‘Tragedy’ and ‘satire’ are the weapons used by men of letters for different ends. Tragedy arouses the emotions of pity and fear in the hearts of viewers and readers; while satire makes them laugh as well as make them see the real picture lying beneath the one appeared on the surface. Now, let us discuss in detail how the use of satire in writing literature conveys effectively the message of religious and political corruption as compared to the use of tragedy.
Tragedy primarily deals with the disaster that comes to those individuals who represent the flaws and shortcomings that are, to a large extent, universal. Tragedy is basically a cry of protest against the tragic circumstances and situations in which the tragic hero finds himself. Aristotle in his book Poetics says that the aim of these incidents is to arouse the emotions of ‘pity and fear’ in the hearts of viewers and readers in order to carry out the ‘catharsis of such emotions’.
He also believes that these incidences should happen to the hero not by some ‘vice and depravity’ on the part of the hero but by some ‘error of judgment. ’ So the basic aim of tragedy is purging the viewer of the emotions of pity and fear and not that of making him particularly aware of the corruption, depredations, degradations and problems existing in the society in the realms of morality, religion, politics etc. So a number of times it happen that the viewers weep at the tragic situations instead of thinking about the social and religious problems encountered by the hero of the story.
For instance, ‘the duchess of Malfi’ makes the viewers less aware of the political and religious corruption existing at the time in the Jacobean society and more aware of the misfortunes and troubles that fall upon the duchess and Antonio –her second husband. Yes, Webster raised his fingers towards the corrupt practices existing at the time in the palace by the example of greedy, lunatic and incestuous Ferdinand and towards the corrupt religious situation by the example of the cardinal-the duchess’s brother, who plays an important role in conspiring the murder of her sister, has a mistress and then killed her afterwards.
The murder of Duchess, Antonio, Bosola and the excessive terror and violence in the last scenes nauseates the viewers and do not give them enough time and space to ponder over the social, political and religious violations existing at the time and discussed in the play. On the other hand, satirist is believed to be a kind of self-appointed guardian of social standards, of truth, of moral, political, religious and ethical values.
He is a man who is supposed to take upon himself the task of correcting, censuring and ridiculing the follies and vices existing in the society and thus to bring contempt and derision upon the deviations and irregularities from civilized and widely-acceptable social norms. Satirical comedy is meant to be dramatic, whose basic and primary purpose is to expose, censure and ridicule the follies, vices and shortcomings existing in the realms of society, ethics, politics, and religion.
Thus as compared to the use of tragedy the use of satire works best as a weapon aiming at exposing the political, religious and social and ethical corruption of an era. Let us discuss it in detail with the examples of Gay’s ‘the Beggars’ Opera’ and Jonathan Swift’s ‘the Gulliver’s Travels’. Gay’s ‘The Beggars’ Opera’ is intended to be a satire on the politics and society of his time. The heroes and the heroines undergo many difficulties and there were, at times, clear indication of impending deaths.
But the opera does not make the viewers teary, rather it amuse them, make them laugh and at the same time made them think on the bleak political, ethical, and social scenario prevailing at the time. The viewer’s attention was directed towards the political corruptions, thefts, and high-handed tactics adopted by Sir Robert Walpole-the prime minister of England at that time- by the examples of Peachum and Macheath. Peachum’s behavior as a thief, as a womanizer, and as a double-crosser directly aims at Sir Robert Walpole, who was also known as a corrupt leader as well as an adulterer at that time.
Then the attention of the viewers was directed towards the corrupted ethical state of the society of that time by the examples of unmarried mothers in ‘the Beggars Opera’, by the example of Polly and Lucy. The corruption is shown to be permeated deep down in the annals of the society and the music, crispy and thought provoking scenes and dialogues made the viewers seriously think and ponder on the state of affairs. Unlike ‘the Duchess of Malfi’, the viewers of the Beggars Opera’ did not weep but the use of satire made them think and make decisions about the issues towards which there attention was directed by the writer of the Opera.
Jonathan Swift in his book ‘the Gulliver’s Travels’ made pungent satire at the political, ethical, intellectual, physical and religious aspects of the English society of that time. He criticizes the politics of his time by making the readers feel, with the examples of the distribution of three colored ribbons to the winners in games, walking on tight rope, etc. that how the political offices at that time were distributed, not on the basis of intellect and political sagacity but on the basis of petty acrobatic skills.
Flimnap-the Lilliputian treasurer, is a grotesque representation of Sir Robert Walpole. The Lilliputian palace intrigues are the satiric representation by Swift of the English Royal palace’s state of affairs. The king of Lilliput made the readers think about the greed and avarice and tyranny to which a king can fall. The by the example of Brobdingnagian King’s references to the politics and history of England of that time was very cutting and biting for the English readers- who think the politics of their country as the best of all in the world.
The King’s remark that only justice and common sense is required to run the governments and not the bulk of books is also very thought provoking. All this was meant by Swift to shake the people out of their complacency and make them think how horrible the state of affairs has been. Swift made a reference to the corrupted religious situation of the time by discussing the feuds between the big-endians and the small-endians. This was a war waged between two groups of Lilliputian, one group insist on breaking the egg from its smaller end , while the other insisted on breaking it from the bigger end.
This is a reference to the intellectual conflicts going on between the different religious sects at that time in England. The most pungent and intensely thought provoking satire is written in the last section of the book where yahoos are compared with the brutal elements in the human nature while horses-houyhnhnms-are considered as the paragons of wisdom and intellect. Yahoos are always ready to fight with one another; they are portrayed as very greedy, querulous, lecherous and gluttonous.
Houyhnhnms are thinking of banishing the race of yahoos from their area. Thus from this whole discussion we gather that as compared to tragedy , the weapon of satire is better able to convey the social, political and ethical corruption prevailing at the time of writing of that piece of art to the readers and viewers. Tragedy primarily discusses the sorrows and misfortunes related to a single person, it purges the viewers and readers of the emotions of pity and fear by evoking and fashioning these emotions in them.
Satire on the other hand is a tool with which the writer exposes the multi-dimensional social ills of the society with a smile on his face. The readers and viewers laugh with the writer and at the same time think about making amends of the faults and problems prevailing in the society. The satire does not nauseate the viewers and so they are left with enough energy to think about correcting the society and doing the needful.