Writing satire: Tone in satire

There are two main styles of satire that are distinguished by the tone that is being used. Before writing satire, it’s important to decide what tone you will use.

    • Juvenalian (bitter, biting, harsh, sarcastic, attacking social evil) – like Jonathan Swift’s A Modest Proposal
      • The message of this type of satire is “this is evil”
    • Horatian (gentle, mild, light-hearted) – like most, not all, “fake news” satire
      • The message of this type of satire is “this is silly”

Generally, an audience will respond with laughter to Horatian satire. However, a Juvenalian tone may be important if you are tackling major social problems with your satire. Jonathan Swift, for example, critiqued the upperclass of 18th century Ireland who allowed thousands of people to starve on the streets with little care. His writing would not have been effective if he had taken on a lighter Horatian tone. An angry, biting tone was much more appropriate for the subject matter. That being said, there still is a clever dark humour in Jonathan Swift’s work.

(Click here to return to Teaching satire)