Humor in Early Modern Sermons

Few studies have addressed comprehensively the place of jesting in early modern pulpit rhetoric. This article documents some of the humour—jests and witty speech—in the period’s extant sermon literature. Specifically it identifies the analytical potential of revisiting an ancient, and early modern, idea: that the laughable is a kind of deformitas (deformity). A standard approach in studies of humour from the early modern period has been to identify ‘scorn’ as its centraI emotional category. However, with reference especially to the sermons of Hugh Latimer in the 1540s and Thomas Adams in the first decades of the seventeenth century, I shall argue that scorn for what is deemed ‘other’, and therefore ‘low’, does not exhaust the range of affective rhetoric achieved by jests against ‘deformities’ in sermons. Pulpit jesting also generates what are called here ‘self-referring’ laughable deformities, with much more complex affective purposes.


Author: Jim

I am a Pastor, and Lecturer in Church History and Biblical Studies at Ming Hua Theological College.