How to Rebel via Jokes and Laughter: Two Examples of Rebellious Emotions in the Early Middle Ages
By Stefan Bießenecker
Rebellion and resistance, edited by Henrik Jensen (Pisa, 2010)
Abstract: During the last decade historians’ attention has been more and more attracted to emotions. Together with a lot of other scientific disciplines, the history of emotions, the way they are expressed, the typical contexts in which they occur, has been intensively discussed in connection with many other questions. In that context this chapter presents two examples, one of rebellious laughter and one of backfiring jokes that failed to hit the ritual target.
In both cases the representation of an emotional reaction marks a turning point of the situation: rude jokes told by an underdog during a feast leads to his sudden death. For the victor of the conflict it was impossible to accept that kind of rebellious behaviour even though there was an obligation to allow jokes during this kind of feasts. And the audience laughing, watching Rollo rebel against king Charles the Simple by not kneeling down to kiss his foot but bringing the king’s foot up to his mouth, thereby causing the king to fall backwards, was an indication that the king would not continue to be king for very long.
Top Image: Rollo depicted in the 16th century. British Library MS King’s 396 fol. 4v