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Why laughing mattered in the renaissance: the second Henry Tudor memorial lecture (Delivered 10 March 2000, University of Durham)

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Nietzsche tells us at the end of Beyond Good and Evil that ‘I would go so far as to venture an order of rank among philosophers according to the rank of their laughter’. Nietzsche violently dislikes those philosophers who, as he puts it, have ‘sought to bring laughter into disrepute’. He particularly singles out Thomas Hobbes for this offence, adding that Hobbes's puritanical attitude is just what you would expect from an Englishman. Nietzsche's accusation is based, as it happens, on a misquotation of what Hobbes says about laughter in philosophy. But Nietzsche was undoubtedly right to point out that Hobbes — in common with most thinkers of his age — took it for granted that laughter is a subject in which philosophers need to be seriously interested. My aim in what follows will be to investigate the grounds and origins of this belief, and then to seek to explain it.

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Christ's College, Cambridge, CB2 3BU. Email:

Publication date: March 1, 2001


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