Laughing Histories breaks new ground by exploring moments of laughter in early modern Europe, showing how laughter was inflected by gender and social power.

"I dearly love a laugh," declared Jane Austen's heroine Elizabeth Bennet, and her wit won the heart of the aristocratic Mr. Darcy. Yet the widely read Earl of Chesterfield asserted that only "the mob" would laugh out loud; the gentleman should merely smile. This literary contrast raises important historical questions: how did social rules constrain laughter? Did the highest elites really laugh less than others? How did laughter play out in relations between the sexes? Through fascinating case studies of individuals such as the Renaissance artist Benvenuto Cellini, the French aristocrat Madame de Sévigné, and the rising civil servant and diarist Samuel Pepys, Laughing Histories reveals the multiple meanings of laughter, from the court to the tavern and street, in a complex history that paved the way for modern laughter. ​

With its study of laughter in relation to power, aggression, gender, sex, class, and social bonding, Laughing Histories is perfect for readers interested in the history of emotions, cultural history, gender history, and literature.

chapter |13 pages


Laughter and Early Modern Europe

chapter 1|23 pages

Laughter and Power

The Politics of Laughter

chapter 2|19 pages

The Laughter of Aggression

Benvenuto Cellini

chapter 3|21 pages

The Laughter of Social Bonding

Felix Platter

chapter 4|23 pages

Laughter, Gender, and Sex

Dorothy Osborne

chapter 5|21 pages

Courtly Laughter

Madame de Sévigné

chapter 6|19 pages

Laughter and the Rising Man

Samuel Pepys

chapter 7|22 pages

Laughter as Social Commodity

Hester Thrale and Friends

chapter |8 pages


The Lessons of Laughter