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Sophie Hartles

History, University of Warwick

Thesis title:

Laughter and Violence in the Italian Renaissance: The Physical and Emotional Abuse of the beffa

My doctoral project, Laughter and Violence in the Italian Renaissance: The Physical and Emotional Abuse of the beffa, investigates the violent culture of the Italian Renaissance through the analysis of the beffa. This was a cruel practical joke that was enjoyed and laughed at by many contemporaries while also physically and emotionally abusive. My interest in the beffa originated from my master’s dissertation at Manchester, Cruel Jokes, Friendship and Masculinity: A Cultural History of the Early Modern Italian Courts, which examined what the beffa could reveal about elite male sociability, masculine values, and the sinister nature of the Italian courts.

This current project provides the opportunity to examine the beffa more substantively, particularly its relation to violence and to incorporate other variables such as women and men of lower classes. I am interested in Bologna and Venice as case studies and in methods from cultural history, microhistory, and the history of emotions. I will be particularly looking at instances of the beffa in judicial records, works of literature, and cheap print, to gain a broader understanding of how laughter and violence intertwined in this culture and what this can reveal about their values, practices, and interpersonal interactions.

Research Area

  • History


  • 'Laughter and violence: The cruel humour of the beffa in sixteenth-century Venetian literature', The Venetian Seminar, St Edmund's Hall, University of Oxford (14 May 2022)
  • 'Laughter and violence: The brutal mockery of prostitutes in sixteenth century Italy', Renaissance Society of America conference, San Juan, Puerto Rico (9-11 March 2023)
  • 'Pranks, mockery, and violence between workers: The glass-making furnace in sixteenth century Murano', Centre for Reformation and Renaissance Studies Conference Worlds of Conflict: Violence in the Early Modern Period, Victoria College, University of Toronto. (21-23 September 2023)

Public Engagement & Impact

  • Presenter at Renaissance Centre Postgraduate Open Day (3 Nov 2020, 27 Oct 2021)
  • Presenter at Warburg-Warwick Doctoral forum: "My PhD in 3 minutes" (11 May 2021)

Other Research Interests

  • Social and cultural history
  • Microhistory
  • Gender history
  • History of emotions


Graduate Student member of the Renaissance Society of America


2017-2018: MA History, University of Manchester (Distinction) 2014-2017: BA History (Renaissance Stream), University of Warwick (First Class Honours)

Training and Professional Development

Research specific training
  • Italian Paleography, University of Warwick (Oct-Dec 2020)
  • Warburg-Warwick Doctoral Training event (10-14 May 2021)
  • STVDIO Research Seminar Series, Renaissance Centre, University of Warwick (2020 - present)
  • Early Career Club Seminar Series, Renaissance Centre, University of Warwick (2020 - present)
Language training
  • Italian for Historians, University of Warwick (2014-2016)
  • Italian Intermediate Accelerated, University of Warwick (Oct 2020 - May 2021)
  • Bologna-Warwick Virtual Erasmus Exchange, University of Warwick, 5 weeks (Nov-Dec 2020)
  • German for Academic purposes, University of Warwick (Nov 2020 - May 2021)
  • Medieval and Renaissance Latin, Warburg Institure, London (Oct 2021-present)
Professional development
  • Local/Family History Volunteer, Reference Room at Wallasey Central Library, Wallasey (Sep 2023 - present)
  • Collections Interpretation Assistant, Chetham’s Library, Manchester (Nov 2017 - Mar 2018)
  • Summer Exhibition Intern, Fashion and Textiles Museum, London (Jun-Jul 2015)
  • Research Volunteer, The Dockland's Trail, Liverpool (Nov 2013 - Aug 2014)

Additional Responsibilities

  • Co-organiser of the Work in Progress seminar series, Renaissance Centre, University of Warwick (2023-present)
  • SSLC rep, Renaissance Centre, University of Warwick (2022-2023)
  • Co-organiser of the Early Career Club, Renaissance Centre, University of Warwick (2020-2022)