MA English Part 2 Notes Essay | DEVELOPMENT OF SATIRE AND ITS ROLE IN THE MODERN AGE
Ans. Satire is, of course, found in both poetry and prose. It has no set literary form. A verse satire may be written as an ode, an elegy, a ballad or anything else. A novel may be written more as a satire than as a story. Sometimes the story remains popular when its satirical basis is almost forgotten, as with Don Quixote or Gulliver’s Travel. Some plays are little more than satires on contemporary follies; they, too, often remain fresh when the conditions they mocked at have vanished.
The satire, as a mode of writing is of classical origin. It may be defined as a literary composition whose principal aim is to ridicule folly and vice. It is a light form of composition intended to keep the reader in a good humour even when it is at its most caustic. According to Dryden, “The true end of Satire is the amendment of vices by correction. A comprehensive definition is given by Richard Garnett:
“Satire in its literary, aspect may be defied as the expression in adequate terms, of the sense of amusement or disgust excited by the ridiculous or un-seemingly, provided that humour is distinctly recognizable element, and that the utterance is invested with literary form. Without humour, satire is invective; without literary form, it is mere clownish jeering.”
The two essentional elements of literary satire are criticism of literary satire are criticism of ridiculous or the disgusting and humour. The satirist is a censor with an eye for the ridiculous. His art is an exercise of the intellect rather than of imagination.
Moreover, whatever is ridiculous or unseemly and lends self to mockery is the target of the satirist. The measuring rod is his sense of what is fitting. “Ugliness, infirmity and poverty,” Fielding says, “are not in themselves ridiculous, they are ridiculous only when they assume other characters. All who pretend and whose pretence is subject for laughter for not all pretence is laughter Malvalio in the Twelfth Night, are the satirists fair game.”
The satirist is concerned with sickness and his business is to administer purge or to use the knife. But the patient may be troublesome, for he has not, indeed recognized that he is sick. Either the purge must be made palatable, the knife concealed beneath the smiler’s cloack, or the patient must be knocked down and treated by force. Hall prefers that
The satire should be like the porcupine,
That shoots sharp quills out in each angry line,
And wounds, the blushing cheek and fiery eye
Of his that hears, and breadth guiltily.
The way of the, well-unmannered satire is peculiarly ironical. He, who uses irony uses words to convey a meaning opposite to their literal meaning; he pretends to adopt the victim’s point of view and gravely develops it to absurd conclusion. The finest satire like “A Tale of the best satirists.
It is unnecessary to examine here in detail the methods of treatment by which satire has been varied. Satire rarely adopts direct attack. Allegory, feble, classical imitation, mock heroic, parody and burlesque are different methods of treatment. The Rape of the Lock is a good example which is humorously inflated by the use of the elevated style.
The satire may be inspired by either a personal grievance or a passion for reform. It is an attack on a person, or group of persons, or on a social evil or folly. It is primarily light literature, hovering at times on the confines of burlesque. It is in the next place, intended to ridicule, not to abuse, thought it may often be bitter. In general, it hates sin and not the sinner and is more playful than hurtful. Pope, however, often erred in this respect, for in much of his work, he showed himself “waspish, venomous, malignant.”
The satire, like an arrow, has to take the shortest route to its target. It must be terse and concise so as to say a great deal in a brief space. Prolixity destroys its effect. The heroic couplet proved an admirable medium as it has been mentioned above, for it lent itself to easy narrative, forceful expression and swift strokes of wit. Dryden and pope used it with amazing skill and Byron handled it vigorously, as in his condemnation of the whole theory of poetic diction upheld by Wordsworth,
Who both by percept and example shows
That prose is verse and verse is merely prose
The satirist’s trade is censure. He condemns whatever he does not approve and each age has had its own set of vices to ridicule. The satire, like drama, holds the mirror up to nature, and lashes out at contemporary follies and foibles. For example, Chaucer attacked corruption in the church and other vices such as dishonesty on the part of traders and men of law. The Elizabethan had their own subjects against men than manners; but the age in which they lived is reflected faithfully in Pope’s Rape of the Lock. It was an age of privilege, ceremony and artificiality, and of bitter political rivalry and controversy and there was plenty of food for satire and there was latter for Dr. Johnson when he wrote his “London”. At the beginning of the nineteenth century, Byron assailed with equal vigour the Lake poets. Scotch reviewed the Walz, the King and the whole society against whose convention he had rebelled. During Vitorian period, much effective work appeared in newspapers and periodicals, which had increased in number, it tended to be brief and ephemeral. Personal attacks have gone out of fashion, but social conditions and problems, and every aspect of modern civilization, offer countless subjects to the satirist and the plays of G.B. Shaw are example of how widely and effectively a gifted writer in this vein can range.
Now we come to the historical study of poetic and prose satire. In this regard it may be said that poetic satire might very properly considered as didactic poetry because its basic object is the reformation of men and manners and to this end, the satirist takes the liberty of boldly censuring vice and vicious character. Similar is the case with the prose satire.
Discussing it age wise, William Langland was minor cleric and impelled by a stem moral purpose. He gives in allegorical form, a sincere and critical picture of social conditions during the second half of the 14th century. The picture given in “The Vision of William concerning piers the “Plowman” is dark: the church has abandoned the simple truths of scriptures, and men no longer fulfill their proper duties. All classes rouse the poets indignation, though his sympathies are clearly with the poor. The ideas are important to the modem students. William Langland’s contemporary was Geoffrey Chaucer. England which Geoffrey Chaucer so vividly presents is a brighter England than; Langland’s. his spirit is one of good humour and tolerance. Here, “says Dryden,” is God’s plenty.” He gives three portraits, The Monk, The friar, and The Pardoner are clear satirical sketches of the fourteenth century.
In the 15th century, the influence of William Langland was predominant. The English and Scottish Chaucerian’s were the echoes of William Langland’s Piers the Plowman. There were quite a number of Satirists like John Lydgate, William Dunbar, and John Skelton. Dunbar has gusto. He is a satirist with a strong vein of grotesque humour and a spate of invective. He has a lively imagination and considerable technical skill. The friar, the law courts, and woman are some of the targets. Burlesque is one of his favourite methods. Skelton was praise by Erasmus as “the one light and glory of British letters.” He attacked the clergy and courts, in the particular. “Why come ye not to court “reveals Skelton’s characteristic style. The work of Sir David Lyndsay, courtier and friend James shows him as first and foremost a reformer. His satire is earnest and forceful and boldly directed against specific evil in the church, politics and social life. He has wit and strong humour, but is a far lesser poet than Dunbar Lyndsay’s masterpiece is the long morality on Scottish life. His satires are sharp and witty.
Wyatt, no doubt is a bold satirist to Elizabethan period, but he is famous for his introduction of the sonnet into the English verse and his love lyrics. His three satires are by means negligible.
Joseph Hall, was not the first satirist, but he produced vigorously the most ambitious collection of satires. His subjects were various but mostly concerned with literature, to the abuses he found in contemporary and drama. Hall is important in establishing the heroic couplet, which was the measure of verse satires. His was self-conscious satire deliberately rough but presenting attractive social sketches.
John Donne’s are the best of Elizabethan verse satires. He was a scholar, a man of pleasure, a soldier, and poet. His five early satires are distinguished by force of thought and pungent wit. Among his themes are the ape of fashion, lawyers and the court. His other satires deal with religion. The roughness of his verses is the main characteristic of his satire.
Ben Jonson is supreme in satirical comedy. He was a critic of his art, who venerated the classics. Through his comedy of humours, are sought to assert the realistic and satirical strain of comedy and to free it form romantic extravagance.
It is not earlier than 16th, century that satire in prose merits general notice. Elizabethan prose satire is not among the greatest, for Elizabethan romantic spirit was alien to the spirit of the satire. Among Elizabethan of contemporary social life. The Gull’s handbook is, indeed the richest of all glimpse into the London streets and taverns.
During the age of Milton, satire was attempted by the poets vigorously. John Cleveland’s satires are mainly political. His satire was a rapid fire of abuse delivered in harsh verse. In his Essay, of Dramatic Poesy, Dryden remarked” We cannot read a verse of Cleave land without making a face at it, as if every word were a pill to swallow. He firstly struck out toward satire in part-politics and his style prevailed until Dryden”.
Samuel Butler’s Hudibras is the greatest satire before “Absolom and Achitophel” and remains the masterpiece of satire in the grotesque manner. Clearly influenced by Don Quixote, it is written in the form of a burlesque of chivalry. His gibes strike at many follies, but his chief victims are the puritans.
The three other satirists were Andrew, Marvel, Johan Wilmat, Earl of Rochester. Marvel was assistant to John Milton as his Latin Secretary the satires in which he exposed public abuses are distinguished by their fearless tone and their patriotic spirit.
Dryden was a practiced writer of prose and verse and an established critic and play writing when at the age of fifty he produced the first satire. He had shown his intellect and ability to reason in verse, which has made him the best of ratiocinate poet. He was a master of heroic couplet. In verse satire, he excels others. Dryden’s satire are free from harshness as well as violence of much second rated work. As T.S. Eliot writes in his essay on Dryden: “When Pope alters, he diminishes …….. but the effects of the portraits of Dryden is to transform the object into something greater.”
In the 18th century, satire was in the full scale. Pope had the command over the technique of satire. His poetic criticism of life was simply and solely through the heroic couplet. He is at his best when satirizing individuals. In place of Dryden’s masculine force, Pope has an exquisite pungency, a quality in which he is unrivalled. His most charming work is the social satire, “The Rape of the Lock” it is unsurpassed as a social poem, and is, too the best example of the mock-heroic in English verse. Pope says in his dedication:
“It was intended only to divert a few young ladies, who have good sense and good humour enough to laugh not only at their sex’s unguarded follies, but at their own.”
Swift is the greatest English satirist. Unlike Pope he restricts himself to general rather than personal attacks, and his work has cosmic, elemental force, which is irresistible and, at times, almost frightening. He mercilessly probes into public follies and foibles. He has no doubt given a remarkable to the children, but this story illustrates his skill in dramatizing his ideas, his fertile imagination, his humour and his “clear and masculine” style. “A Tale of Tub,” is, however, superior. He uses irony, which is unequal in intensity.
Then there are two great satirists, Joseph Addison and Sir Richard Steele. Addison writes: “I would not willingly laugh, but in order to instruct, or if sometimes fail in this point, when my mirth ceases to be instructive, it shall never cease to be innocent.” The Tatler and The Spectator,” were basically aimed to ridicule the follies of beaux and conquests, reproved extravagances, coarseness, and self-indulgence. It was Steele who sketched the Spectator Club. Addison’s humour is delicately ironical, gentlemanly, tolerant and urbane. Henry fielding is the first satirical novelist in English literature. In Joseph Andrew, he adopts the vein of the epic, but this novel is more than satire. Fielding was London magistrate and provoked by many works glorifying criminals, especially Jonathan Wild, he gives a scathing exposure of villainy and graphic picture of low life.
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