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Laughter may seem an inappropriate Easter symbol and custom to contemporary Christians. Yet up until the eighteenth century churches throughout central Europe rang with laughter on Easter Sunday. In order to evoke this mirth clergymen preached humorous sermons, told funny stories, or recited amusing poems. These jolly Ostermärlein, or Easter fables, contained moral teachings as well. The resulting laughter dispelled the somber mood which had prevailed throughout Lent and ushered in the joyful season of Easter. The hilarity also celebrated Christ's defeat of the devil and his victory over death.

The practice of eliciting Easter laughter began during the Middle Ages, reaching the height of its popularity between the fourteenth and the eighteenth centuries. The custom became so popular that printers issued several compilations of Easter fables during that era. In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, however, religious reformers began to criticize the practice. Eventually their viewpoint prevailed and people began to view Easter fables and Easter laughter as inappropriate and irreverent. The custom of celebrating Easter with laughter finally died out sometime between the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.

Further Reading

Russ, Jennifer M. German Festivals and Customs. London, England: Oswald Wolff, 1982. Weiser, Francis X. The Easter Book. New York: Harcourt, Brace and Company, 1954.
Encyclopedia of Easter, Carnival, and Lent, 1st ed. © Omnigraphics, Inc. 2002


(c. 460—c. 370 B.C.) the laughing philosopher. [Gk. Phil.: Jobes, 430]
rapacious scavenger, known for its maniacal laughter. [Zoology: Misc.]
laughing gas
(nitrous oxide) sweet-smelling, colorless gas; produces feeling of euphoria. [Medicine: Misc.]
Muse of comedy [Gk. Myth.: Brewer Dictionary, 1071]
Allusions—Cultural, Literary, Biblical, and Historical: A Thematic Dictionary. Copyright 2008 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
References in periodicals archive ?
In his book Jokes and Their Relation to the Unconscious (1905) Freud set out a hydraulic theory of laughter, which defined laughter as the relieving of nervous energy.
Each of the book's nine chapters addresses this topic in a different context: Eco's research in semiotics, his contributions to reader-response criticism, his predilection for intertextual pastiches and for the detective novel, and his speculations on a theory of laughter are in turn analysed with a particular attention to his medieval models.
Understood in this way, Schopenhauer's theory of laughter adds a diabolical dimension to his pessimism.
For Coroneos, Conrad is a kind of touchstone or springboard, allowing us to engage issues stretching from geographical thinking, nationalism, and postcolonialism to spiritualism, Saussurian linguistics, Bergson's theory of laughter, and The Third Man.

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