Satire and Comedy

Topics: Satire, Comedy, Literature Pages: 19 (5374 words) Published: November 21, 2009
Satire is a term applied to any work of literature or art whose objective is ridicule. It has significant functions in social and political criticism. Satirical literature exposes foolishness in all its forms, such as vanity, hypocrisy, sentimentality etc. It also attempts to effect reform through such exposure. Satirists, therefore, design a work of literature focusing on human or individual vices, follies, abuses, or shortcomings. They use satire as a literary technique to combat these vices and shortcomings, and "to censure by means of ridicule, derision, burlesque, irony or other methods" (New Encyclopedia Britannica, 1993, 10, 467).

Satirical works are commonly critical. Hawthorn (2005:197) states, "Satire attacks alleged vices and stupidities either of individuals or of whole communities or groups - and its tools are ridicule, exaggeration and contempt." However, Sutherland (1958:2) points out that not all satirical works are equally critical. He argues that:


Some works are satirical throughout; in others the satire is only intermittent, one element in a more complex effect. The lines that separate the satirical from the unsatirical are often hard to define, either because the writer shifts easily and rapidly from one mood to another, or because the satirical tone is so rarefied as to be almost imperceptible.

In addition to being critical, many satirical texts are humorous. To put it in Feinberg's words, "criticism and humor have to be present in a literary work to be called satiric (1967:60)." Thus, it is the nature of satire to be humorous and critical in order to expose follies and vices of individuals and society, and if possible, to do justice to such erroneous practices.

Several literary critics state that satire is a protean term that makes it difficult to come up with a fixed definition. In line with this, The New Encyclopedia Britannica, 2005, 23,173 states, "together with its derivatives, it is one of the most heavily worked literary designations and one of the most imprecise." This book even goes to the extent of saying:

No strict definition can encompass the complexity of a word that signifies, on one hand, a kind of literature - as when one speaks of the satires of the Roman poet Horace or calls the American novelist Nathanael West's A Cool Million a satire and, on the other hand, a mocking spirit or tone that manifests itself in many literary genres but can also enter into almost any kind of human communication.

Similarly, Feinberg (1967:18) points out that "satire is such an amorphous genre that no two scholars define it in the same words." However, many literary scholars have attempted to give suitable working definitions based on their own perspectives. This does not exclude the definition stated in the


above source that states, "Wherever wit is employed to expose something foolish or vicious, to criticism, there satire exists, whether it is in song or sermon, in painting or political debate, on television or in the movies." Nor does it disregard what Feinberg says in defining satire as: "a playfully critical distortion of the familiar (1967:19)." It is, therefore, important to mention the varying definitions of satire given by different writers at this point.

One of the most widely accepted definitions of satire is the one that is given in A Glossary of Literary Terms by Abrams (1981:167). Abrams defines satire as:

The literary art of diminishing a subject by making it ridiculous and evoking toward it attitudes of amusement, contempt, indignation or scorn....
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