- 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
- 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
- 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
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.
- 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.
- Why did you categorize your examples as you did? Defend your choice
- 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?
- 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?
Guidelines for Critique:
- Pick something that you regard as just plain wrong. Treat it sarcastically;
write a lampoon of it; write satires of different tones from Horatian
- Compare the different treatments. Which do you think was most effective?
How would the effectiveness vary with different audiences?
- Which was easiest to do? Which was most satisfying? Which will you
- Pick a rant, by you or by someone else, and use the tools studied
so far to make it livelier.
- 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?
Anitra L. Freeman
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copyrighted by Anitra Freeman, except quotes from published material,
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StreetWrites Workshop Exercises