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Research

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Publication details for Dr Daniel Derrin

Derrin, Daniel (2017). Sine Dolore: Relative Painlessness in Shakespeare’s Laughter at War. Critical Survey 29(2).

Author(s) from Durham

Abstract

How do we understand Shakespeare’s invitation to laugh in the context of war? Previous critical accounts have offered too simple a view: that laughter undercuts military ideals. Instead, this essay draws on the Aristotelian description of the laughable ‘deformity’ and Plato’s description of laughable ignorance in order to characterize Shakespeare’s laughter in the context of war more carefully as an expression of ‘relative painlessness’. It discusses how the fraught amusement of Coriolanus (Coriolanus), the reciprocality of Falstaff and Hotspur as laughable military failures (1 Henry IV), and the laughter of Bertram at Paroles (All’s Well that Ends Well) each engage with an ancient philosophical conundrum articulated poignantly by St Augustine: the requirement that a Christian civilization engage in war to defend itself against honour-obsessed aggressors without turning into a like aggressor itself. Shakespeare’s laughter at war enacts the desire for that balance.