Satire, Parody and Farce

What’s the difference between satire, parody and farce? What about the difference between satire and irony? I frequently conflate these terms, so I looked up some definitions and examples.

SATIRE

Satire is the comedy of beliefs, especially those on which an entire society is based.

Satire has been around for as long as complex human hierarchy has been around — probably since the age of agriculture. Satire was flourishing at the epoch of the Renaissance. Satire was the most important genre of the epoch. This makes sense — the Renaissance was all about change, and satire is all about mocking the old and ushering in the new.

But the following five forms of satire were most common during the Middle Ages (all related to folklore):

  1. The fool satire — popular also throughout Europe from the 15th to the 17th century. Starred the fool or jester who represented the weaknesses, vices, and grotesqueries of contemporary society. Mr Bean would be a modern example. The fool tries to get away with stuff but is found out (unmasked). See also the IT Crowd.
  2. The rascal satire — often interchangeable with the fool satire. But the rascal is not so much ridiculed and unmasked. He serves as a touchstone for the surrounding world. He is trying to gain entrance to organisations and estates of the medieval world.
  3. The satire of greediness and drunkenness — often depicted by a character with a fat belly. This character is linked to fertility, rebirth and universal excess. Greedy characters have two sides to them (as in any carnivalesque tale) — the mocking of greed and idleness are combined with a positive and joyful accentuation of the very material-corporeal principle.
  4. The estate satire — the three estates were the clergy, nobility and peasantry. (Women weren’t included — women were a separate class.) Estates satire praised the glories and purity of each class in its ideal form, but was also used as a window to show how society had gotten out of hand.
  5. Satirical sirventes  ‘service songs’ — a genre of Old Occitan lyric poetry practised by the troubadours, written from the perspective of servicemen.

The satirical element also found expression in other genres of medieval literature, including in church drama and street performance.

Persistent Forms: Explorations in Historical Poetics by Ilya Kilger et al

Comedy in general tends to say something pessimistic about the nature of humankind, and satire is the most effective way of transmitting that message.

THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN SATIRE AND IRONY

Satire and irony are not the same, but they commonly go together. Satire is the comedy of beliefs, especially those on which an entire society is based.

Irony is a form of story logic in which characters get the opposite of what they want and takes action to get. When it’s used over an entire story and not just for a moment, irony is a grand pattern that connects all actions in the story and expresses a philosophy of how the world works.

Irony also has a bemused tone that encourages the audience to laugh at the relative incompetence of the characters.

In the satiric-ironic form, you make the moral argument by constantly setting up a contrast between a character who thinks they are being moral — supporting the beliefs of the society — and the effects of those actions and beliefs, which are decidedly immoral.

— John Truby

PARODY

Parody – a form of satire that imitates the characteristic style of a particular writer, musician, artist, speaker or genre using deliberate exaggeration for a comic effect.

(Though the epoch of the Renaissance was all about satire, it was also full of parody.)

FARCE

Think of ‘farce’ as ‘broad satire’. And by ‘broad’ we mean satire that isn’t very subtle. A farce will make use of certain over-the-top techniques:

  • physical comedy
  • unlikely situations
  • over-the-top gags

When we’re not talking about comedy, ‘farce’ describes a real life situation which started off serious but has now devolved into ridiculousness.

OTHER SIMILAR WORDS?

Perhaps these words don’t adequately cover contemporary humour.

Header photo by Scott Webb