Analysis of Satire as a Literary Genre

“It's hard not to write satire.”- Juvenal (65? - 128?)
Roman poet.

Introduction: The word satire comes from Latin satura which means “medley” or “mixture,” and is related to the Latin adjective satur. The word also has its origin in the similar Greek term satyros. It was modified into satyra and then in English into satyre. Read More Poetry However, as a result of false etymology, the word was confused with satyr, and so took on the connotation of lasciviousness and crude mockery. In ancient times, however, it was agreed that satires were intended to tax weaknesses and to correct vice wherever found.

Dr. Johnson rightly defines satire as “a poem in which wickedness or folly is censured,” and almost all elaborate definitions, contain this dictum as the nucleus. The Oxford English Dictionary defines it as “a poem or in modern use sometimes a prose combination, in which prevailing vices or follies are held up to ridicule.” Generally it employs wit in the form of irony, innuendo, or outright derision to expose human wickedness and folly.
The Function of Satire: The function of satire, like the function of tragedy and comedy, is often debated. If the function of tragedy is catharsis and that of comedy is harmless entertainment, the function of satire would be close to that of comedy since the basic purpose is amusement. Yet there are fundamental differences between the genre of comedy and that of satire. The most obvious element of satire is, of course, what Freud called ‘Tendency wit’ as opposed to harmless wit to comedy. Read More Poetry Whereas in a comedy the laughter, although directed at a specific person, is not unmixed with sympathy, in satire the feelings evoked is one of separation and contempt. Further satire is almost invariable more didactic in purpose than comedy. As Dryden said in his the original and Progress of satire,” the true end of satire is the amazement of vices by correction. For this purpose satire is certainly a very apt vehicle since as Pope remarked, “those who are ashamed of nothing else are so of being ridiculous.” A man can bear direct attack, since he can reciprocate with an equal amount of vituperations but fear of appearing laughable and of being belittled is much more fearful since a direct recrimination can only increase the degree of ridiculousness. Dryden’s satiric enemy, Buckingham, too admitted that “nothing helps more than satire to amend ill – manners”. Read More Poetry And Shelley, writing more than a century later declared that, “satire scourge could wake the slumbering hounds of conscience”. Another moot difference between comedy, satire is that whereas comedy is concerned more with imagination, satire is dependent almost entire upon the intellect. Whereas comedy ventures into the realms of romance satire must perform be content with object of analysis and criticism.
             Yet satire can be a distinct literary genre rather than a variant of lampoon only if it distances itself from scurrilous it must not only be merely being condemnatory in form but be ascetic in intention as well. As Swift said, ‘speaking of himself Verses on the Death of Dr. Swift.
            “Yet Malice never was his aim
            He lashed the vice, but spared the name.”

            He goes on to declare that his satire ridicules the failing rather than the individual, the sin rather that the sinner.

The Kinds of Satire: The predominant categories of stories are probably base on the ancient Roman Practitioners. The critic Goldwin Smith differentiates before three kinds of satire “the epicurean, which laughs at mankind, the stoical, which indignantly lashes mankind . . . . . . . the cynical, which hates and despises mankind.” Perdius, Horace and Juvenal may be seen as the representative of these three types of satires. The satire of Persius is mainly stoical in intention. As the Romans were decaying, there taste was becoming slothful and ignorant. Therefore, Persius satirized such corruption and asked the youth to cultivate the stoic virtues. The Roman poet Horace was the first great satirist whose works endured and served as models for later writers. A cool satirist, he preferred to “comment with a smile” on such follies as the tendency toward extremes, especially in sexual matters, or boorish behavior. In the Horatian satires, folly rather than the wickedness is exposed. Among Horace’s topics are bores, avance, town life and legacy hunting. Horace is always easy and charming, humorous and urbane and his satire is at once instructive and enjoyable. This kind of satire in which the speaker is a witty and tolerant man the world who speaks with more amusement than indignation, has come to be known as ‘Horacian Satire’. Read More Poetry In contrast to the gentle pokes of Horace is the acidity in the 16 verse satires of his contemporary Juvenal, who ferociously exposed the vices of Roman society and contrasted them with the honesty and tranquillity of small-town life. Juvenal on the other hand was indignant at the wickedness of his times and made his satires fierce and denunciations. He gives almost a summary and general view of the vices follies reigning in his time. Although Juvenal’s anger as expressed in memorable epigrams, one cannot sometimes help feeling that Horace’s humanity ad sympathy were successful. This kind of satire in which a dignified speaker evokes contempt, indignation or sadness, the vices of men have come to be known as ‘Jevenalian satire’.
             Where as the Horatian and Juvenalian satires are direct and formal, there are other types of satire which are indirect. Indirect satire usually assumes the form of narratives instead of a direct address. The most famous kind of indirect satire is ‘Menippean satire’. This type of satire also known as ‘varronian satire’ is usually written in Prose with interpolated passages of verse. It is loosely constructed narrative and is a series of extended dialogues and debates.

Writers of Satires: Chaucer is perhaps the earliest of the English writers to use irony to satirize the men and manner of his style. Although he was otherwise gentle and humane, the one thing he hate it was the lack of the morality of the church. Therefore he attacked the clearly, not bitterly but by laughing at it. So we have his portraits of the prioress, the Monk, the summoned and the Pardoner, who were all worldly. A contemporary of Church, William Langland in his Piers Plowman offers an interesting and satirical commentary on the society of the clergymen who were greedy and hypocritical and of men in high places, who were tyrannical and avaricious.

            Satire was present to a certain extent in drama too, especially in those of Shakespeare, Ben Jonson and the Restoration dramatists. One of Shakespeare’s plays, Love’s Labor’s Lost is an interesting satire on the ‘battle of the sexes’. It is mature comedy As You Like It satirizes the fashionable features of late 16th century. The snobbery of cynicism and melancholy is scoffed at in the characters of Jacques and Touchstone. Ben Jonson is a more conscious satirist and almost all his plays are satires of one dominating folly or vise of individuals. His Every man is His Humour is a satiric portrait of men who are not only avaricious but also gullible enough to believe in frauds who promised to deliver them immense wealth by the use of the divine craft of alchemy. Similarly, Volpone is a satire on greed and social climbing and The Silent Woman of legacy hunters. Read More Poetry The restoration comedy, too, was basically satiric inspirit for it was concerned with the follies and foibles, the vanities and fooleries of the contemporary leisured and licentious society Congreve’s The Way of the World is a revelation of the fopperies the main indulge in Sheridan’s The Rivals satirizes the sentimental lovers as well as the romantic lovers. In 20th century Shaw, in plays like Arms and the Man and The Andocles and the Lion satirizes the romantic glorifications of love and war and the exploitations of the have -not’s by the have and holders.
             It was the mock heroic poetry of Dryden and Pope in the late 17th and 18th century, which provides us with the greatest treasure of satiric poetry. In Absalom and Achitophel Dryden’s portraits of Lord Shaftsbury or Achitophel and Jimry or Lord Buckingham are abiding examples of satiric portraiture. Shaftsbury is described in a famous piece of invective as leader of those who oppose the king and were therefore the reader of ungrateful and evil men.
                        Of these the false Achitophel was first
                        A name to all succeeding ages curst.
                        For close designs and crooked counsels fit,
                        . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
            Dryden’s attacks are often virulent, and had they not been resplendent with wit, they might have become mere abuse. His political and literary adversaries always felt the barl of his wit. In Mac Flecknoe the devastating attacks on Shadwell is executed in the most humorous manner:
                        Others to some faint meaning make pretence
                        But Sh – never deviated into sense.

            Pope, in his Rape of the Lock, looks for his target the contemporary fashionable society which spent its time in leisure and amour. Belinda is the epitome of the vain decoration lady who tantalizes and yet does not give herself. How of great wonder:
                        Whether the nymph shall break Diana’s law,
                        Or some frail China jar receives a flow; . . . . . .
            In An Epistle to Dr. Arbuthnot, he satirizes the false poetasters who, paper in each hand fire in each hand/rave, recite and madden round the land’.

            There are a few Prose writers – esp. Swift, Peacock Huxley and Orwell – whose satiric vehemence paralleled those of the poets. Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels makes a fairy tale journey into four different places. The little conflicts and petty quarrels of the people of Lilliput esp. the one concerned with the breaking of an egg reflect the superstitious rituals of mankind. The philosophers of Laputa are possibly the members of the royal society, whose experiments are always in vain. The people of Houyhmns are horrified that human beings could be capable of such enormities as war. Thomas Love Peacock in his Night mar Abbey satirized contemporary literary persons including Shelley, Byron and Coleridge. Read More Poetry Coleridge is the philosopher Flossey who is so enmeshed is Kenyan philosophy that the daylight of common sense rarely entires his mind. Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World presented satirically the Grave consequences of the present tendencies of the Western civilization. This is a dystopia in which the author foresees the fertilization of human egg in laboratory, the placing of human beings in classes according to their intelligence etc. Orwell’s 1984 is a portrait of an authoritarian regime which considers even free thinking even a crime. More brutal and direct, often verging on naturalism can be seen in John O'Hara with his exposés of suburban and city life, and by black novelists of protest, including Ralph Ellison, who satirized white society and its attitudes. Vladimir Nabokov ,Günter Wilhelm Grass ,Jaroslav Hasek ,John Cheever and John Updike are notable other satirist of modern times.

Ref: Wikipedia, Literary Timelines, History of English Literature- Albert

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