Laughter and compassion

Thomas Pavel


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. 


Laughter; Contempt; Compassion; Sin; Equality

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