Jest, Jestbooks, and Jesters

Like laughter, the making, retelling, and collecting of jests is almost universal across cultures. Naturally the types and formats vary from country to country, historical period to historical period, generation to generation, and even from person to person. Very few jests recur in all the works mentioned here, but that may reflect the limits of what textual evidence has survived. Even during the early Church, which frowned on laughter, supporters of laughter outnumbered those who thought it was wrong. And many writers, in all historical periods, have claimed that laughter is not just diverting but in some way essential: “What prevents us from laughing and telling the truth at the same time?” asked the Roman poet Horace, and the Renaissance humanist Paolo Cortesi (1465–1610) stated ...

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