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What Are the Different Types of Satire?

By Mark Wollacott
Updated: May 23, 2024

There are three main types of satire: Horatian, Juvenalian, and Menippean. While each type is distinct from the other in some factors, any satire may contain elements of all three. Horatian satire gently mocks, Juvenal aims to destroy and to provoke, and Menippean spreads its mental barbs at a wide number of targets. These types should not be confused with the different satirical devices, such as wit, sarcasm, and irony.

Horatian satire is the gentlest of the types of satire. It does not aim to find evil in things; instead, it is done from an affectionate, almost loving point of view. The emphasis is put on humor and on making fun of human dysfunction. While the subject of the fun can be social vices, it is usually an individual's follies that are teased. A key element of Horatian satire, unlike most other types, is that the audience is also laughing at themselves as well as at the subject of the mockery.

A good example of Horatian satire is the works of Jane Austen. Her novels, such as Pride and Prejudice, are mild mockeries of the Gothic novels produced by other female writers of her age. In Pride and Prejudice, she turns her Horatian satire on people and how they are viewed by the rest of society. This includes the noble landowner in Mr. Darcy, the priest in William Collins, and soldiers such as George Wickham.

Juvenal satire is the harshest type of satire, and it does not hold back in its barbed lacerations of its targets. Social vices, individuals, companies, and organizations can be the targets. The purpose of such invectives is to provoke an angry reaction from the audience aimed at the subject. As a result of this intention, the humor is put into the background and biting social criticism and polarized opinion come to the forefront.

William Golding's Lord of the Flies is a good example of Juvenalian satire. The object of mockery is people's need for power and rules, and it also mocks the lengths which people go to in order to obtain power and how this lust changes them. It is also an unsentimental look at the relationships between boys and how awful they can be.

Menippean satire is named after Menippus, and most closely resembles Juvenal's ideas on satire; however, it lacks the focus of a primary target. Rather than a single target, it takes a scattergun approach that aims poisonous prongs at multiple targets. As well as not sustaining narrative and being more rhapsodic, Menippean satire is also more mental. That said, this type of humor is typically baser at the same time.

While primary examples of the types of satire as produced by Horace and Juvenal themselves survive, the same cannot be said of Menippus. A good example of Menippean satire is Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland. The whole novel is a random collection of satires about people Carroll knew or knew of and of Oxford itself, both as a city and as a lifestyle.

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