Augustan Satire Reconsidered

Tale-stagesBrooke Allen at The Hudson Review:

And what riches they are! How tempting are obscure titles like the Earl of Rochester’sSeigneur Dildoe! Or David Garrick’s Shakespearean parody Ragandjaw, in spite of the fact that according to Marshall it “provides little more than sophomoric humor and coarse entertainment.” It makes us wonder which of our own topical satires will stand the test of a couple of hundred years. Perhaps as few as comprise the standard Restoration and Augustan canon; for of all the literary modes in existence, satire is the most “purposive,” to use academic jargon—the most dependent on events of the moment. South Park, screamingly funny now, will probably be incomprehensible to viewers a century hence, while some of Stephen Colbert’s apparently topical rants might prove to be for all time: his classic “Truthiness” episode is as universally applicable as some of the masterpieces of his spiritual forebear, Jonathan Swift. Dr. Strangelove, which would seem to be deeply inscribed in the context of Cold War paranoia, still speaks to us as strongly as ever and will probably do so for many decades to come. Scholars and common readers of the future will determine the late twentieth- and early twenty-first-century canon, but it is probably safe to say that, as has been the case with the Augustans, the works that will last are those that deal with human nature itself rather than mere current events.

more here.