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Satire: A Critical Reintroduction

Copyright Date: 1994
Edition: 1
Pages: 256
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  • Book Info
    Book Description:

    Here is the ideal introduction to satire for the student and, for the experienced scholar, an occasion to reconsider the uses, problems, and pleasures of satire in light of contemporary theory. Satire is a staple of the literary classroom. Dustin Griffin moves away from the prevailing moral-didactic approach established thirty some years ago to a more open view and reintegrates the Menippean tradition with the tradition of formal verse satire. Exploring texts from Aristophanes to the moderns, with special emphasis on the eighteenth century, Griffin uses a dozen figures -- Horace, Juvenal, Persius, Lucian, More, Rabelais, Donne, Dryden, Pope, Swift, Blake, and Byron -- as primary examples. Because satire often operates as a mode or procedure rather than as a genre, Griffin offers not a comprehensive theory but a set of critical perspectives. Some of his topics are traditional in satire criticism: the role of satire as moralist, the nature of satiric rhetoric, the impact of satire on the political order. Others are new: the problems of satire and closure, the pleasure it affords readers and writers, and the socioeconomic status of the satirist. Griffin concludes that satire is problematic, open-ended, essayistic, and ambiguous in its relationship to history, uncertain in its political effect, resistant to formal closure, more inclined to ask questions than provide answers, and ambivalent about the pleasures it offers.

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-4781-9
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-5)

    This book is designed with several audiences in mind—the student relatively new to literary satire, the more experienced generalist, and the specialist. The student who needs an introduction to satire as a genre will find here a series of discussions focused on critical problems in satire. Although the book is not organized as a historical survey of the major satirists from Horace to the present, the student will find that I have turned repeatedly to the same dozen figures—Horace, Juvenal, Persius, Lucian, More, Rabelais, Donne, Dryden, Swift, Pope, Blake, Byron. Not surprisingly, since the great age of satire...

  5. 1 Theories of Satire in Polemical Context
    (pp. 6-34)

    Most satiric theory, at least since the Renaissance, is polemical, ranging itself against some previous practice or claim and attempting to displace it. Typically the theorist establishes his model—Horace, say, or Juvenal—and urges that all satire follow this pattern. More generally, satiric theory may be seen as a series of attempts to deny one or both of two elements that have long clung to satire and challenged its claims to morality and artistic unity—satyr(the half man-half beast, suggesting that satire is lawless, wild, and threatening) andlanx satura(the “mixed” or “full platter,” suggesting that satire...

  6. 2 The Rhetoric of Satire: Inquiry and Provocation
    (pp. 35-70)

    Conventional satiric theory—by which I mean the consensus of those theorists who published their work around 1960—holds that the satirist operates in a world of clear standards and boundaries. As Kernan puts it, the satirist “sees the world as a battlefield between a definite, clearly understood good, which he represents, and an equally clear-cut evil. No ambiguities, no doubts about himsef, no sense of mystery troubles him, and he retains always his monolithic certainty” (Cankered Muse, pp. 21-22). To be fair, Kernan here describes not the author of satire but the author posing as “satirist.” And yet the...

  7. 3 The Rhetoric of Satire: Display and Play
    (pp. 71-94)

    If satire is inquiry and provocation, it shares a boundary not (as we usually hear) with polemical rhetoric but with philosophical (and especially ethical) writing. But by focusing on the way satire explores a moral problem or presses against our complacency, we run the risk of overemphasizing its moral intensity—to the exclusion of some other important elements. Here I want to sugget that we also need to think of much satire as a kind of rhetorical performance or rhetorical contest: as display, and as play.

    As rhetorical performance, satire is designed to win the admiration and applause of a...

  8. 4 Satiric Closure
    (pp. 95-114)

    A rhetoric of inquiry and provocation enables us to see more clearly that satire is often an “open” rather than a “closed” form, that it is concerned rather to inquire, explore, or unsettle than to declare, sum up, or conclude. Elements of playfulness and performance likewise shift our attention from satire’s ostensible end to its means. “End,” like “open” and “closed,” here refer to the satirist’s rhetorical purpose. But they can also point to formal features, to what happens at the “end” of that satire.

    Beginnings do not present a problem for the satirist. “The opening is sudden and unexpected,”...

  9. 5 Satiric Fictions and Historical Particulars
    (pp. 115-132)

    At the opening the fourth book of Pope’sDunciadthe several muses lie in chains below Dulness’s throne. The triumph of Dulness seems complete, except that “sober History” attends on Tragedy, promising “Vengeance on a bar’brous age,” and “Satyr” holds up the head of her sister, Comedy. In Pope’s allegory History and Satire then work together to keep alive some spirit of opposition to Dulness.¹ Six years earlier, in his “Character, Panegyric, and Description of the Legion Club” (1736), Swift invokes Clio, the muse of history, who conducts him to the door of the dub (representing the Irish House of...

  10. 6 The Politics of Satire
    (pp. 133-160)

    Having concluded that “reference” to a world of “history” is problematic, we can now look more closely at satireinhistory. What is the effect of satire on the world outside the text and, in particular, on its political order? Is satire essentially conservative, or subversive? Does it have any effect at all? These questions have received various answers from theorists and commentators. At present there is no clear consensus, and my earlier claims about satire may not appear to bring us any closer to one. If satire is inquiry and provocation, it bears directly on our real moral beliefs;...

  11. 7 The Pleasures of Satire
    (pp. 161-184)

    In the well-known comparison between the merits of Horace and Juvenal in his “Discourse” on satire, Dryden at one point winningly observes that Juvenal “gives me as much Pleasure as I can bear” (Works, 4:63). The remark is a salutary reminder that satire, like all other forms of literature, is designed to please. No matter how instructive, the work that does not please will be thrown away unread. Pleasure, Dryden later insists, is fully “one half of the Merits” of satire, not simply a means of attaining a moral end but itself one of the “Ends of Poetry” (4:73, 88)....

  12. Conclusion: Prospects and Further Investigations
    (pp. 185-198)

    The preceding chapters have been designed in large part to vex the calm surface of contemporary theory of satire. Upon close scrutiny, so I argue, the consensus established about 1960—and not significantly questioned since then—no longer seems valid. At a distance of a generation the old consensus seems now to reflect essentially New Critical concerns about the moral purpose and rhetorical nature of literature. Those concerns, in today’s critical climate, have been sharply challenged. Indeed, a review of the dominant theories of satire from the time of Horace to the twentieth century suggests that we should view with...

  13. Notes
    (pp. 199-224)
  14. Bibliography
    (pp. 225-236)
  15. Index
    (pp. 237-245)