DRYDEN AS A SATIRIST
As you all know that Satire can be seen as the art of diminishing or derogating a subject by making it ridiculous and evoking amusement, contempt, scorn or indignation. It differs from the comic in that comedy evokes laughter as an end in itself, while satire uses laughter as a weapon. In his Introduction to the book 18th Century Satire Howard D. Weinbrot writes:
“Whether through native gift, experience with dramatic dialogue, breadth of classical and modern reading, or all of the above, Dryden could give satire shape, variety, and appealing public urgency for private concerns. Both in the largely punitive Mac Flecknoe (1682, 1684) and the corrective heroic satire Absalom and Achitophel (1681), Dryden offers unity of plot, diversity of voice, and community of response between satirist and audience, and at times even between the satirist and the satirized.”
Dryden also claims in the preface to Absalom and Achitophel, those who wrongly “imagine I have done my worst, may be convinc’d, at their own cost that I can write severely, with more ease, than I can gently.” Those who have read Dryden comprehensively would readily agree that this is a poetic technique that has been abundantly used in his other poems like the “Epistle to the Whigs” and The Medall.
Before the poem Absalom and Achitophel begins, we find Dryden making yet another clear statement on his role as a poet as well as a social critic. He says:
“Yet if a poem have a genius, it will force its own reception in the world; for there is a sweetness in good verse, which tickles even while it hurts; and no man can be heartily angry with him who pleases him against his will. The commendation of adversaries is the greatest triumph of a writer, because it never comes unless extorted. However, I can be satisfied on more easy terms: if I happen to please the more moderate sort, I shall be sure of an honest party and, in all probability, of the best judges; for the least concerned are commonly the least corrupt. And I confess I have laid in for those, by rebating the satire, where justice would allow it, from carrying too sharp an edge.”
Then we find the most famous explanation of the satirist Dryden: “The true end of satire is the amendment of vices by correction. And he who writes honestly is no more an enemy to the offender than the physician to the patient, when he prescribes harsh remedies to an inveterate disease.” Such clear and frank deliberation on his own art of writing makes his role as a social critic much more convincing.