Satire and humour

Discover how writers of the 17th and 18th centuries used satire and humour to address issues around politics and power, inequality and class, gender and marriage – as well as to entertain readers and audiences.

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The Rape of the Lock: A darker mirror

Article by:
Andrew Macdonald-Brown

Andrew Macdonald-Brown shows how Alexander Pope's The Rape of the Lock progresses from satirising the foolishness of wealthy young women to exposing the violence that results from unequal power relations, whether between men and women, rich and poor or imperial powers and colonised nations.

Themes:
Satire and humour, Travel, colonialism and slavery, Gender and sexuality
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Boydell's Collection of Prints illustrating Shakespeare's works

Neoclassicism

Article by:
Andrew Macdonald-Brown

Writers and craftsmen including Alexander Pope, John Dryden, Jonathan Swift and Josiah Wedgwood found inspiration in the classical period. Andrew Macdonald-Brown explores how their works adopted the style, genres, aesthetic values and subjects of Greek and Roman writers.

Themes:
Satire and humour, Language and ideas
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An introduction to Gulliver’s Travels

Article by:
John Mullan

Jonathan Swift initially did his best to conceal the fact that he was the author of Gulliver's Travels. John Mullan explores how Swift constructed the work to operate as an elaborate game, parodying travel literature, pretending to be an autobiography and containing obviously false facts presented by a deeply unreliable narrator.

Themes:
Satire and humour, Travel, colonialism and slavery, Politics and religion, Rise of the novel
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‘To lash the age’: John Gay and The Beggar’s Opera

Article by:
Andrew Dickson

Andrew Dickson introduces The Beggar's Opera and its many satirical targets, including the court of George I, the politician Robert Walpole, the British legal system and Italian opera.

Themes:
Satire and humour, Theatre and entertainment
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An introduction to The Beggar’s Opera

Article by:
Moira Goff

The Beggar's Opera was an instant hit and became the most performed play of the 18th century. Moira Goff explores the elements that made up John Gay's work, from its popular tunes and dances to its satirical targets and depiction of a criminal underworld.

Themes:
Satire and humour, Theatre and entertainment
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Sentiment and sensibility: Sheridan and The School for Scandal

Article by:
Andrew Dickson

Andrew Dickson introduces Richard Brinsley Sheridan and his most famous play, The School for Scandal.

Themes:
Politeness, sensibility and sentimentalism, Theatre and entertainment, Satire and humour
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thumbnail taken from the First edition of The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman, signed by Laurence Sterne

The ‘stuff’ of Tristram Shandy

Article by:
John Mullan

Dashes, loops, wiggles and blanks: John Mullan investigates the visual oddities of Laurence Sterne's Tristram Shandy.

Themes:
Satire and humour, Rise of the novel, Language and ideas
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Preface to Sancho: An Act of Remembrance

Preface to Sancho: An Act of Remembrance

Article by:
Paterson Joseph

Paterson Joseph describes how his research into Black British history led him to write his first play, Sancho: An Act of Remembrance. In this one-man show, Paterson Joseph inhabits the life of Ignatius Sancho, the 18th-century composer, aspiring actor, letter-writer and anti-slavery campaigner, who became the first person of African descent to vote in a British general election.

Themes:
Satire and humour, Politics and religion, Travel, colonialism and slavery
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An introduction to Evelina

Article by:
Chloe Wigston Smith

Frances Burney’s Evelina unveils the dizzying and dangerous social whirl of Georgian London, where reputations and marriages are there to be made and broken. Dr Chloe Wigston Smith investigates Burney’s critique of fashion culture and the demands it places on women, in a novel that prizes feminine resilience.

Themes:
Rise of the novel, Politeness, sensibility and sentimentalism, Satire and humour, Gender and sexuality
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The Rover: An introduction

Article by:
Elaine Hobby

Aphra Behn's The Rover engages with the social, political and sexual conditions of the 17th century, as well as with theatrical traditions of carnival and misrule. Elaine Hobby introduces Behn's play and explores how it was first performed and received.

Themes:
Satire and humour, Gender and sexuality, Politics and religion, Theatre and entertainment
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An introduction to Restoration comedy

An introduction to Restoration comedy

Article by:
Diane Maybank

Diane Maybank introduces the characters, conventions and historical context of Restoration comedy, and explores what the genre has to say about gender, courtship and class.

Themes:
Satire and humour, Politics and religion, Theatre and entertainment
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Crop for Dryden's satire article, taken from a plate in The Works of Virgil, translated by John Dryden 1697

John Dryden’s satiric poetry

Article by:
Ashley Marshall

Ashley Marshall suggests that there is more to Dryden's satiric poetry than the expression of high-minded moral values. Trace how Dryden's personal vendettas motivated some of the cruder and more vicious attacks in Mac Flecknoe, and how his satires reflected his immediate political and religious circumstances as much as timeless ideals.

Themes:
Satire and humour, Politics and religion
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Further themes

Rise of the novel

Discover how the novel emerged as a new literary form in the 18th century and examine pioneering texts, from Oroonoko and Robinson Crusoe to Gulliver’s Travels and Pamela.

Gender and sexuality

Examine representations of gender and sexuality in Restoration and 18th-century literature including Paradise Lost and The Rape of the Lock, and explore the works of early women writers such as Aphra Behn, Frances Burney and Margaret Cavendish.

Theatre and entertainment

From Restoration comedy to The Beggar’s Opera, She Stoops to Conquer and The School for Scandal: examine key plays alongside the history and conventions of Restoration and 18th-century theatre.

Politics and religion

The Civil Wars and the Restoration of the monarchy, the Enlightenment or ‘Age of Reason’, and British colonialism: investigate the political and religious contexts of Restoration and 18th-century literature.

Georgian society

Explore the Georgian period in its social, political and historical contexts, with overviews of popular politics, the rise of consumerism and entertainment.

Travel, colonialism and slavery

From Robinson Crusoe to the anti-slavery activism of Olaudah Equiano and the letters of Ignatius Sancho: explore a range of writing produced during an age of travel, trade and colonial conquest, in which Britain vastly expanded its Empire, fuelled by its involvement in slavery and the transatlantic slave trade.

Satire and humour

Discover how writers of the 17th and 18th centuries used satire and humour to address issues around politics and power, inequality and class, gender and marriage – as well as to entertain readers and audiences.

Politeness, sensibility and sentimentalism

Explore polite culture, sensibility and sentimentalism in the 18th century, and how these concepts are reflected in the writing of the period.

Language and ideas

From Johnson’s Dictionary to letter-writing, newspapers and coffee-house culture: explore how different forms and mediums helped to develop and circulate language and ideas during the long 18th century.