Document Type

Article

Abstract

Many Elizabethan rhetoric and courtesy manuals offer jesting as a powerful rhetorical strategy for managing specific situations. Although highly pragmatic, the manuals' treatments of the subject imply a sociology of humor that classifies jests according to the broader social functions they serve: jests which preserve existing social relations and jests which disrupt, or even challenge, them. What eludes this classificatory scheme, however, are the properties of jesting itself. Jesting is always a flirtation with disorder and often serves conservative and disruptive functions simultaneously. If this is so, then the manuals' discussions of jesting replay (and magnify) ambiguities and anxieties characteristic of Elizabethan culture and Elizabethan rhetorical and courtesy theory in general.

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