Whatever language it is written in, literature is a reflection of cultural preoccupations and thus is a useful way of studying humor across languages, cultures, and time periods. Even the oldest recorded works—whether performance texts, poems, or prose narratives—display a range of types of humor, from farcical foolery to more serious satire and witty debate. This suggests that humor has formed an essential part of literature from the beginning and that those aspects of human life we call comic or humorous—whether experienced by oneself or by others—are as important to the literary approach as are the nonhumorous.

In fact, the development of some literary genres— dramatic comedy, for example, and especially the novel, a relatively late arrival on the literary scene—was accompanied by an evolving awareness ...

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