Graduation Date


Document Type

Master's Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Arts

Department or Program

Graduate Humanities

Department or Program Chair

Joan Baranow, PhD

First Reader

Judy Halebsky, PhD

Second Reader

Graham Guest, PhD


Humor is a powerful rhetorical device employed at all levels of human discourse—from casual banter to political debate. Still, despite humor’s global prevalence, its historical transgressiveness, and its distinct potential both to neutralize and critically engage highly fraught issues, humans do not often pause to ask how humor works. And what does its working tell us about our humanness? This thesis explores the operation of humor in literature and performance, using tools provided by structuralist, deconstructive, and postmodern critical arenas, to reveal how humor’s fundamental structures invite humans to entertain new perspectives and practice empathy. The study considers irony, the performance of stakes, wordplay, departure from form, timing, metatheatrics, and cross-dressing. William Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream (ca. 1595) serves as a key text, but films and television series including Star Wars (20th Century Fox, 1977, 1983), Young Frankenstein (20th Century Fox, 1974), and Doctor Who (BBC,1963- ), are employed among other popular examples to demonstrate diverse types of humor.