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The extensive literature on Gladstone tends to perpetuate the view commonly held by his contemporaries that he had no sense of humour. This article examines Gladstone's humourlessness—real and perceived—not as a mere quirk of personality, but rather as an important and integral aspect of his public character. Beyond biographical considerations, the question of Gladstone's humourlessness serves as the basis for exploring the ways in which humour and seriousness functioned in the context of Victorian political culture—both in parliament and on the political platform. Public humour about Gladstone in high society, graphical satire and popular theatre underscored the fact that seriousness was Gladstone's predominant public characteristic. Paradoxically, although his seriousness inspired a great deal of derisive humour in politics and in public, it also proved to be one of his most important assets. Gladstone's seriousness enabled him not only to withstand the best attacks of his political enemies, but also to become the leading public figure of his time.