Women and Laughter in Medieval Comic Literature

Lisa Perfetti
Portrays a range of medieval heroines to ascertain how humor might have been used and enjoyed by medieval women


In the Middle Ages, women's laughter was associated with the body, considered base and unruly, and castigated in conduct literature, yet this behavior was still openly embraced by female literary characters. In Women and Laughter in Medieval Comic Literature, Lisa Perfetti explores a wide range of literary representation of women's laughter in the thirteenth through the sixteenth centuries.

The first of its kind, Perfetti's comparative study of medieval humor enriches recent feminist medievalist discussions by investigating laughter as a particular way of "talking back" to medieval views of women. The comic heroines that Perfetti presents offer intriguing glimpses into the cultures of women's laughter, illuminating the many contexts that shaped women's humor in the Middle Ages and illustrating the ways that their joking reflected their constrained position in male-dominated medieval societies. Acknowledging that comic works were grounded in antifeminist traditions, and that female characters were often targets of laughter for their male authors, Perfetti argues that female characters who laugh and joke suggest ways that women might have used their laughter to respond to negative pronouncements about women in medieval cultures.

Perfetti examines a variety of medieval literary texts, ranging from Chaucer's Wife of Bath to the Decameron of Boccaccio to the Thousand and One Nights, taking into account contemporary feminist theory, comic theory, and anthropological studies of humor. Her work also addresses the complex issues involved in reconstructing female subject positions in male-authored texts. Often witty, and sometimes bawdy, the laughing comic heroines brought forth in this book will engage a broad range of readers interested in medieval literature and history, as well as those intrigued by the growing field of feminist approaches to humor.

Lisa Perfetti is Assistant Professor of French at Muhlenberg College.

Lisa Perfetti is Assistant Professor of French, Muhlenberg College.

Praise / Awards

  • "Women and Laughter in Medieval Comic Literature provides a fascinating and timely study of medieval attitudes toward women's laughter in religious and didactic literature as well as philosophical and medical treatises, while foregrounding the unruly laughing heroines in comic texts. Perfetti's careful readings of English, French, Italian, German, and Arabic texts help us to imagine women's laughter in comic texts as a possible response to varied medieval debates about gendered identities."
    —E. Jane Burns, University of North Carolina

  • "Perfetti's critical approach is informed by common sense and feminist criticism, carefully eschewing the more traditional/masculinist treatments of her chosen works and subject...her textual analysis is surefooted and engaging, and this fresh look at women's laughter is a useful contribution to feminist and gender studies of the Middle Ages."
    —Caroline Jewers, Speculum

Product Details

  • 6 x 9.
  • 224pp.
  • 2 photographs.
Available for sale worldwide

  • Hardcover
  • 2003
  • Available
  • 978-0-472-11321-7

Add to Cart
  • $84.95 U.S.