What Is Satire? Essay, Research Paper
What is Satire?Satire is defined as the, literary art of diminishing or derogating a subject by making it ridiculous and evoking toward it attitudes of amusement, contempt, scorn, or indignation (Abrams 187). Additionally, a satirist s techniques include irony, inflation, deflation, sarcasm, illusion and allusion. By exaggerating characteristics, by saying the opposite of what the author means, by using his cleverness to make cutting and even cruel remarks at the expense of the his subject, the writer of satire can call the reader s attention to those things he believes are repulsive, despicable, or destructive. To better understand the meaning of satire, we must comprehend the two different types of satirists. One likes most people but thinks they are rather blind and foolish. He tells the truth with a smile, so that he will not repel them but cure them of that ignorance which is their worst fate. Such is Horace who lived from 65-8 BCE (Hight 235). The other type hates most people, or despises them. His aim therefore is not to cure, but to wound, to punish, to destroy. Such is Juvenal who lived from 65-128 BCE (Hight 235). During this time these were a type of pseudo-religious drama but not considered real plays because they had no continuity or sustained plots (Britannica 467).In addition to being two types of satirists there are also two views of the purpose of satire. First, the optimist writes in order to heal, the pessimist in order to punish. One is a doctor, the other an executioner. A single author will write one satire as an optimist and follow it with a pessimistic writing.In addition to recognizing the various components of satire, analyzing Candide and Tartuffe allows us to better understand the dual meaning of the satire. Satire must be presented in a manner which will bring action, and in a world of complacent hypocrites, irony, with its various means of presentation, is essential; the message cannot be delivered without it, if that message is to have any tangible effect. An analysis of Voltaire s Candide reveals many satirical elements. Voltaire named the main character Candide from the Latin meaning white, pure, and uncorrupted. Additionally Candide is pure of soul, completely trusting and always ready to give Pangloss philosophy of optimism another try. Candide is such a white innocent that, like Dagwood Bumstead, he never learns anything and so never grows old (Sawyer 105). The irony here lies in the meaning of Candide s name and the fact that he killed three people; two of whom were priests. Voltaire named Candide s love, Cunegonde, after St. Cunegonde, whom he had mentioned in Annales de l empire (1753-54). St. Cunegonde was the wife of Henry II, Emperor of Bavaria, who had taken a vow of chastity. Upon his death she was restored a virgin to her parents and later canonized in 1200 (Sawyer 106). Similar to the irony between Candide s name and his actions, Cunegonde was a much traveled and vigorously used heroine. A prime example of burlesque is Pangloss term for what he teaches metaphysico-theologico-cosmoloonigology (Adams 1). The looney that is buried in this burlesque word corresponds to a buried nigaud or booby in the French (Adams 1). Voltaire deflated the atrocities people perform during war stating these actions were in strict accordance with laws of war (Adams 5). The reader is given the impression these heinous acts were sanctioned when performed in this manner (Wade 25). Pangloss is inflated to the reader as the best philosopher in the world citing his proven law that the possibility of an effect does not exist without a cause. Actually Pangloss knew very little and instead twisted all occurrences to coincide with his optimistic beliefs. Pangloss became Candide s optimistic apostle who often gave long speeches full of large words and faulty logic. In addition to Voltaire inflating Pangloss, he satirized his philosophy and verbosity. Pangloss created an illusion for Candide by using his philosophy that is for the best in this world. We know that the horrific things that happened to Candide was a result of his naivety and not Pangloss philosophy. Although Candide had no money, he sits down, when asked, with two Bulgar soldiers dressed in blue uniforms. They tell Candide that because of his stature of five feet five inches tall he need not pay for his meal and then begged Candide to accept a couple of crowns as well. In this scene Voltaire created an allusion. Voltaire knew Frederick the Great, whom he characterized as leader of the Bulgars, obsessed over the height of his soldiers. The recruiting officers of Frederick the Great, much feared in eighteenth century Europe wore blue uniforms. Frederick the Great only accepted men six feet tall in his regiments (Adams 3). Another form of satire is caricature. Voltaire exemplifies this with the description of the Baroness. The Baroness was greatly respected not as a result of her charitable work but because she weighed 350 pounds. She and her family viewed here not as a mass of useless fat, as would be the case were she a commoner, but a regal woman of status. The belief in superiority based not upon character, intelligence, or performance is ridiculed throughout the book (Sareil 124). In Moliere s Tartuffe, Dorine is the queen of sarcasm. In one scene Dorine explains to Orgon, in great detail, how ill his wife became during his absence. Orgon is clearly disinterested in Elmire s condition. Each time Dorine provides an aspect regarding Elmire s illness, Orgon asks a questions concerning Tartuffe s well being. Totally digusted Dorine replies, I will go and tell Madame that you ve expressed keen sympathy and anxious interest when in fact the reader knows Orgon s thoughts are elsewhere (Wilbur 13). The reason this line is so entertaining is due to Dorine s outspokeness and the fact that she is a servant.
Knowing how all of Orgon s household disliked Tartuffe, it is clearly verbal irony when Dorine states, Monsieur Tartuffe. Now, there s a man of weight! (Wilbur 35) This line appears to be a compliment when, in fact, Dorine is implying the opposite. This application of sarcasm makes Dorine s attacks clever and funny. The basic mood of the attacks and disapproval need to be softened to some extent and made more palatable; sarcasm serves this end by making the criticisms entertaining, and even attractive. Tartuffe shrewdly suggested to Orgon, a wife can sway her husband s mind in many a subtle way (Wilbur 66). Due to the fact that Tartuffe is portrayed as a deeply religious person, it is inconceivable that he knows about a woman s charms let alone speak these words aloud. Voltaire uses innuendo to imply something of a sexual nature and, in turn, allows Tartuffe to retain his saint-like status and power. Innuendo is a valuable tool for the satirist because it allows him to implicate a target by a completely indirect attack. This is especially useful when the target is dangerous, for it is often possible for deny the insinuation. In act four, scene five Tartuffe explains away Elmire s apprehensions of having an affair with him. Tartuffe boasts that Elmire should not be afraid of Heaven s wrath but instead become his pupil and learn how to strike a compromise with Heaven on these types of matters. The situational irony is derived from the contrast of Tartuffe being Orgon s religious counselor and Tartuffe s sexual feeling for Elmire (Moore 40). In the same scene the readers know Orgon is hiding under the table, as per Elmire s request, listening to her and Tartuffe. Tartuffe, however, believes he is alone with Elmire and speaks quite honestly about his feelings for her. This dramatic irony is further enhanced by Elmire s stressing certain words which Tartuffe takes for himself, are in realty, addressed to the concealed husband (Eustis 26). Tartuffe wears a mask of religion to hide his sensuality. When he finally removes the mask in this scene, Orgon sees Tartuffe as the hypocrite he really is (Bray 54). When Cleante speaks to Orgon about Tartuffe and the harm he is causing, Orgon responds by equating Cleante with Cato. Cato was a Roman statesman (95-46 B.C.) who was known for his honesty and not being bribed or morally corrupted (Wilbur 16). This historical reference enhances Orgon s point about Cleante the raissoneur, and is an allusion. The lack of agreement between what the reader expects and what actually happens in the ending of Tartuffe proves to be ironic. The reader is led to believe from previous situations, that once again Tartuffe (evil) will win over Orgon (good) but, in fact, just the opposite occurs. Orgon receives, through the King s intervention, all that Tartuffe swindled from him and Tartuffe goes to jail. Functionally this type of ironic reversal is usually a sudden, wry twist of the situation against the schemer and resultant respite for the dupe; it also serves as a means of heightening tension within the scene (Bray 70). It is perhaps now apparent that almost all of these techniques used by Moliere and Voltaire have one element in common: each provides a way to say two or more things at one time, and to compare, equate, or contrast those things, usually with heavy irony. As you can see variety is the key to satire (Feinberg 12).
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