StreetWrites Workshop for Writing Out of the Margins
from A Glossary of Literary Terms by Robert Harris:

"A satiric imitation of a work or of an author with the idea of ridiculing the author, his ideas, or work. The parodist exploits the peculiarities of an author's expression—his propensity to use too many parentheses, certain favorite words, or whatever. The parody may also be focused on, say, an improbable plot with too many convenient events. Fielding's Shamela is, in large part, a parody of Richardson's Pamela."
"A work designed to ridicule a style, literary form, or subject matter either by treating the exalted in a trivial way or by discussing the trivial in exalted terms (that is, with mock dignity). Burlesque concentrates on derisive imitation, usually in exaggerated terms. Literary genres (like the tragic drama) can be burlesqued, as can styles of sculpture, philosophical movements, schools of art, and so forth. See Parody, Travesty. "
"A work that treats a serious subject frivolously—ridiculing the dignified. Often the tone is mock serious and heavy handed.

Mock Epic
Treating a frivolous or minor subject seriously, especially by using the machinery and devices of the epic (invocations, descriptions of armor, battles, extended similes, etc.). The opposite of travesty. Examples:
* Alexander Pope, The Dunciad
* Alexander Pope, Rape of the Lock

If you are ever asked the question in a quiz, "What is the difference between parody and burlesque?" the commonly accepted distinction is that parody makes fun of a work's content and burlesque makes fun of its form. As you can see from Professor Harris's definitions, however, that distinction isn't held rigidly; and many works have fun with both the form and content of the original.

One fairly clear distinction is that in order to write a parody you have to have an original, and a parody is greater appreciated the more familiar you are with the original. A travesty needs only a subject, and a burlesque can go either way.

Not all parody is intended to ridicule the author or the work. It may be triggered by noticing an amusing parallel between a serious song and a less serious situation. Stan Rogers wrote a grand inspiring song about "The Mary Ellen Carter" in which a noble old ship, sunk in a gale, is raised and renewed by her loyal crew. The final chorus draws a parallel to human life, urging the listener, in the face of misfortune, to "rise again." The parody song, "Eensy-Weensy Spider Rise Again!" is a mock epic using the form of the Mary Ellen Carter song to celebrate the little spider's rise back up the drainpipe after a storm. A version of "The House of the Rising Sun" tells the tragic story of what befell when one mother fed her child baker's yeast just before he slept in a dark, warm room. Some of the motivation of this song was a reaction to too many repetitions of the original. Much of it was the parodist's mind picking up a pun and playing with it.

Cultural Variants on the Night Before Christmas, at
Pennsylvania Dutch Night Before Christmas;
Sailor's Night Before Christmas;
Gullah Night Before Christmas;
Cowboy Night Before Christmas

If the form used to tell one familiar story can be used to tell another one pronouncedly different, that is also amusing, with or without satire. Countless forms of "The Night Before Christmas" (original by Clement Clarke Moore) retell it in modern settings or dialects. Some, like 'Twas the Night Before Christmas ATF Raid, are travesties, ridiculing some aspect of modern life (in this instance, bungled government raids) by using the form of the old Christmas rhyme. Cajun Night Before Christmas, by Trosclair, is a happy and affectionate romp. (The illustrations are delightful, too!) (I was linking to a version posted on the Net, but I found out that the book is still in print, so I am linking to instead.)

One variant not mentioned by Professor Harris is the pastiche. A pastiche is a respectful imitation that, unlike a parody, attempts to make the original author proud of it. (Not that many of us wouldn't be proud to be parodied; it is a sign that you've "made it" in the literary world.)

Brian Aldiss and many other authors have continued and elaborated upon the Cthulhu Mythos begun by H.P. Lovecraft. Countless writers have written Sherlock Holmes stories. Robert Jordan has a series of Conan novels. Most fan fiction is pastiche. The Conan movie attempted to be pastiche, but ended up a travesty.

Most widely known literary works inspire both parodies and pastiches.

Exercise Questions
  1. Name an example of each form: parody; burlesque; travesty; pastiche. If possible, quote a passage from each; if not, then give a URL where we can read it; if it's not online, give the title and author so that we can find it in the library.
  2. Was each example a) satirizing the original or its author, b) satirizing another subject; c) making a point; d) having fun; e) emulating an author in admiration; f) any combination of the above?
  3. In "The Purpose and Method of Satire" Professor Harris argues very persuasively that all satire has a moral lesson or didactic (teaching) purpose. Does this apply to parody? Can you find examples to support the argument? Examples to refute it?
  4. I think that parody and pastiche is an excellent way to learn. Do you agree?
Individual Exercises
  1. Pick an original and do a parody of it.
  2. Pick "a style, literary form, or subject matter" and do a burlesque of it.
  3. Pick a subject and do a travesty of it.
  4. Pick an original and do a pastiche of it.
  5. Which was easiest to do? Which was the most fun? Which will you do again?


Rant Parody Technique Satire Old Forms & New
Invective Burlesque Irony Juvenalian Satire The Novel of Manners
Ridicule Travesty Hyperbole Bardic Satire The Picaresque Novel
  Mock Epic Understatement Lampoon The Wessitur
  Pastiche Oxymoron Sarcasm
    Tone Horatian Satire

Write On!
Anitra L. Freeman

All contents and images are created and copyrighted by Anitra Freeman, except quotes from published material, which are attributed to the author and used only for educational purposes. Others may use this material, on request, for personal or educational purposes where no fee is charged, with credit to the author and a link wherever possible.

StreetWrites Workshop Exercises