedy theory and eighteenth-century histories of emotion

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This chapter begins with a survey of methodologies commonly used to approach the study of emotion in humanities disciplines: the history of emotion and affect theory. This chapter proposes that the object of study—emotion—tends to interfere with critical orthodoxies to such an extent that these two theoretical positions, often understood to conflict, in fact converge. This convergence consists in their mutual interest in how emotion refuses the distinction between discourse and materiality. The chapter then examines how the shifting definitions of ‘humour’ in the eighteenth century provide a particularly good example of how the study of emotion disrupts this distinction. Eighteenth-century ideas about humour undermine a binaristic understanding of the relation between physiology and cognition. The chapter argues that the emotions associated with humour and comedy in particular, because they are integrally tied to a developing concept of modern selfhood, are especially illustrative of the way in which studying the emotions of the past can reveal the limitations of our critical orthodoxies and perhaps yield new critical methods.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThe Palgrave Handbook of Humour, History, and Methodology
EditorsDaniel Derrin, Hannah Burrows
PublisherPalgrave Macmillan
Number of pages16
ISBN (Electronic)9783030566463
ISBN (Print)9783030566456
Publication statusPublished - 13 Jan 2021


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