Burckhardt on the Weapon of Ridicule

The corrective, not only of this modern desire for fame, but of all highly developed individuality, is found in ridicule, especially when expressed in the victorious form of wit. We read in the Middle Ages how hostile armies, princes, and nobles, provoked one another with symbolical insult, and how the defeated party was loaded with symbolical outrage. Here and there, too, under the influence of classical literature, wit began to be used as a weapon in theological disputes, and the poetry of Provence produced a whole class of satirical compositions. Even the Minnesanger, as their political poems show, could adopt this tone when necessary. But wit could not be an independent element in life till its appropriate victim, the developed individual with personal pretensions, had appeared. It weapons were then by no means limited to the tongue and the pen, but included tricks and practical jokes—the so-called ‘burle’ and ‘beffe’—which form a chief subject of many collections of novels.

Jacob Burckhardt, The Civilization of the Renaissance in Italy (S. G. C. Middlecore, trans.), Part 2, ch. 3, “Ridicule and Wit.”

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