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Satire is a literary and artistic genre that uses humour, irony, exaggeration, and ridicule to criticise and expose the flaws, vices, and follies of individuals, societies, institutions, or even entire civilisations. It often aims to provoke thought and encourage change by highlighting the absurdities and contradictions in the subject it addresses. Satire can be subtle or overt and employed in various mediums, including literature, theatre, film, television, and visual arts.


Humour is the primary vehicle for satire. It employs comedy to entertain and soften the sting of the critique so that the audience more readily accepts it. By making the audience laugh, satire can make severe and uncomfortable topics more accessible and engaging. This can range from lighthearted wit to dark, biting sarcasm. The humour in satire often derives from the absurdity of the situations or the behaviour being critiqued.


Irony is presenting something in a way that is deliberately opposite to its true meaning, often to highlight a contrast. It creates a discrepancy between appearance and reality, highlighting the contradictions in the subject matter. Types of irony include verbal irony (saying the opposite of what one means), situational irony (a discrepancy between expected and actual outcomes), and dramatic irony (where the audience knows something the characters do not).

Exaggeration (Hyperbole)

Exaggeration amplifies the characteristics of the subject to ridiculous proportions to highlight its flaws and absurdities. Examples are caricatures in political cartoons that exaggerate a politician’s features, behaviour, or hyperbolic statements in writing.


Ridicule involves making fun of the subject in a way that belittles it, pointing out its flaws through mockery. An example is parody is imitating a particular style or genre to expose its shortcomings or lampooning specific individuals or groups.


Parody imitates the style or content of another work, genre, or artist to poke fun at it and criticise its shortcomings. A movie that mimics the conventions of spy films to highlight their clichés and unrealistic aspects is an example.

Social Critique

Satire is primarily a form of social critique. It allows writers and artists to draw attention to societal problems and challenge the status quo.

Purposeful Ambiguity

Sometimes, satire is deliberately ambiguous, challenging audiences to decide whether the content is serious. This ambiguity can lead to different interpretations and discussions about the material—thus achieving the goal of engaging society in self-reflection.

Intellectual Engagement

Satire often requires the audience to be knowledgeable about the subject being satirised. Recognising the underlying commentary involves understanding the context and nuances of the issue.


The target of satire is broad and can include individuals, types of behaviour, societal norms, institutions, politics, and all aspects of culture.

Ethical Balance

Good satire strikes an ethical balance: it criticises illuminating truths and encourages improvement rather than maligning an individual for amusement.

Types of Satire

Juvenalian Satire

Named after the Roman satirist Juvenal, Juvenalian satire is characterised by its harshness, bitterness, and indignation. It targets societal injustices, corruption, hypocrisy, and moral shortcomings with a tone of anger and moral outrage. It often seeks to provoke a serious response from the audience and may employ more direct and confrontational techniques.

Horatian Satire

Named after the Roman poet Horace, Horatian satire is characterised by its light-heartedness, wit, and playful tone. It aims to entertain and amuse while gently mocking human folly, absurdity, and pretension. It often uses humour, irony, and satire to critique societal norms, conventions, and foibles more lightheartedly and subtly.

Menippean Satire

Named after the Greek satirist Menippus, this form of satire is characterised by its complexity, philosophical depth, and eclectic structure. Menippean satire often blends various literary genres, styles, and modes of expression to critique a wide range of philosophical, religious, and cultural ideas. It may incorporate prose, poetry, dialogue, philosophy, and fantasy elements to explore complex themes and challenge conventional wisdom.

Examples of Satire in Different Mediums


    • Animal Farm by George Orwell: Uses allegory to satirise the Russian Revolution and the corruption of socialist ideals.
    • Catch-22 by Joseph Heller: Satirises the absurdities of war and bureaucratic operations.

Television and Film

    • Dr. Strangelove: A satirical film that critiques the Cold War mentality and the absurdity of nuclear deterrence.
    • The Daily Show: A satirical news program that uses humour and irony to critique current events and media coverage.


    • Lysistrata by Aristophanes: An ancient Greek comedy that uses satire to comment on the futility of war and the power dynamics between men and women.
    • The Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde: A play that satirises the superficial nature and hypocrisy of Victorian society.

Visual Arts

    • Political Cartoons: Often use caricature and exaggeration to comment on current events, political figures, and social issues.
    • Banksy’s Street Art: Frequently satirical, addressing issues such as consumerism, politics, and social injustices.

Effective satire often depends heavily on the knowledge of the audience, as it frequently alludes to specific events, figures, or trends that require some level of awareness to be fully understood and appreciated. Misinterpretation of satire can occur if the audience misunderstands the satirical nature of the content or the context in which it is delivered. Nevertheless, satire remains a potent form of social and political commentary, with the power to influence public opinion and generate discourse.