From its early origins, satire has been significantly present in most cultural and literary expressions. As can be observed in the satiric pictures of eighteenth-century English painter William Hogarth or in the caricatures that are daily published in the most prestigious periodicals worldwide, satire has allowed many artists to channel their critical opinions through wit, irony and verbal playfulness. Therefore, satire emerges as a mechanism that enables to analyse the social, political and religious reality from indirect, pungent, sombre or humorous perspectives. Although its intention or objective might be clear to the eyes of the reader, critics have cast many doubts upon its nature and functioning. This vagueness explains why most attempts to conceptualise satire have clashed with the ambivalence of the mode. It is no wonder, thus, that it is still very difficult to categorise satire as a literary genre, mode or sub-mode, an ongoing debate that is causing a great deal of theoretical divergences.
Considering these antecedents, the present study seeks to clarify the complexities that underlie satire from both a theoretical and historical point of view. The monograph is divided in two main sections. The first is devoted to define satire and delimit its formal and thematic boundaries, for which we draw on the critical paradigms postulated by critics such as Alvin Kernan, Robert C. Elliott, Leonard Feinberg, Matthew Hodgart, Ronald Paulson or Dustin Griffin. This tentative definition is complemented by a typological classification, in which the aim will be to examine the most recurrent types of satire. To finish with this first section, the monograph includes a chapter that centres on rhetorical strategies such as irony, parody, fantasy or wit that satirists employ in their works.
Along the second part, this study will trace an overview on the evolution of satire, from its origins in the early Eskimo communities up to the twentieth century. This historical and literary survey tries to observe not only the stylistic development of the mode but also the way authors have adapted their works to the socio-political, religious or economic reality of their times. We will first explore the state of satire until the nineteenth century, to move on to the twentieth century in order to analyse the changes undergone by the mode and to comment on its literary prospects.