Ciceros Theory Of Humor

Roman statesman, orator, and philosopher Cicero (106-43 B.C.) echoes the Aristotelian elements and themes of the "deformity" and "baseness" in humor. Cicero's theory of humor emphasizes the notion that the "defeat or deceit of expectation" causes laughter where it is by satirizing the character of others, by talking seeming nonsense, or by reproving follies that laughter is stimulated. Thus, Cicero calls attention to the laughs that arise from surprise, from expectation defeated, and from the turning of another person's words to express a meaning not intended by him. As well as following Aristotle's lead in speculating about humor and laughter, Cicero adds at least one new rhetoric idea of some theoretical significance: he makes a distinction between humor regarding what is being talked about (the subject matter) and humor arising from the language used (the linguistic styling); such a distinction is similar to the more modern semantic differentiation between the "comedian" (i.e., one who says funny things) and the "comic" (i.e., one who says things funny). Also, Cicero divides wit into the same two main types: the cases in which the humor arises from the subject matter (e.g., caricature, anecdotes) and those cases involving verbal form (e.g., ambiguity, surprise, puns, allegory, metaphor, irony). See also ARISTOTLE'S


Greig, J. Y. T. (1923/1969). The psychology of laughter and comedy. New York: Dodd, Mead/Cooper Square.

Morreall, J. (Ed.) (1987). The philosophy of laughter and humor. Albany: State University of New York Press.

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