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The University of Southampton
Centre for Medieval and Renaissance Culture

'Farting in the House of Commons: Popular Humour and Political Discourse in Early Modern England' Seminar

17:00 - 19:00
26 October 2015
Lecture Theatre C (1173) Avenue Campus University of Southampton SO17 1BF

For more information regarding this seminar, please email Stephen Watkins at .

Event details

Part of the CMRC Research Seminar Series 2015/2016

At the centre of this paper stands a poem that was widely circulated and admired at its time. ‘The Parliament Fart’ was occasioned by a fart emitted in the House of Commons in 1604, but became a vehicle for extended satiric commentary upon the personalities and culture of the early Jacobean parliaments. In various forms, stretching to around 200 lines, it became one of the most widely disseminated poems in the lively manuscript culture of the early Stuart period.

The paper aims to set ‘The Parliament Fart’ in twinned contexts: on the one hand, a context of jesting; on the other hand, a context of political discourse. I want to ask, firstly, how a study of popular humour might help us to appreciate this poem. The investigation prompted by this question is based principally upon jest books of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, and encompasses the relation between popular and elite strands of humour at this time. And I want to ask, secondly, how we might as a result reflect on the place of popular humour in political discourse. This leads to a consideration of a culture of illicit commentary and libellous verse that prompted alarm at the apex of the early Stuart state, and that arguably helped to establish new forms of political engagement.

The paper argues that the success of ‘The Parliament Fart’ was in part a product of its moment. The early years of the seventeenth century in London was a time when urbane wits were reassessing the validity of disparate traditions of humour. The status of the fart might be taken as emblematic of this process of reassessment. These men were also questioning the decorum of political speech, and in particular the institutional identity of the House of Commons. In subsequent years, however, I will suggest that we can identify a division, or bifurcation, in attitudes towards the place of the popular in political discourse.

All Welcome

Speaker information

Professor Andrew McRae , University of Exeter. Head of English, Professor

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