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By comparing 'School for Scandal' and 'Rape of the Lock' explore the difference between wit and malice

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By comparing one drama and one poetry text you have studied explore the difference between wit and malice. It has been said "'The two basic modes of satire are good-humoured teasing and savage attack" i.e. wit and malice. Wit is often thought of to be a quickness of mind and humour whilst malice is a desire to harm others. In the definitions an immediate difference arises, that of good natured wit and ill humoured malice, indeed it is often considered that 'Rape of the Lock' is the good-humoured teasing whilst 'School for Scandal' is more malicious, 'savage attack'. Yet, is also clear that often the terms are interchangeable and irreversibly inter-woven - how far is this true in the two texts? 'Rape of the Lock' is written in a style coined 'Horatian satire' after Roman satirist Horace who said, "every play should either instruct or delight - better if it does both". This is a light satirical style which aims to create humour without being overly malicious. Here is a clear example of a way in which wit is different from malice, the 'Horatian' satirical wit seen in 'Rape of the Lock' is far from the malice viewed in School for Scandal. For example, Pope writes, 'The tortoise here and elephant unite\ Transformed to combs, the speckled and the white.' The use of heroic couplets satirizes the vanity of society that has turned grand creatures into frivolous items. ...read more.


On the other hand, it must be recalled that appearance was extremely important in society at the time. A woman who was unattractive, or whom had a damaged reputation, would never marry and would be a burden on her family forever, "'twas the next morning everywhere reported, and in a few days believed by the whole town, that Miss Letitia Piper had actually been brought to bed of a fine boy and a girl;". This reveals the damaging potential of slander, raising the line to the same moral significance, and malice, as that in 'Rape of the Lock' It seems difficult to judge the difference between wit and malice in impact on the audience, or indeed in content. Both cases are likely to evoke humour whilst often the margin seems blurred between the two in regards to content. However, the ability to offer wit without malice is highly valued among writers. In Utopia, More writes: "he is also a delightful talker , who can be witty without hurting anyone's feelings." It is clear he praises the ability to create wit in the absence of malice. However, Sheridan seems to disagree that this is possible. Lady Sneerwell remarks, "There's no possibility of being witty without a little ill nature. The malice of a good thing is the barb that makes it stick." ...read more.


The mirroring of Shakespeare follows his mock epic technique of mirroring great works of literature, furthermore, by comparing the trivial act of cutting hair with Shakespeare's great work, Pope highlights the ridiculous notion that cutting hair will grant the Baron's name immortality. The Baron is made out to be self-absorbed and ignorant, hardly a good quality. Yet the text remains witty and not malicious. One clear difference between the two texts, and perhaps wit and malice, comes in the opening. Whist Pope talks to, and involves, the audience, "What mighty contests rise from trivial things,", Sheridan directly, and openly, attacks their society, "A school for scandal! Tell me, I beseech you, Needs there a school this modish art to teach you?" This appears to highlight the difference of subtlety, whilst both writers attempt to mock the society they view around them, Sheridan is far more open and blatant in his goings. In the opening lines he mocks fashion "modish art" and the relationship that women hold with each other "a school for scandal!" Pope, in contrast, appeals to the intelligence of his audience to notice the trivial things that society makes seem important. It is highly difficult to find a passage in either text which is purely malice and not at all witty. This might suggest that malice is always witty, though wit is not always malicious. Wit in the absence of malice appears to be cleverer and more subtle, this is a clear difference between the two texts. ...read more.

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