Satire is a type of literary genre which uses ridicule to criticize people, institutions, and society with the intent to provoke change or reform. It uses the literary techniques of comparison, ridicule, wit, irony, and exaggeration to point out human vices or follies. The purpose is to point out the hypocrisy and the foolishness of the subject’s action or behavior by using laughter as a weapon. The goal is to have the audience or target of ridicule recognize their mistakes through laughter and be compelled to change their behavior.
Generally, there are two main types of satire. The first type is formal or direct satire which uses the satiric voice in the first person to speak directly to the reader or character in the story. Formal satire can be further divided into two subtypes. Horatian satire is named after the Roman poet, Horace, and is a gentle, softer form that aims to correct through sympathetic laughter. The second type is Juvenalian satire named after the Roman poet, Juvenal. This type is edgy, bitter, and contemptuous in nature. The second main type is called indirect satire which expresses satire through character or groups who ridicule themselves through their own actions and words.
Satire can be traced back to the early Greek poets and dramatists. One of the most famous satirists was the playwright Aristophanes who wrote the play Lysistrata (411 BC). However, the prototype of the literary form of the genre comes from the works of Roman poets, Horace and Juvenal. Their two different forms were continued through the Middle Ages and Renaissance.
The golden age of satire arrived in the early 18th Century. Notable works include Jonathon Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels (1726) and Alexander Voltaire’s Candide (1759). Voltaire’s novel targeted the philosophy of Gottfried Leibniz in which everything that happens is for the best. The genre took aim at manners and morals in the 19th Century in the works of Mark Twain’s Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1884) and Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest (1895). Twain used his novel to satirize the evils of slavery and racism as well as American Southern society. Other popular satirical targets of the period include policies in government, law, philosophy, and religion particular to the time period.
Major advances in technology, political discontent, abuses of power, and wars that marked the 20th Century became the targets for modern satirists. Famous works from this period include Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World (1932) and George Orwell’s Animal Farm (1945) and 1984 (1949).
Today, satire has transcended many different mediums including film, television, plays, comic strips, and political cartoons. The genre is very widespread in shows like The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, The Simpsons, South Park, and The Colbert Report. Present day artists and writers view satire as an effective way to reveal the follies and mistakes of a wide range of targets from political policy to members of the government to popular culture.