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Ritual Clowns

  • By: Beverly J. Stoeltje
  • In: Encyclopedia of Humor Studies
  • Edited by: Salvatore Attardo
  • Subject:General Media, Communication & Cultural Studies, Sociology of Culture

Ritual clowns reverse and challenge accepted norms in their specific societies through theatrics. Performing in ritual contexts in small-scale premodern societies (as well in some modern ones), ritual clowns perform their theatrics in costumes and masks. These pre-modern ritual contexts resemble festivals in modern societies in that the events intertwine the sacred and the secular, the serious and the humorous.

Arguing that the ritual clown is rooted in pre-modern religion, William Mitchell notes that the ritual clown is tied to a powerful magical world. However, as modern religions and scientific views of the world circulated around the globe, they collided with ancient beliefs, marginalizing the ritual clown in the process and separating sacred domains from secular, and ritual from humor.

Indigenous practices continue to integrate the serious ...

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