On the Art of Satire

Studies how the author uses figurative speech to breathe life in to this classic piece.

The Art of Satire” by John Dryden is a complex piece. He uses a metaphor of art and drawing to convey the message that satire is indeed a fine art. “How hard to make a man appear a fool, a blockhead, or a knave without using any of those opprobrious terms! To spare the grossness of the names, and to do the thing yet more severely is to draw a full face, and to make the nose and cheeks stand out, and yet not to employ any depth of shadowing.” Dryden states here that to call a fool out without calling him a fool is like drawing a face and making it’s most prominent features shine out. Dryden states that this is extremely hard to do.

The fact that it is hard means that one must master it for one to do it right. Dryden goes on to say, “this is the mystery of that noble trade, which yet no master can teach to his apprentice”(Dryden, 915). Dryden hints here that a writer can only be guided into satire, the rest has to come from instinct, passion, luck and practice. “No master can teach to his apprentice; he may give the rules, but the scholar is never nearer the nearer in his practice.

“Yet there is still a bast difference betwixt the slovenly butchering of a man, and the fineness of a stroke that separates the head from the body and leaves it standing in its place”(Dryden, 915). Dryden uses yet another metaphor to show that satire must be done with just the right touch. It must not be sloppy like a butchering, but neat like a stroke that leaves the head in place. This death imagery and the earlier art imagery helps Dryden convey that not only can satire be beautiful and sweet and something that can be appreciated, but it can hurt and cut to the bone. Satire has to be able to cut and leave in tact. It must also be capable of being light and witty.

Dryden’s message in using drawings and murder together? Satire has many angles, applying just the right shade in the right place is the key to writing great satire. It is interesting that Dryden leaves the head in place. if the head is in place, that hints that there is room for healing and possibly reattachment. The body could heal it’s self with some aid. Perhaps the satire is to aid in the healing since it aided in the wounding. Satire mocks a situation to fix it. Perhaps by beheading a person or society, it simultaneously heals it and gives it a second chance by leaving it intact.

To the causal observer it would seem that nothing happened to the head. Dryden hints that his sword slash was laughed off. But in the end, “it succeeded as I wished; the jest went round, and he was laughed at in his turn who began the frolic”(Dryden, 915). By working through satire, Dryden changes his situation. His message: learn the art of satire, work it and it will work for you.

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  1. Liane Schmidt
    Posted November 30, 2007 at 5:48 pm

    Interesting, well written article. Nice work M.C.

    Best wishes.


    -Liane Schmidt.

  2. David Harris
    Posted March 3, 2011 at 2:06 pm

    VERY good. and helpful to my college class :)

  3. Posted April 17, 2011 at 11:18 pm

    glad it helped! :)

  4. Farah
    Posted February 17, 2013 at 11:48 am

    thanks a lot it really helps me for my presentation

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