Laughter and compassion

  • Thomas Pavel
Keywords: Laughter, Contempt, Compassion, Sin, Equality


The paper examines a few traditional types of humor in literature: the laughter based on contempt, present in classical comedy; the strong, happy laughter present in Rabelais; the elegant laughter in pastoral and high-brow comedy; and the laughter of complicity, elicited by smart clowns.  To these types, one should add the compassionate laughter, a variety which, from the 19th century on, targets the ridiculous faults of the characters while showing a certain amount of sympathy for their human frailty.  Thanks to the modern rise of equality between human beings, laughter, in addition to contempt and rejection, gets a new touch of compassion and pity. 


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Author Biography

Thomas Pavel

Né en Roumanie, ayant obtenu son doctorat à l’université de Paris III, Thomas Pavel a enseigné la littérature française et comparée au Canada et aux États-Unis. Professeur à Princeton de 1990 à 1998, il est actuellement professeur à l'université de Chicago.

Parmi ses publications : Univers de la fiction (Harvard University Press, 1986, Seuil, 1988, Einaudi, 1992), Le Mirage Linguistique (Minuit, 1988, University of Chicago Press, 2001), L'art de l'éloignement (Gallimard, 1996), et La Pensée du roman (Gallimard 2003, nouvelle version revue et refondue, Princeton University Press, 2013 as The Lives of the Novel, Gallimard, 2015, Trento : Mimesis, 2015, as Le vite del romanzo).

How to Cite
Pavel, T. (2016). Laughter and compassion. Between, 6(12).
Parody, Satire, Humour. Seven Lectures and a Memory