Humor in Cantebury Tlaes

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Drake Landry
Professor Harshbarger
C and E Fall Humanities
December 6, 2012
Superiority Theory of Humor in The Selected Canterbury Tales
Many times when people joke, the joke is making fun of another person. It many times gives a certain person a feeling of superiority over another. There are some people that argue that our laughter is much of the time based on the fact that we are feeling as though we are better than other people. Morreal describes this phenomenon as the superiority theory:

“In the 20th century, this idea was called the Superiority Theory. Simply put, our laughter expresses feelings of superiority over other people or over a former state of ourselves… ‘If people dislike being laughed at,’ Scruton says, ‘it is surely because laughter devalues its object in the Subjects Eyes’” (Morreall).

There are many examples of the people being made fun of for the humor of it through out The Selected Canterbury Tales. When Chaucer describes many of the characters he makes sure to go into great detail when he describes physical flaws on the characters. One example of this is when he is describing the Miller:

“A wart; on it, a tuft of hairs grew now,/Red as the bristles in ears of sow;/His nostrils were quite black, and also wide./A sword and buckler bore he by his side./His mouth was as great as a cauldron./A jangling goliard, he was quite the one” (Chaucer 555-560).

Chaucer really gives us a vivid image of the not so pleasant characteristics of the Miller when he talks about his wart or his wide nostrils and this is humorous to us. It is funny because the superiority theory is true a lot of the time. Many times we hear the phrase that people are laughing at someone, not with them, and this is an example of people laughing at someone. There are many times where we find humor in the flaws or faults of another person because it makes us feel better ourselves. We get this feeling of superiority because we do not have these flaws....
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