British Sarcasm – Part of Vikings’ Legacy in Britain?

Mr Claus Grube, the Danish Ambassador to the United Kingdom, claims that the sarcastic, self-deprecating and understatement types of humour that popular in Britain might trace their roots back to the Viking Age, highlighting a common cultural heritage between the British and the Scandinavians. According to him, the Vikings brought sarcastic humour to Britain.

So it seems that the Norsemen brought other things except for the commonly stereotypical phrase ‘rape and pillage’ to Britain during the Dark Ages, namely sarcasm. This quintessentially British sense of humour seems to be shared by the Scandinavians as well, which might actually explain the tremendous popularity of Monty Python in Scandinavia. This can also be strengthened by the striking similarities of the Nordic humour, typical for Denmark, Norway, Sweden or Iceland.

John Cleese of Monty Python wearing a horned helmet. In reality, there are no scientific evidences regarding the fact that the Vikings worn horned or winged helmets at all. Image source: www.scotclans.com

John Cleese of Monty Python wearing a horned helmet. In reality, there are no scientific evidences regarding the fact that the Vikings worn horned or winged helmets at all, but this unusual type of headgear has been on more than one occasion comically associated with the Vikings. Image source: www.scotclans.com

Historically speaking, the cultural links between the British and the Vikings date back to at least the end of the 8th century, when the Scandinavians commenced to raid the coastal areas of the early medieval kingdoms of Northumbria and Wessex.

Mr Claus Grube reinforces the fact that sarcasm and self-deprecating humour are part of the inalienable shared cultural heritage between Britain and Scandinavia. The Danish Ambassador to the United Kingdom also claims that there are comic traces in the Old Norse sagas, such as in the ‘Orkneyinga Saga‘, where an earl is depicted going out in disguise as a fisherman in the purpose of helping a farmer.

Artistic depiction of a Norse longship from 'Summer in the Greenland coast circa year 1000' by Danish painter Jens Erik Carl Rasmussen.

Artistic depiction of a Norse longship from ‘Summer in the Greenland coast circa year 1000’ by Danish painter Jens Erik Carl Rasmussen. Using these vessels, the Vikings arrived on British soil in 793 at Lindisfarne. Image source: www.commons.wikimedia.org

Some passages from the Icelandic sagas are renowned for their ‘laconic humour, detail examples of comedy in the face of adversity, and also contain the roots of some Danish and English words showing more similarities in how we communicate. Sarcasm is very much inherent in British humour,’ Mr. Claus Grube stated in an interview to the Telegraph. He then cited the ‘extreme popularity’ of Monty Python in Denmark, and added ‘It has always struck me that in the UK we have the same sense of humour as in Denmark’.

In the end, it is clear that the Vikings weren’t always for the bounty, but rather for trade. As a matter of fact, recent studies prove the fact that they were firstly trading, then going to raid. ‘It was not all about raping and pillaging, the Vikings were trading as well,’ Mr Grube stated. ‘You have a more open attitude to the world around you if you are living from trade,’ he added.

Wooden sculpture of a Viking in the UNESCO Nærøyfjord, Aurland municipality, Sogn og Fjordane county, western Norway.

Wooden sculpture of a Viking in the UNESCO Nærøyfjord, Aurland municipality, Sogn og Fjordane county, western Norway. Image source: www.pixabay.com

In order to highlight the shared British-Scandinavian sense of humour here’s a proper example from a chapter of ‘Orkneyinga saga’ entitled ‘Poetry and fishing’. An earl, dressed in a cowl, is depicted going fishing with a farmer. At some point, the earl reveals his identity as follows:

‘Wittily the woman
mocks my wear
but she laughs overlong,
and may not laugh last.
Early I sailed out,
eagerly, and all fully
furnished for fishing
Who’d figure me for an earl?’

Additionally, John Cleese of Monty Python took part in a 1979 short comedy film made by the Norwegian Broadcasting Company (NRK) to compete in the Montreux Festival Rose D’Or of the same year. You can watch the entire comedy film below:

Documentation sources and external links:


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