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Satire is the art of exposing human vice and folly. It can be seen in literature as in the works of Jonathan Swift and in other art forms such as editorial cartooning. A satire is never just a reasoned argument or mere invective. It uses mockery or some other literary or visual device to achieve an effect and hold the attention.

Literary satire

Literary satire is sometimes, but not always humorous. George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four and Jonathan Swift's A modest proposal (which suggests cannibalism as a way of dealing with the social problems created by British rule in Ireland) can scarcely be thought of as funny.

Satire frequently proceeds through allegory, sometimes to evade censorship, but sometimes for the effects that can be gained. When Spenser satirised the Elizabethan court in Mother Hubberds Tale, he made no attempt to disguise who he was aiming at.

Satire may also take the form of parody.

Satirists on satire

Jonathan Swift

  • Satire is a sort of glass, wherein beholders do generally discover everybody's face but their own.
    • The Battle of the Books, preface (1704)

Satire in art

In the 18th century, William Hogarth produced a considerable number of satirical paintings, then reproduced as prints. The best known are probably the series The Rake's Progress and Gin Lane.

See also

Notable satires