Satire Definition, Types and Examples

satire definition

What is a satire? In this article we will be looking at the definition of what Satire is as well as the types and examples. Satire is used in so many modern works of culture or art. It’s important for us to understand what satire is. Satire can be found in television, film and books – most forms of entertainment really. The best comedians working today are using satire as a device to criticize the world around them.

Besides making people laugh, satire is now also a tool, value set to drive social change and understanding of how we see certain conceptions. Because so much of what we consume through media can be funny if we take a step back and analyze it from another perspective. Satirists and satirized alike enjoy the fact that they will always be relevant and a part of the zeitgeist. This is likely because the human condition never ceases to amaze us; as it continues to evolve, providing new challenges as well as old familiar predicaments. 

The Origins

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The origin of the word satire is uncertain, with several conflicting theories being presented. One theory is that satire derives from the Latin word “satur”. Which means “well-fed.” The phrase “lanx satura” stands for a dish full of many kinds of fruit. 

The term remained prominent until the 16th century when it was finally adopted by English authors. Including Aristophanes, who had previously used stereotyped caricatures in his plays. Whose purpose was to convey social criticism by ridiculing either political or other types of figures. Satire was further adapted through the work of Roman poet Juvenal and Augustan poet Horace. Widely regarded for his works on satiric writing that influenced Roman culture. Such as Ars Poetica and Satires respectively.

An ancient Greek poet from the Attic-period named Aristophanes wrote Lysistrata which he later set in Athens in 411 BC. His main concerns for society are the Peloponnesian War and how it affects men and women. The first movie to take direct inspiration from Aristophanes’ comedy Lysistrata was the 1927 silent film The New Road. Based on Fiorella Mattheis’ libretto of the same named opera. Directed by Edward Sloman and starring Mae Murray. It was set in a post-apocalyptic world where war has been raging for generations. It turns out that women were able to hold peace talks between two tribes after they stopped having sex with the men in their tribe.

Satire Definition, Types and Examples: In Literature

Satire is a literary genre that makes light-hearted and usually ironic commentary on human foibles, mistakes, and other shortcomings. To be satirical is to use humor, irony and exaggeration to expose our limitations. Satire about politics or war does not necessarily attack human stupidity. But can also target hypocrisy, corruption, favoritism and other vices (sexism). It may offer social critique by means of humor, irony, or ridicule. Let’s talk about the three main types of satire. 

3 Different Types Of Satire

Satire is a type of art wherein the objective is to ridicule political and religious leaders; norms of society and life; or anything else that gets you laughing. It’s been around for thousands of years, dating back to ancient times. Some examples of satirical writings include The Rape Of The Lock by Alexander Pope; William Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels just to name a few. Satire has helped make us realize some very important facts about what is right and wrong in many ways across many cultures over the years. We think it’s safe to say that we’ve taken learned some pretty useful lessons! 

There are three main types of satire: Juvenalian, Horatian, and Menippean. The first one, Juvenalian, is often more biting and critical. This is because satirical poets like to tell their audience what they really feel instead of pretending to be nice. Horatian is named after the Roman poet Horace. This type of satire is lighter in tone. The third type is called Menippean satire which was created by the Greek philosopher Menippus. He mixed both Juvenalian and Horatian styles into one literary movement called “Menippean Satire”. Let’s talk about each types in details. 

Horatian Satire 

Horace was among the first masters of satire. And his works stand as proof that this ancient art-form is as relevant today as they were in Ancient Rome. Moreover, he also introduced a unique type of wisdom with which we can all take note. Including the children and students of today. Making use of recursion to one’s advantage! An excellent example illustrating his own poetic license. He depicted a character known as an “ostentatious form of self-deprecation”. Otherwise known colloquially as the ‘wise fool’ trope. Through such an iconic figure, Shakespeare was able to present otherwise complicated dramatic situations in an easy. To digest format while promoting healthy debate amongst the literati in reference to both current events and literary culture itself.

Juvenalian Satire 

Different from Horatian satire, Juvenalian satire is seen in style as a more barbaric one, rather than comedic. It is applied to criticize the actions or purposes of a person or group in a harsh manner. With little to no humor involved. One example can be traced back during the works of Jonathan Swift’s publication entitled “A Modest Proposal”. Where one can find his approach on depicting how cruelty has become so visible within the lives of lower-class families who are diagnosed to be living at poverty level. Another famous example of this diverse genre include George Orwell’s iconic party-political writing “Animal Farm”. With its hauntingly allegorical self-referential style.

Menippean Satire 

The Menippean satire genre is a literary term named after the ancient Greek philosopher Menippus. The satirical genre itself usually mixes both Horatian and Juvenalian satire to launch humorous yet critical attacks; aimed at both individuals or groups of people. And while not confused with political correctness, it’s noted that the protagonist of this sort of satire may be either foolish or wise; therefore, recalling that the term ‘absurd’ in French (and related) culture means ‘foolish’.

One famous example is Voltaire’s Candide which is a perfect example of this form of attack. Simply because its Absurd Hero (the main character) remains optimistic despite encountering many horrific situations throughout his journey; (thanks to his teacher Pangloss); only to finally find peace as he meets his end in an open-field “courting disaster”. Suggesting it was never too late for him to completely wake up from sleep and start getting out there again more than ever before.

How To Use It 

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Satire is a literary device used to comment on society and provide people with insight into particular issues. Satire can often be found in sitcoms and films. And it commonly makes use of humor, irony and criticism to address problems that are usually quite serious. Often times satire is used to get people talking about serious issues using a more lighthearted medium. In hopes of making the public understand that these problems need addressing. There are three main ways to use satire in literature. To make a point, to bring attention to a particular issue, or to simply entertain the reader.

  • To make a point 

One way to use satire in literature is to make a point. Satire is a tool used in art to show the truth of what society is really like today. Satire points out the flaws in individuals as well as society in general. It offers suggestions as to how we can know if something written or shared is satire or not.

  • To bring attention 

Another way to use satire is to bring attention to a particular issue. Satire can be used to educate and raise awareness about an important issue or problem in society. For example, excessive violence/drug use/racism on a city’s streets by the police force could be satirized; so as to get people talking about what steps should be taken next to solve the issue.

  • To simply entertain/engage the reader

Finally, satire can be used simply to entertain the reader. Satire is often used in comedy; and it can add to a joke’s humor by adding a slight element of irony or using sarcasm. By using satire, comedians can subvert the conventions of what might otherwise come across as too cheesy or maudlin.

The Function 

Satire is meant to be a story that makes the reader laugh. It helps serve as a commentary on society and help change the way people operate. When writing satire, it’s good to remember the author is trying to show the reader how society operates in a way that is funny. So that people can have a clear picture of their faults. But then also realize their mistakes in hopes that they may reform. At least you made them laugh!


Satire is a tool that has been used to make fun of politicians, social customs, and even religion. Today, it is still used as a form of social commentary. We hope you’ve gained a better understanding of where satire comes from and how it can be used as a tool for social commentary and critique in the piece you just read!

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