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African History

What Made Medieval People Laugh?

CW: 700 year old drawings of butts and penis trees in medieval manuscripts

Medieval English people led hard lives, but it wasn’t all plague, war and misery. They took time out of their days to laugh and left historical evidence of their sense of humour. Generally the things they laughed at were informed by the experiences they lived through. This led to a great variety of jokes about butts and farts, but the range of their humour was wider than that and evidence of it can be found in the most unlikely and somewhat irreverent places. Check out the video if you want to learn more!


Primary Sources
The York Mystery Plays:

Dr Johanna Green’s Instagram, where she posts pictures of interesting marginalia:

Facetiae (15th century jokebook):

Secondary Sources

Beatrice Otto, Fools Are Everywhere: The Court Jester Around the World (The University of Chicago Press: London, 2001)

Ian Mortimer, The Time Traveller’s Guide to Medieval England A Handbook for Visitors to the Fourteenth Century (Random House: London, 2008)


Humour in education:
Historian Jamie Beckett on mystery plays:

Humour in marginalia:

Humour in marginalia:


Comedy QnA Interview about (Medieval) Mystery Plays with (Historian) Jamie Beckett:

You Saw:
The King
Black Death
Game of Thrones
The Devil’s Brother
Hocktide (1913):
Haxey Hood Game (1929):
Monty Python and the Holy Grail
York Mystery Play (2018):

Music from Epidemicsound ( and bensound (


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