Hobbes' Theory of Laughter in Classic Comedic Plays
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Laughter and humor are ongoing topics amongst philosophers to ponder and to determine what makes one laugh, what’s funny? Thomas Hobbes’ theory, though short, is one that is a central point of reference, to date, when analyzing what makes us laugh. According to Hobbes “the passion of laughter is nothing but sudden glory arising from sudden conception of some eminency in ourselves, by comparison with the infirmity of others” (Hobbes 458). Hobbes believes that it’s one’s superior feelings over another person’s inferiorities that the superior finds humorous, which result in laughter. He also theorizes on Wit. Wit, by the comedic definition, is natural aptitude for using words and ideas in a quick and inventive way to create humor. Hobbes also views wit as being natural and consisting of: “celerity of imagining – that is swift succession of one thought to another – and steady direction to some approved end. (Hobbes 458). Wit, or one’s quick wittedness, can be put back into Hobbes’ equation that suggests what we find funny is that which one can experience from an unsympathetic distance allowing him to laugh at another’s infirmities.
Hobbes finds a way to interweave wit into his theory that humor stems from one’s eminence over another’s infirmities and suggests: men laugh at jests, the wit whereof always consisteth in the elegant discovering and conveying to our minds some absurdity of another: and in this case also the passion of laughter proceedeth from the sudden imagination of our own odds and eminency…by comparison with another man’s infirmity or absurdity? (Hobbes 457).
The humor in wit is the quick, retort, which is almost always improvisational, it is one’s keenness and quickness of perception, which elicits humor th...
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...of form, Mr. Worthing, I had better ask you if Miss Cardew has any little fortune?
Jack: Oh! about a hundred and thirty thousand pounds in the Funds. That is all. Goodbye, Lady Bracknell. So pleased to have seen you.
Lady Bracknell: [Sitting down again] A moment, Mr. Worthing. A hundred and thirty thousand pounds! And in the Funds! Miss Cardew seems to me a most attractive young lady, now that I look at her. (III p. 339)
Lady Bracknell has no shame in her hypocrisy as long as everything measures up and deems socially acceptable.
Hobbes’ theory that “men laugh at the infirmities of others and in the elegant discovering and conveying to our minds some absurdity of another” holds merit. It is not only in the slapstick, physical infirmities but also in the personalities and characteristics of a person or a society and the hypocrisy and absurdities that lie within.