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date: 16 September 2019

Abstract and Keywords

What did eighteenth-century writers and critics have to say about satire? The relevant primary material is voluminous, including Dryden’s Discourse, Pope’s Epilogue to the Satires, essays and sermons on ridicule, authorial prefaces, and passing strictures upon particular satires. The commentary is often occasional, subjective, and partisan, usually either focusing on single works or operating in the realm of abstraction. Satire was a contentious subject for many readers and writers. It produced anxiety, because of its socio-moral consequences and because of the uncertainties of the form. No consensus existed in the realms of definition, terminology, objective, method, or target. Contemporary attitudes towards satire were decidedly mixed; few in the eighteenth century would consider satire the achievement of the age. But 1660–1745 was the aetas mirabilis of English satire, marked by rich debates about ethics and efficacy, about the aesthetics and humanity of humorous judgement—and a time of satiric production that is, quantitatively and qualitatively, astonishing.

Keywords: satire, ridicule, humour, wit, Jonathan Swift, Daniel Defoe, Alexander Pope, Joseph Addison

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