For about three thousand years comedy has applied a welcome humanist perspective to the world’s religious beliefs and practices. From the ancient Greek comedies of Aristophanes, the famous poem by Lucretius, and dialogues of Cicero to early modern and Enlightenment essays and philosophical texts, together with the inherent skepticism about life after death in tragicomedies by Plautus, Shakespeare, Molière, and nineteenth-century novels by such as Dickens and Hugo, the literary critic and historian Alexander Welsh analyzes the prevalence of openness of mind and relieving good humor in Western thought. The Humanist Comedy concludes with close examination of a postmodern novel by the Nobel Prize winner José Saramago.
“Deeply learned without making a parade of its learning, The Humanist Comedy is urbane and graceful in exposition; and like everything by Welsh, it is lucid and often eloquent, with a wry wit throughout.”—Leo Damrosch, Ernest Bernbaum Professor of Literature, Emeritus, Harvard University
“The Humanist Comedy is an imaginative and erudite history of laughter as a means of planting truths in resistant minds. Alexander Welsh shows how Erasmus, Montaigne, Shakespeare, Molière, and others have vindicated comedy as a genre of wisdom literature.”—David Bromwich, Sterling Professor of English, Yale University
“Both intelligent and engaging throughout, The Humanist Comedy traces a steady tradition from classical antiquity to modern secularized Europe of serious comic skepticism about divinity and its prerogatives.”—Gordon Braden, Linden Kent Memorial Professor, University of Virginia