Humour and Obscenity in the Medieval and Early Modern World

Event Date: 
09 Jul 2018 to 10 Jul 2018



All sessions take place in the Senate Suite, University College (Durham Castle), unless otherwise stated.

Monday 9th July

9.00 – 9.30

Registration, Tea and Coffee

Panel 1


Obscenities in Public Spaces


9.30 – 11.00

Jan Dienstbier (Charles University, Department of Art History)

Turd under hat, or the function of visual obscenities

Daniel Pereira Martins (Hereditas) and Tiago Ramos (University of Lisbon, Institute of Medieval Studies)

An ass facing Spain – A singular gargoyle from Guarda Cathedral (Portugal)

Andrew Vidali (University of Trieste, Department of Humanities)

‘Parole de ignomia’: repressing challenging signboards in the early and mid-sixteenth century Venetian Mainland

11.00 – 11.15

Tea and Coffee

Panel 2


Gendering Humour and Obscenity



Yousef Barahmeh (University of Portsmouth, English Department)

The humorous and the obscene body: the poetry of Wallada bint al-Mustakfi

Ramatu Musa (Universität Luzern, Cultural Studies)

The brutalized black female body in that Christiaen van Couwenbergh painting

Rachel Fennell (Durham University, Department of English Studies)

Saintly sex symbols: Christ's vagina and the erotics of medieval Christian religious practice   

12.45 – 1.45


Panel 3


Humour, Religion, and Rivalry


1.45 – 3.15

Ceren Çikin Sungur (Central European University, Department of Medieval Studies)

The function of humour in Saltikname: a late medieval Anatolian narrative

Geneviève Young (University of Minnesota, French Department)

Bridging the gab: making sense of laughter in Charlemagne’s Pilgrimage

Dr Sarah Brazil (University of Geneva and Edinburgh, Institute for Advanced Studies in the Humanities)

Grappling with humour in its many forms: the language of play and acts of torture in the early English Passion plays

3.15 – 3.30

Tea and Coffee

Keynote Lecture


3.30 – 4.30

Dr Daniel Derrin
(Durham University, Department of English Studies)
Attraction and repulsion: rethinking the duality of humour and the obscene

4.30 – 5.00

Visit to Durham Cathedral

5.00 – 6.00

Wine Reception (location TBC)

6.15 – 7.30

Performance of ‘Unruly Women’, by Dr Daisy Black (University of Wolverhampton)

Joachim Room, Hild Bede College


Conference Dinner, Lebaneat Wraphouse


Tuesday 10th July

9.00 – 9.30

Tea and Coffee

Panel 4


Insults and Honour


9.30 – 11.00

Dr Alexander Wilson (Durham University, Department of English Studies)

That joke isn’t funny anymore: shame-culture and dangerous humour in the Icelandic Sagas

Emily Reed (University of Sheffield, School of English)

Bloody son of a bitch! Calques and competition in Anglo Norman and Middle English insults

Kimberley Foy (Durham University, Centre for Visual Arts and Cultures)

‘Much forwardnesse to cover’: hats and humiliation at the early Stuart court, 1603-1642

11.00 – 11.15

Tea and Coffee

Panel 5


Satire in the Visual Arts



Eilis Livia Coughlin (University of Edinburgh, History of Art)

‘The Triumph of Phallus’: the disembodied penis as a comedic device

Georgios Miliaras (University of Edinburgh, History of Art)

Cinquecento and ideas of comic theory: The Ricotta Eaters, a moralising allegory

Matteo Moro (Università del Piemonte Orientale, Humanities Department)

Humour, political satire and obscenity: some unusual drawings in the judicial and fiscal registers of medieval Piedmont (14th-15th centuries)

12.45 – 1.45


Panel 6


Censorship and Regulation


1.45 – 3.15

Tristan Lake (Durham University, Department of Archaeology)

The Anglo-Saxon ‘cover up’: critical attitudes to Anglo-Saxon nakedness

Dr Federica Boldrini (details tbc)

‘Quasi more vaccarum’: regulating the depth of female décolletages in fifteenth-century Italy

Matthew Robertson (University of St Andrews, Department of History)

Like the mascara stick in the mascara pot: fornication and sex work in the Ottoman Empire

3.15 – 3.30

Tea and Coffee

Panel 7


The Politics of Humour and Obscenity


3.30 – 5.00

Martin Laidlaw (University of Dundee, Department of English)

Political obscenity and The Canterbury Tales: farce, fabliau, and film

Caitlin Burge (University of York, Centre for Renaissance and Early Modern Studies)

The limits of mockery in the reign of King Henry VIII

Leo Shipp (Exeter University, Department of History)

‘Satyrs against Vice and Folly’: Thomas Shadwell and the Moral Politics of Laughter



Keynote Lecture


5.00 – 6.00

Dr Daron Burrows

(University of Oxford, Faculty of Medieval and Modern Languages)
Everything you always wanted to know about anthropomorphic genitalia in medieval texts* (*but never had the indecency to ask)


For more information and updates, visit our blog, website, or sponsors’ pages:


Hannah Piercy and James Cronin
MEMSA Conference Conveners 2018

Submission date for papers: 
16 Apr 2018
PDF icon Call for Papers368.73 KB
PDF icon Draft Programme204.6 KB