Jones Peter, The sublime and the ridiculous: laughter, sovereignty, and sanctity at the court of Henry II (d.1189)
Jones Peter, The sublime and the ridiculous: laughter, sovereignty, and sanctity at the court of Henry II (d.1189), Thèse de doctorat soutenue en 2014, (dir. B.M. Bedos-Rezak, New York University)
Laughter appears to have been an obsession for the writers surrounding the English king, Henry II (r.1154-89). They discussed the subject in a greater depth than had any other milieu of the period, produced an overflowing of satirical texts and theories, and, most of all, contributed challengingly original images of both laughing saints and kings. This dissertation explores the significance of laughter in both the writing and the politics of Henry’s court, with a particular focus on the innovative descriptions of the laughter of Thomas Becket (d.1170) and Henry II himself. Establishing, for the first time, the range of ways that laughter was conceptualized by twelfth-century thinkers, and delineating the fundamental narrative topoi through which texts from the period articulated laughter, I will provide a new assessment of the central place of laughter and humor in the political culture of the court. Reading Thomas’s and Henry’s laughter through these insights, I will then suggest an entirely new narrative of laughter’s Christianization, and will offer a fresh perspective on Henry II’s governmental strategy. Throughout, I will ultimately illuminate how laughter came to be considered, by the later twelfth century, as a truly sublime spiritual and political act. Yet I will argue that it did so at the cost of losing some of the ineffable power and awe that earlier writers imagined it to have.