StreetWrites Workshop for Writing Out of the Margins

The Quality of Insult Is Not Strained


The following definitions are compiled from A Glossary of Literary Terms by Robert Harris

The writer's attitude toward his readers and his subject; his mood or moral view. A writer can be formal, informal, playful, ironic, and especially, optimistic or pessimistic. While both Swift and Pope are satirizing much the same subjects, there is a profound difference in their tone.

A manner of writing that mixes a critical attitude with wit and humor in an effort to improve mankind and human institutions. Ridicule, irony, exaggeration, and several other techniques are almost always present. The satirist may insert serious statements of value or desired behavior, but most often he relies on an implicit moral code, understood by his audience and paid lip service by them. The satirist's goal is to point out the hypocrisy of his target in the hope that either the target or the audience will return to a real following of the code. Thus, satire is inescapably moral even when no explicit values are promoted in the work, for the satirist works within the framework of a widely spread value system. Many of the techniques of satire are devices of comparison, to show the similarity or contrast between two things. A list of incongruous items, an oxymoron, metaphors, and so forth are examples. See "The Purpose and Method of Satire" for more information.

The following forms of satire differ mainly in tone:

Horatian Satire
In general, a gentler, more good humored and sympathetic kind of satire, somewhat tolerant of human folly even while laughing at it. Named after the poet Horace, whose satire epitomized it. Horatian satire tends to ridicule human folly in general or by type rather than attack specific persons. Compare Juvenalian satire.

Juvenalian Satire
Harsher, more pointed, perhaps intolerant satire typified by the writings of Juvenal. Juvenalian satire often attacks particular people, sometimes thinly disguised as fictional characters. While laughter and ridicule are still weapons as with Horatian satire, the Juvenalian satirist also uses withering invective and a slashing attack. Swift is a Juvenalian satirist.

A crude, coarse, often bitter satire ridiculing the personal appearance or character of a person.

A form of verbal irony, expressing sneering, personal disapproval in the guise of praise. (Oddly enough, sarcastic remarks are often used between friends, perhaps as a somewhat perverse demonstration of the strength of the bond--only a good friend could say this without hurting the other's feelings, or at least without excessively damaging the relationship, since feelings are often hurt in spite of a close relationship. If you drop your lunch tray and a stranger says, "Well, that was really intelligent," that's sarcasm. If your girlfriend or boyfriend says it, that's love--I think.)


One form of satire not covered by Professor Harris is the old Bardic Satire, or Bardic Curse, invoked against those who broke the law of hospitality or other social mores, by the Bards who were in many ways the guardians of such law. In tone this most resembled the Juvenalian Satire. In form it followed strict rules of meter and style. Some sources say that the official Bardic Satire was highly ritualized. This was not merely a poem; it was regarded as magic, capable of not only demolishing the reputation of those it was invoked against, but their person, bringing illness, misfortune, and even death.


Exercise Questions

  1. Name an example of each form: Horatian Satire; Juvenalian Satire; Lampoon; Sarcasm; and just plain Satire. (And Bardic Satire if you can find any.) 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. Why did you categorize your examples as you did? Defend your choice of labels.
  3. In "The Purpose and Method of Satire" Professor Harris argues very persuasively that all satire has a moral lesson or didactic (teaching) purpose. What was each of your examples satirizing? What point was it trying to make? Can you find other examples to support the argument? Examples to refute it?
  4. What is the effect of sarcasm? A lampoon? A harsh satire? A mild satire? Can you name a satire that has directly brought about a change in the conditions it criticized?
Individual Exercises
  1. Pick something that you regard as just plain wrong. Treat it sarcastically; write a lampoon of it; write satires of different tones from Horatian to Juvenalian.
  2. Compare the different treatments. Which do you think was most effective? How would the effectiveness vary with different audiences?
  3. Which was easiest to do? Which was most satisfying? Which will you do again?
  4. Pick a rant, by you or by someone else, and use the tools studied so far to make it livelier.
Guidelines for Critique:
  • How entertaining were the results?
  • How did they affect your thinking and action?
  • Do you see any relation between how entertaining a piece is and how effective it is?





Old Forms & New




Juvenalian Satire

The Novel of Manners




Bardic Satire

The Picaresque Novel

Mock Epic



The Wessitur




Other "Nonsense"
& "Nonsequiturs"


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