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'Fools rush into my head, and so I write' (Satire II.i, l.4). Discuss the role of satire in the work of Pope and Swift.

Extracts from this document...

Introduction

'Fools rush into my head, and so I write' (Satire II.i, l.4).Discuss the role of satire in the work of Pope and Swift. Satire can be defined as trenchant wit, irony, or sarcasm used to expose and discredit vice or folly, it seems a contradiction in terms to say that satire need have no moral lesson or didactic purpose, for the essence of satire seems to be aggression or criticism, and criticism implies a systematic measure of good and bad. An object is criticised because it falls short of some standard which the critic desires that it should reach. Inseparable from any definition of satire is its corrective purpose, expressed through a critical mode which ridicules or otherwise attacks those conditions needing reformation in the opinion of the satirist. 1 The genre of satire is arguably different from most other criticism in that satire's ultimate aim is to improve human institutions or humanity through a combination of criticism and humour. As the text of Gulliver's Travels reveals, Swift is self-consciously aware of this higher moral purpose. His intent is explicitly laid out in 'A Letter from Captain Gulliver to His Cousin Sympson,'2 which introduces the novel. In this document, the fictitious Gulliver airs some of Swift's own dissatisfaction with the changes made to his original manuscript by his publisher Benjamin Motte, who did so in the interest of political discretion. Due to the politically sensitive material contained in the manuscript, the work was initially published anonymously. In the 'Letter' Gulliver laments that while his original purpose in publishing the book was for the public good, as a result of the changes made to the manuscript without his consent, not a single of his desired effects has come to pass. Thus, by denying the intended effect, Swift in fact is able to reinstate his satirical intent. Accordingly, the best definitions of satire should be formulated from a combination of its corrective intent and its literary method of execution. ...read more.

Middle

Not youthful Kings in Battel seiz'd alive, Not scornful Virgins who their Charms survive, Not ardent Lovers robb'd of all their Bliss, Not ancient Ladies when refus'd a Kiss, Not Tyrants fierce that unrelenting die, Not Cynthia when her Manteau's pinn'd awry, E'er felt such Rage, Resentment and Despair, As Thou, sad Virgin! for thy ravish'd Hair. (The Rape of the Lock, Canto IV, ll.1-10) The first four couplets here employ rational rhymes, it is no surprise to find alive rhymed with survive, or bliss with kiss. The wit lies in the way the naturalness of the rhymes is undermined by the imbalance between the first and second lines of each couplet, setting up parallels which themselves go 'awry', between kings who didn't want to be captured and virgins who did, or between lovers who wish to give and ladies who demand to be given a kiss. The word 'awry', carefully placed as the sense of imbalance mounts to a climax, allows Pope to close the paragraph with the more unusual rhyme, of despair/hair, that governs the whole poem. What all these devices, the use of lists, rhyme, and puns have in common is that they depend for their effect on the reader's recognising them, and identifying and correcting the element of moral blindness they are intended to mimic. It is necessary that however subtle it might be, Pope's art should not be concealed. Its aim seems to be to invite the reader to replicate its clarity, and to weigh that against the external disorder. Pope's verse offers two sources of interest, the reasonableness of its form, and the unreason of the world it represents. Typically, the sharper the tension between these two, the more satisfying the verse. Pope affirms in several of his poems that his concern for man and virtue is disinterested. He says of himself in 'Epistle to Dr. Arbuthnot' (ll. 342-43), 'That not for Fame, but Virtue's better end,/ He stood the furious foe, the timid Friend. . . .' ...read more.

Conclusion

As a result, despite the long list of bizarre names and the encounters with people and places way beyond the scope of the ordinary, there remains nevertheless something uncannily familiar for the reader in the social spaces and cultures that Gulliver encounters. In the lead-up to each of the voyages, Gulliver's narration is dry and routine, without a hint of the extraordinary events to follow. For these events to be believable, the narrator must seem reliable throughout. Gulliver's insistence on his own honesty is supported by Richard Sympson's assertion that it had become a proverb in Redriff, where he lived, to say a thing was 'as true as if Mr. Gulliver had spoke it' (xxxvii). An extension of this initial strategy is to take 'any argument to its logical conclusion and on beyond it - so that the argument topples over the edge into the absurd, and thus is outrageous, and unfair, and funny'16 Swift's style is marked by a simplicity of prose that conceals an intent to satirize the social and political realities his readers take for granted. When it first appeared, Gulliver's Travels was widely read: children read it for the story and politicians read it for its treatment of current affairs. To this day, the audience for it remains as varied. Children can read the novel for the marvels contained within and adults for the depths of its speculations. All of these techniques used in satire 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. The application of the ironic method of satire uses those techniques which most easily allow the presentation of irony: the several techniques also provide variety, concision, and an opportunity for employing wit and humor. The essential meaning of a satire is seldom if ever consistent with a literal interpretation, yet the literal interpretation is extremely important for what it says about the essential meaning, and about the target or audience which can be reached only in an indirect way. ...read more.

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