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The Renaissance Provenance of Enlightenment Wit

Fri, April 1, 3:30 to 5:00pm, Park Plaza, Fourth Floor, Tremont Room

Abstract

This paper uses the popular satirist Ned Ward (1666-1731) to argue for the survival of renaissance ideas about wit and wine into the eighteenth century. Not only did he write in genres that were popular during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, but he also deployed satirical devices that constituted the very notion of wit, as described by renaissance thinkers. More pertinently, he conformed to Thomas Hobbes’s notion that wit was most apt to flourish ‘under the effect of the wine’. His works often returned to the theme of drunken sociability, and he also had a simultaneous victualing career – including a stint running the ‘Bacchus’ tavern, where he reportedly delighted guests with his ‘Wit, Humour, and good Liquor’. Thus Ward stands as a case study in the extent to which eighteenth-century understandings of wit, and its relationship to intoxication, were shaped by renaissance ideas.

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