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Wednesday, December 10, 2008

A joke

There's nothing I like more on a cold Thursday evening in December than to pour a large sherry, stoke up the fire, pluck down my copy of Pasquil's Jests (1604), and settle in for the evening. Pasquil's Jests is, as you might imagine, a jestbook: a gathering of prose comedy gems, in black letter. It's a book, the title-page declares, 'Pretty and pleasant, to driue away the tediousnesse of a Winters Euening.' As an early seasonal gift, I thought I'd share a sample with you. It's called '‘Of a Citizen of London, that rid out of the City fiue myles.' It's not very funny. But here goes.

'A Citizen riding to Edmonton, had his man following him on foote, who came so neere, that the horse strake him a great blowe on the thigh. The fellow thinking to be reuenged, tooke up a great stone to throw at the horse, and hit his master on the raynes of the backe. Within a while his master looked backe. And seeing his man come halting so farre behind, chid him. Sir, your horse hath giuen me such a blow, quoth his man, on the thigh, that I can go no faster. Truely, sayd his master, the horse is a great kicker, for likewise with his heele right now, hee gaue me a great stroke on the reynes of my backe: when it was his man that threw the stone.'

  • At 12/10/2008 02:36:00 PM, Blogger Simplicius wrote…

    Renaissance drama and poetry can be so damn funny, but, wow, prose jokes are not a strength of the period.

    This raises a question, though: are joke books nowadays any funnier?

    Greenwit? Hieronimo? You seem like the type to have read joke books.


  • At 12/10/2008 02:51:00 PM, Blogger Hieronimo wrote…

    Ok, this would be not that unfunny--or, at least, less unfunny than the typical jest--if they had just stopped with "hee gaue me a great stroke on the reynes of my back."

    But no, they have to go and ruin it with that last clause. This is totally typical of Renaissance jests. They seem not to have figured out how to tell a joke in print without simultaneously explaining the joke and thus belaboring it.


  • At 12/10/2008 04:20:00 PM, Blogger Doctor Cleveland wrote…

    True. Think about the "William the Conqueror" joke, which adds, after the punch line, "Shakespeare's name William."



  • At 12/11/2008 04:56:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous wrote…

    I'm not that convinced concerning the non-funny-ness (in case such a term should exist) of renaissance prose: I do consider some of the renaissance novellae (no, not only Boccaccio) at least partially funny, and some of the facetiae too. And Erasmus can be witty. And end of November part of my audience laughed when I showed and read them some passages from Scherbius's Discursus politici.

    But perhaps I'm reading the wron sort of texts (mainly texts in other languages than English)?

    Or professional deformation has had far worse effects on me than on others?

    I rather puzzled.

    I probably I should be more than a bit worried.


  • At 12/11/2008 12:55:00 PM, Blogger Bardolph wrote…

    I actually thought the final hammering 'when it was his man that threw the stone' was the best bit of an otherwise sagging gag.


  • At 12/11/2008 02:05:00 PM, Blogger Fretful Porpentine wrote…

    And I think "Shakespeare's name William" is the line that makes the Manningham anecdote; it would be a lot less funny if he hadn't felt the need to add that bit. But this may be a totally idiosyncratic reaction; I like the story partly because it reminds me of a beloved-if-crusty Shakespeare prof, whose six-page guide to writing papers included the line, "You would have to be a fool if you thought you had to tell me Shakespeare's name was William."


  • At 1/06/2009 06:40:00 PM, Blogger Flavia wrote…

    This isn't a joke, but I thought of this post when I came across this overexplaining of an obvious metaphor:

    "[They] thought by running up and downe the Countrey both to augment peece and peece their number (dreaming to themselves that they had the virtue of a Snow-ball, which being little at the first, and tumbling downe from a great hill growth to a great quantity, by encreasing it selfe with the Snow that it meeteth by the way)."

    (His Majesties Speach in this last session of Parliament. . . [1605], L2 r-v)

    I'm with Miltonista in finding overexplanation, itself, hilarious--and vowing to do it myself henceforth.


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