"Don't Excommunicate the Messenger": Humor, Authorial Responsibility, and Religious Commentary in Geoffrey Chaucer's The Tales of Canterbury and Miguel de Cervantes' Don Quijote de La Mancha
Bi-College (Haverford and Bryn Mawr Colleges). Comparative Literature Program
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This thesis explores the utilization of humor to address religious tensions in the medieval texts Don Quijote de la Mancha by Miguel de Cervantes and The Tales of Canterbury by Geoffrey Chaucer. Are authors using humor to create a sense of irony and thus criticize the current social order? Are they making a joke because they know they said something problematic and want to remove authorial responsibility from themselves? The thesis primarily focuses on the employment of satirical humor as a means of offering critiques of certain religious social structures. By exploring the historical contexts of both of these works, my research draws a connection between what was considered funny at the time and the religious social commentaries that each of the texts offer. Through the investigation of humor and satire theories, I investigate the interplays between social superiority, relief of social tension, authorial responsibility, objects of mockery, and social commentary. I argue that Chaucer utilizes humor to increase the social tension within the Catholic church, whereas Cervantes uses comedy to reduce the division between Christians and Muslims. Additionally, Chaucer employs meta-literary humor to remove authorial responsibility from himself, which allows him to make jokes that are considered scandalous while maintaining a role as a simple "messenger." On the other hand, Cervantes' meta-literary moments actually place more accountability on himself, but still create a relief of social tension. Both Chaucer and Cervantes are comedic masterminds of their own eras, but the historical contexts of each of these tales play a role in what each of the authors can joke about, what they can and cannot get away with, and what kinds of religious social commentaries they can deliver.