ENGLISH VERSE SATIRE IN EIGHTEENTH CENTURY
While most of the literary labels – drama, epic, lyric, ode—are Greek, the term Satire is a Latin word. Satire may be defined as an attempt to show disgust by exposing the ridiculous and the contemptible.
Though its flicker is seen even at the beginning of literature, Satire has become an effective weapon only in the later stages of civilisation, with the over-abundance of injuries. In his preface to “Absalom and Achitophel” John Dryden, the well-known satirical poet of 18th Century sets forth the true end of satire as “amendment of vices by correction”. To Alexander Pope, another great satirist, it is a sacred weapon in truth’s defence; and it heals with morals what it hurts with wit. We may safely assume that satire is a mixture of laughter and rebuke. Satire implies an accepted norm of behaviour, the departure from which calls forth criticism. In all the great satirists like Swift, Pope and Horace, there is always present the fire of indignation which burns away human foibles and vices. Thus satire is but an indignant and veiled protest against evils rampant in social behaviour, human nature or institutions.
Satire spreads over all branches of literature. Moliere, Aristophanes and Bernard Shaw are satirists in drama. Lucian, Swift and Cervantes are prose satirists. Perfect and excellent satire implies an artistic restraint and a balance of mind which elevate the subject to the sublime heights. If roughly or coarsely handled, it borders on invective and degenerates into lampoon. The idea of folly and roguery should be suggested without calling people fools and rogues. Geniality and laughing irony give to the razor a sharp edge. Otherwise it becomes a bludgeon and crudely slaughters the victim instead of slaying him. Satire should be a surgeon’s scalpel but not a butcher’s knife.
Formal satire was brought to flower in Augustan Rome, when Horace, Persius and...
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