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date: 13 December 2019

Abstract and Keywords

While eighteenth-century poets were among the most proficient ironists in the history of English literature, they were surprisingly unsophisticated in their discussion of its operations. Although irony can be found across the genres and across the decades, it was especially associated with politics and satire, and rarely kept company with sensibility and lyric. Poets associated irony with certain tones of voice, and were conscious of the formal clues on the printed page that activated ironic readings. They sometimes fretted about the possibility that intended ironies would go unnoticed—or, worse, that sincerity would be interpreted as irony. Some even proposed typographical indications of irony, forerunners of the e-mail age’s smiley. In the absence of typographical cues, some poets found that triple meters and multiple rhyme often signaled insincerity. Others, though, seem to revel in the possibility of being misunderstood.

Keywords: poetry, irony, satire, typography, voice

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