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The Library of Renaissance Symbolism
The Symbolic Literature of the Renaissance

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Authority: Erasmus 1528

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The etymology is from the Latin satura, meaning ‘mixture’ and satyr, the lascivious Greek mythological being. This accidental combination gives the genre its hard-edged, aggressive tone.

     A satire is piece of poetry or prose which attacks anything or anyone hated or feared and as with the joke, is validated by the insight of Aristotle that wit is a type of metaphor. During classical times there were two distinct forms of satire, Menippean, named after the philosopher, Menippus, which was a mix (often chaotic) of verse and prose and epic verse satire founded by Lucilius. Both these forms survived to the Renaissance. During the late Middle Ages many of the works we have cited as allegories contained an element of satire and by the time of the Renaissance, the bonds of ecclesiastical authority had loosened and the thrust of the allegory had shifted from spiritual symbolism to the moral and political. Satire became universal and is exemplified by the famous works of paradox.

     A further popular type of satire was the Testament inspired originally by the 1st century Roman Testamentum Porcelli in which a pig laments his fate as he is prepared for the pot and outlines his last will and testament. There were dozens of examples of the medieval testament, satires making fun of the wills of animals or public figures. A late and famous testament was that by Jonathan Swift from 1742 in which he satirized himself. A similar genre was the Complaint the tone of which is self-evident and the subject of which was most often the scornful and unrelenting mistress. This was allied to the Lament in which this time the subject was mostly the lover who had by now died of frustration. Piers Plowman by Langland (from 1368) was a subgenre of Complaint this time against the Church. It identified the lowly plowman with Christ himself and spawned its own subset of satirical works called ‘plowman writings.’

     An extreme form of satire was the Sottie or Fools Play in which the actors taking advatage of theaonymity of their costumes could make fun of the great men of the time (Arden).

     Another genre frequent in English literature were works entitled "Newes from..." with "newes" having its journalistic meaning and being a translation of "novella," something novel and short. There were satires, ballads, jokes, and prose pieces with the title "Newes...."

     Yet another was the letters of the cock to the ass--a genre of satirical verse associated with Marot (see Meylan) and similar to the pasquinade in Italy.

See also: Burlesques, Jokes, Equivoques
Aubailly, Jean-Claude Le monologue, le dialogue et la sottie Paris: 1976
Nelson La sottie sans souci Paris: 1977