L'humour noir sur la scène élisabéthaine et jacobéenne. Black Humour on the Early Modern English Stage
EA Climas, EA SPH, Université Bordeaux Montaigne, 10-11 October 2019
Notwithstanding the widespread opinion that ‘black humour’ (‘Humour noir’) was a phrase coined by André Breton, the co-founder of French Surrealism, in 1930s France; or that, as a mood, it epitomized a post-war American type of humour that persisted into the early 1970s as an expression of the disenchantment in the decline and fall of traditional values; research has shown how black humour was well instated in classical literature, not only in humorous epitaphs and epigrams that dealt with the theme of death (Stevanovic 2007), but in Greek philosophical literature (as in Plato’s Phaedon). Moreover, black humour is directly related to the humorism developed in ancient Greece by Hippocrates, Galen or Theophrastus, a theory introduced in classical comedy by Plautus and Menander and later borrowed and adapted by Elizabethan dramatists. Additionally, early modern research has shown how ‘[i]n plague time normal social decorum [was] breached as people put personal survival before established custom’ and that ‘this [was] productive of the characteristic black humour of observer accounts’, such as Dekker’s, who alludes to the ‘foolery, infidelity, humanity… villany, irreligion, and distrust in God’ which his stories ‘lay open’ (Healey, 1995). Parallel to the paradigm of death by disease, black humour, or gallows humour, summoned the tension that opposed hope and doom by joking about the convicted and their sense of despair as a strategy of coping with fear (Freud 1905) both witnessed and experienced.