Ve vobis qui redetis (Lk 6.25): Laughter in Piers Plowman
Although laughter is a human behaviour with a clear physiological basis, its cultural meanings and perceived value are historically contingent. Scholars have devoted little attention to Langland’s complex attitude toward laughter as it may be gathered from those moments in the poem when his fictional characters (including the first-person narrator) laugh or discuss laughter. After reviewing relevant ancient and medieval understandings of laughter, the essay demonstrates that Langland often aligns his poem with the dominant clerical culture of his day by expressing moral disapproval of frivolity, though he also recognizes the potential value of laughter in pursuing reformist goals through the satirical exposure of vice. Rather than joining sides with many contemporary preachers and simply denouncing laughter and hilarity categorically, the poet gradually discovers that laughter can serve as a useful resource for explicating theological concepts like charity and patience.
Yearbook of Langland Studies, 29 (2015), 25-60.