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Greek Laughter and TearsAntiquity and After$
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Margaret Alexiou and Douglas Cairns

Print publication date: 2017

Print ISBN-13: 9781474403795

Published to Edinburgh Scholarship Online: January 2018

DOI: 10.3366/edinburgh/9781474403795.001.0001

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Laughter on Display: Mimic Performances and the Danger of Laughing in Byzantium

Laughter on Display: Mimic Performances and the Danger of Laughing in Byzantium

(p.232) 14 Laughter on Display: Mimic Performances and the Danger of Laughing in Byzantium
Greek Laughter and Tears

Przemysław Marciniak

Edinburgh University Press

An important yet understudied part of Byzantine humour is occupied by mimes and so-called jesters, although the difference between these two categories of entertainers remains unclear. Evidence is scattered and difficult to interpret. None of the types of performance defined as mimes (the term is misleading) has left visible traces, since no scripts, texts or specific illustrations have been handed down to us. Accordingly, the history of mime and other non-script based performances in Byzantium is difficult to grasp and describe. The nature of the sources is uneven and each testimony has to be analysed with caution. This chapter explores whether today a more comprehensive picture of Byzantine mimes and jesters is possible. The sources, especially from the twelfth century, provide us with scraps of information which complement each other, thereby creating a portrait, however incomplete, of Byzantine mimes whose main function was to entertain and make the Byzantines laugh. The overall aim is a hypothetical reconstruction of the possible appearance and modus operandi of the mimic actors, for example what they looked like and how they behaved, and how the laughter caused by the mimic spectacles was perceived and understood in the wider context of Byzantine attitudes toward laughter.

Keywords:   Mime, Jesting, Humour, Popular entertainment, Performance

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