Satire- is a form of humor that uses wit to characterize behavior. Sometimes the wit is ironic or sarcastic. While the authors or performers use humor, their main objective is not to make people laugh. It is instead used to provide social criticism on human behavior and issues of the day. Lewis' Carroll's works, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass are forms of satire. Carroll and Sir John Tenniel, the book's illustrator used their works to mock people and customs in the Victorian era. The Lion and the Unicorn in Looking Glass for example were drawn to resemble two prominent politicians of the day, Benjamin Disraeli and Lord Elwart Gladstone. Many of the most memorable scenes such as the Knave of Heart's trial at the end of Wonderland mock Victorian conventions such as courtroom proceedings. While some have dismissed the Alice books as nothing but nonsense, Carroll and Tenniel seem to suggest that their world makes no more sense than the real world does with its rigid rules and conventions.
Carroll and Tenniel were not the only satirists. In fact, they are one of many who have used their gifts of writing, illustration, and performing arts to make audience's laugh, but most imporantly make them think about current issues.
Many of the earliest satirists were active during the Roman empire. Among them was Seneca The Younger,(c. 1 B.C.-65 A.D.) His work, Apocolocynotosis, tell of the death and deification of Emperor Claudius. Rather than writing of a noble emperor who dies a tragic death and is elevated to godhood, Seneca takes the opportunity to mock Claudius' limp walk, his stammering, and his unattractive appearance in these lines:
"Declare with speed what spot you claim by birth.
Or with this club fall stricken to the earth!
This club hath ofttimes slaughtered haughty kings!
Why mumble unintelligible things?
What land, what tribe produced that shaking head?
(Apocolocynotosis, Virg. Geog. iv 90)
He also satirizes the transition in the Underworld to godhood by implying that it is not as grand as other Romans would believe:
All on a sudden who should turn up but Caligula, and claims the man for a slave: brings witnesses, who said they had seen him being flogged, caned, fisticuffed by him. He is handed over to Caligula, and Caligula makes him a present to Aeacus. Aeacus delivers him to his freedman Menander, to be his law-clerk. (Apocolocynotosis, II ix. 85)
. During this time, noble Romans were declared gods and goddesses after their deaths. Seneca trivializes Claudius' fate as becoming former Emperor Caligula's slave and to be a law-clerk. Seneca points out what he may have seen as the ridiculousness of deifiying late emperors by instead turning Claudius into the lowest class as a slave instead of elevating him to godhood.
SATIRE: SHAKESPEARE STYLE
During the Middle Ages, traveling troupes called Commedia dell-arte presented characters based on noblepeople, doctors, and servants often emphazing their fobiles and negative attributes such as idleness, deceit, and/or gullibility and putting them in ridiculous and hilarious situations. Court jesters and fools were often hired by kings and noblepeople to tell jokes and impersonate other people to reveal ridiculous behaviorisms of the royals.
The jester or the fool was often the only person who could get away with criticizing the royals and still were permitted to keep their heads.
During the Renaissance, many playwrights used humor and satire in their writing either to mock other writers or situations that were found in other plays or in real life. William Shakespeare often used his writing in clever ways to mock the society around him. One of his sonnets, Sonnet 130 sometimes called "My Mistress' Eyes are Nothing Like the Sun," makes fun of courtly love poems which overdramatize the narrator's true love's beauty and grace:
My mistress' eyes are nothing like the sun; Coral is far more red than her lips' red; If snow be white, why then her breasts are dun; If hairs be wires, black wires grow on her head. I have seen roses damasked, red and white, But no such roses see I in her cheeks; And in some perfumes is there more delight Than in the breath that from my mistress reeks. I love to hear her speak, yet well I know That music hath a far more pleasing sound; I grant I never saw a goddess go; My mistress when she walks treads on the ground. And yet, by heaven, I think my love as rare As any she belied with false compare.
Shakespeare's narrator gives his mistress a more realistic appearance such as bad breath, wired hair, and an annoying voice.
This not only contrasts her with the far-off beauty and almost goddess behaviors of Medieval beauties,
but it makes her a stronger more realistic person. In fact the sonnet makes her more approachable and perhaps better loved
because the narrator knows both her flaws and her virtues than a knight would to his fair noble lady.
Shakespeare also used the characters in his plays to mock Renaissance behavior. The phrase "all the world is a stage"
was well-known in Shakespeare's day, but in his play, As You Like It, describes life as different
stages of puking infants, lovestruck romantics, soldiers and judges who are more interested in their appearances and
reputations than doing anything useful or important in their lives, and finally as senile older people who need
as much attention or the infants:
All the world’s a stage,
Throughout the 18th and 19th centuries, novelists and poets continued to use wit and biting humor in their writings to satirize
political and social situations. Political cartoons were created roughly in the 18th century, and were
placed in newspapers. Cartoonists such as Thomas Nast (1840-1902) made fun of political figures. One of Nast's frequent
targets for ridicule was Boss William Mangear Tweed, a politician who ran an influential political machine
known as Tammany Hall, in the late 19th-early 20th century. Nast's used his illustrations to mock Tweed's ambitions in
controlling many social and political institutions as well as his activities such as buying votes.
This illustration shows Tweed pretending to be a caretaker to public schoolchildren but
instead welcoming the alligators as they plan to devour the children. Nast
portrays Tweed as posing as a protector but in reality being as dangerous as the foes that
he claims that he is protecting people from.