Satire Journal Assignments


johnson-smIn 1755, Samuel Johnson defined the term satire in his influential Dictionary of the English Language as,

“a poem in which wickedness or folly is censured. Proper satire is distinguished, by the generality of the reflections, from a lampoon which is aimed against a particular person; but they are too frequently confounded.”

At the close of the great age of English satire, Johnson enshrines the satirist as a moral arbiter and clearly distinguishes meanings “frequently confounded.” But the frequency of this confusion over the definition, purpose, even etymology of satire has persisted.

Using authoritative reference tools from the Oxford English Dictionary to Britannica or Wikipedia, try to chart contemporary definitions of the following terms for readers in the eighteenth century and in our own. Early practitioners and critics of satire employed a dizzying array of terms to designate the best texts and strategies and to differentiate them from lesser forms or impulses. You may wish to develop your own matrix of interrelated meanings and connotations or to outline a more comprehensive taxonomy of species within the genus of satire.

  • Satire
  • Irony
  • Sarcasm
  • Invective
  • Libel
  • Parody
  • Burlesque
  • Jeremiad
  • Lampoon
  • Caricature
  • Ridicule
  • Wit

Defining Satire Journal

Begin by looking up satire in 2 or 3 different reference works (for example, the OED or  Bartleby ). Take note of anything that strikes you as original or particularly helpful. After some preliminary work, you might compare what you’ve found with the entries from Harmon and Holman’s Handbook to Literature (below). For now, this initial journal should introduce an original definition of satire along with a detailed defense of key terms.

Satire Sighting Journals

After you’ve developed your own working definition of satire and its literary cousins, search the Internet for examples of satire or of “not satire” and turn in 2 journals tying your choices to elements of your definition. I have provided a collection of possibilities in the Media Archive–prose, verse, drama, images, audio, or anything familiar taken from television or film–to get the conversation started, but I would like your 2 Satire Sighting examples to be something not represented on the blog already. The appoint of the assignment is to apply your subtle new critical lexicon through a detailed defense of your examples.

Harmon and Holman, A Handbook to Literature (2000)

Satire – a work or manner that blends a censorious attitude with humor and wit for improving human institutions or humanity. Satirists attempt through laughter not so much to tear down as to inspire a remodeling. If attackers simply abuse, they are writing invective; if they are personal and splenetic, they are writing sarcasm; if they are sad and morose over the state of society, they are writing irony or jeremiad. As a rule modern satire spares the individual and follows Addison’s self-imposed rule: to “pass over a single foe to charge whole armies.” Most often, satire deals less with great sinners and criminals than with the general run of fools, knaves, ninnies, oafs, codgers, and frauds. Indeed, a good deal of enduring satire has to do with literature and the literary life itself.

Satire is of two major types: Formal (or direct) Satire, in which the satiric voice speaks, usually in the first person, either directly to the reader or to a character in the satire, called the adversaries; and Indirect Satire, in which the satire is expressed through a narrative and the characters who are the butt are ridiculed by what they themselves say and do. Much of the great literary satire is indirect.

Horatian Satire – Satire in which the voice is indulgent, tolerant, amused, and witty. The speaker holds up to gentle ridicule the absurdities and follies of human beings, aimed at producing in the reader not the anger of a Juvenal but a wry smile. Much of Pope’s satire is Horatian, as is that common to the Comedy of Manners.

Juvenalian Satire – Formal satire in which the speaker attacks vice and error with contempt and indignation. It is so called because it is like the dignified satires of Juvenal. Samuel Johnson’s “The Vanity of Human Wishes” is a well-known example. Juvenalian satire in its realism and its harshness is in strong contrast to Horatian satire, the other principal type of formal satire.

Menippean Satire – A form of satire originally developed by the Greek cynic Menippus and transmitted by his disciples Lucian and Varro. . . Menippean satire deals more with mental attitudes than with fully realized characters. It uses plot freely and loosely to present the world in sharply controlled intellectual patterns. In its short forms Menippean satire is a Dialogue or a Colloquy, with its interest in the conflict of ideas. In longer works the Menippean satirist piles up vast accumulations of fact and presents this erudition through some intellectual organizing principle (Burton’s Anatomy of Melancholy).

Genre – Used to designate the types or categories into which literary works are grouped according to form, technique, or, sometimes, subject matter. . . Genre classification implies that there are groups of formal or technical characteristics among works of the same generic kind regardless of time or place of composition, author, or subject matter; and that these characteristics, when they define a particular group of works, are of basic significance in talking about literary art.

Mode – A term for broad categories of treatment of material, such as romance, comedy, tragedy, or satire. In this usage mode is broader than genre. Northrop Frye sees Romance, Comedy, Tragedy, and Irony as modes of increasing complexity.

Irony – A broad term referring to the recognition of a reality different from appearance. Verbal irony is a figure of speech in which the actual intent is expressed in words that carry the opposite meaning… Irony is likely to be confused with sarcasm, but it differs from sarcasm in that it is usually less harsh. Its presence may be marked by a sort of grim humor and “unemotional detachment,” a coolness in expression at a time when one’s emotions appear to be really heated. Characteristically, it speaks words of praise to imply blame and words of blame to imply praise.

Sarcasm – A caustic and bitter expression of strong disapproval. Sarcasm is personal, jeering, intended to hurt.

Burlesque – A form of comedy characterized by ridiculous exaggeration and distortion: the sublime may be made absurd; honest emotions may be turned to sentimentality; a serious subject may be treated frivolously or a frivolous subject seriously. The essential quality that makes for burlesque is the discrepancy between subject matter and style. . . A distinction between burlesque and parody is often made, in which burlesque is a travesty of a literary form and parody a travesty of a particular work. It has been suggested that parody works by keeping a targeted style constant while lowering the subject, burlesque or travesty by keeping a targeted subject constant while lowering the style.

Caricature – Writing that exaggerates certain individual qualities of a person and produces a burlesque, ridiculous effect. Caricature, unlike the highest satire, is likely to treat merely personal qualities; although, like satire, it also lends itself to the ridicule of political, religious, and social foibles. A work of fiction, history, or biography that traffics in excessive distortion or exaggeration may be dismissed as a caricature.

Lampoon – Writing that ridicules and satirizes a person in a bitter, scurrilous manner, in verse or prose. Lampooning became a dangerous sport and fell into disuse with the development of the libel laws.

Jeremiad – A work that foretells destruction because of the evil of a group. . . The term is also used for severe expressions of grief and complaint, similar to Jeremiah’s Lamentations, an expression of his deep sorrow over the capture of Jerusalem.