Radicalism in the 18th Century

Topics: Jonathan Swift, Gulliver's Travels, Satire Pages: 6 (2122 words) Published: December 7, 2012
Political radicalism in the eighteenth-century writings

Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels
John Gay’s The Beggar’s Opera

In what ways does eighteenth-century writing engage with political radicalism? The aim of this essay is to demonstrate how eighteenth-century texts are engaged with political radicalism of that era. For this purpose, I will focus on two writers who have the same background but different styles: Swift (political pamphleteer, poet and novelist) and John Gay (English poet and dramatist). First, I would like to introduce Gulliver’s Travels written by Jonathan Swift. Moreover, I would like to provide and analyse some passages from the first part of Gulliver’s Travel: ‘A Voyage to Lilliput’ in order to reflect political radicalism through satire, descriptions of characters, humour and mockeries. Secondly, I would like to introduce and expose John Gay’s The Beggar’s Opera on the whole in order to demonstrate that political radicalism differs from Gulliver`s Travel satirizing Robert Walpole’s figure. However, before making reference to the previous two points I will explain briefly the meaning of ‘political radicalism’ and comment on the background of the eighteenth-century period in England in order to have a good understanding of the writings of these two authors. To begin with, political radicalism refers when someone promotes a radical thought and wants to establish a profound change in politics structures that are in force. In England, The Glorious Revolution resulted from the fall of catholic James II who was replaced by his protestant daughter Mary and her husband William III. George I ascended the throne after Mary and William’s death. Moreover, there were two different and opposite political parties in the parliament of England: Whig (liberal party) and Tory (conservative party). Another point related to England is that there was a contrast between poverty and wealth in London, and therefore it became a disreputable city. At this time, political parties as well as kings were criticized through literature since direct criticism of kings and governors was forbidden by law. A case in point would be Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels which is one of his successful classic novels. Although it is considered a children’s book, it presents a fierce satire of English society and human condition concealed in a book of travels. The book is divided into four voyages each describing a corrupt part of England such as the Royal Society of England, the corruption of humans and ministers, the English’s religious beliefs, etc. From my point of view, the second and four voyages are illustrations of an ideal state (although there are also some attacks against bad government) and in the third voyage Swift blames the vices and follies of philosophers and scientists. For this reason, I will only focus on the first part of Gulliver’s Travels: ‘A Voyage to Lilliput’ since the idea of political radicalism is shown in a better way. Swift uses satirical elements such as irony, sarcasm and humour as well as descriptive elements through unknown characters (Gulliver, Lilliputians and the emperor) and imaginary places (Lilliput, Blefuscu) in order to reflect political radicalism through writing. From the beginning of the novel, Swift speaks of his antipathy towards England. Lilliput is the representation of England and its inhabitants known as Lilliputians are as corrupt as tiny. Swift provides us an accurate description of the emperor of Lilliput to illustrate his political idea of absolute monarchy: . . . [The emperor] is taller by almost the breadth of my nail, than any of his court; which alone is enough to strike an awe into the beholders. His features are strong and masculine, with an Austrian lip, and arched nose, his complexion olive, his countenance erect, his body and limbs well proportioned, al his motions graceful, and his deportment majestic. . . .

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