Satire in the Eighteenth Century
New ideas, original thoughts, and fresh interpretations characterized the spirit of the eighteenth century. Science was flourishing, and therefore it brought new discoveries that challenged the traditional dominating force of religion. Influential figures of the age, such as Voltaire, Jonathan Swift, and William Hogarth, strove to assure human betterment and advance human thinking through truth and humorous criticism. They employed the use of satire in order to accomplish their common goal.
According to A Handbook of Literary Terms, satire is defined as "a work or manner that blends a censorious attitude with humor or wit for improving human institutions or humanity" (Harmon and Holman 461). The New Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry and Poetics further asserts that satire is "both a mode of discourse or vision that asserts polemical or critical outlook, and also a specific literary genre, embodying that mode in either prose or verse" (Preminger and Brogan 1114). In essence, satire emerges as a device to successfully diagnose human faults and offer a cure for society.
Satire often includes abuse, sarcasm, irony, mockery, exaggeration, and understatements. Arguably Voltaire's most famous work, Candide presents a string of characters laced in exaggeration. For example, the Baron's lady was not only a large presence, but she weighed a striking three hundred and fifty pounds. Furthermore, the Baron's castle was considered a monument of prestige, "for his house had a door and several windows and his hall was actually draped in tapestry" (Voltaire 19). It is apparent that the use of the hyperbole, among other elements, played a crucial role in the potency of satire.
Satirical works can often be united by common themes. Anti-feminism, governmental reform, religious dissension, peace, social perversity, duplicity, idiosyncrasy, and poverty are frequently highlighted in works of satire. Jonathan Swift's novel Gulliver's Travels mocks the English system of government with the dwarfed civilization of Lilliput ("Swift Biography"). He parallels the Lilliputian emperor to the English monarch and stresses the segregation of English courts. The narrator, Gulliver, states his natural disposition: "I had been hitherto all my life a stranger to the courts, for which I was unqualified by the meanness of my condition" (Swift 78). Moreover, the biased charges of treason that befell Gulliver were Swift's weapon of caviling against English monarchy.
Satire was not limited to literature. Prominent artists such as William Hogarth used...