The Scope of Satire: Essay - Summary & Analysis

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The Representative Nature Of The Club

      The Spectator is a member of a club. This club has its members who represent all the important classes of the country. It is thus easy for the Spectator to gather material regarding the various classes. He can get information not only about the city but about the whole country. It also ensures that the rights and privileges of no class are violated or transgressed. One night, as they were all sitting together, the members started making comments on what the Spectator had written so far.

Objections From Different Quarters, and Suggestions

      Will Honeycomb referred to some ladies who had felt offended at the Spectator’s remarks regarding the opera and the puppet shows. They also felt that the dress and equipment of persons of quality were no fit subjects for satire. Sir Andrew Freeport felt that the papers referred to by Will Honeycomb had in fact done a great deal of good. He said that their wives and daughters were much better for it. The city, he said, had approved of the Spectator’s policy of attacking folly and vice in general and not condescending to particularise. He suggested that the Spectator, however, should not satirize the aldermen and merchant class but attack the vices of the court circles. The Templar disagreed with Sir Andrew by saying that the city had always been the object of satire. He agreed that court follies should also be satirized but requested that lawyers be left out as there was no precedent in literature for lawyers being the object of satire. Captain Sentry praised the paper but said that it should continue to be discreet about the army. Sir Roger expressed his contempt for the views of the other members and advised the Spectator to satirize whom he pleased. But, he said, he should leave the country squires alone. Some of them were not too happy with the frivolous treatment given to fox hunting by the paper.

The Supporter of the Spectator

      As the Spectator was sadly wondering what to do as all the subjects of his satire seemed to be disappearing, he got the support of the Clergyman. This learned man said that no walk of life was exempt from satire and ridicule if there was some folly or vice in it. It was not rank but innocence that exempted people from satire. High classes should not be exempted and these classes were more suitable targets for satire. The poor were already so depressed that to satirize them would be cruelty. The Spectator, he said, should continue in his work. The paper would do good to the public by condemning the vices which were below the range of law and too trivial for the consideration of the clergy. The members agreed with the clergyman. They agreed not to object.

Scope of Satire

      The Spectator decided that he would continue in his campaign against the vices and follies of society and not let any remonstrances hinder him in this. He would criticize folly and vice wherever he met it, and in whichever rank he saw it. He would not spare anything that went against the dictates of good manners or shocked modesty. But, he says, he did this with the best of intentions. The reader should realize that he bore them no ill-will. He would be satirizing in a general manner and not hold up individuals to ridicule.


      The Scope of Satire, is an important paper written by Addison as it deals with the scope of his satire. The Spectator was a paper founded with the basic purpose of reforming the society of the day of its follies and empty vanities. He introduces the other members of the club (who have already been described in the essay by Steele, Of the Club), and indicates the classes which they represented. The essay can be said to be a manifesto of the writers of the paper. Addison makes a humorous dig at the human tendency to try to regard the particular class to which one belongs as superior to the others. The members demand exemption from satire for the particular classes to which they belong. But the clergyman who has been introduced in the earlier essay as a very wise and learned man sets matters right and they all agree to accept the Spectator’s writings as they are. The points that the Spectator means to keep in mind while he satirizes are, firstly, that, the editor will behave as the defender of good manners and modesty. He would attack and expose to ridicule any transgression of these. He would not spare any rank or class of society which exhibits any kind of folly. He was to ridicule those shortcomings and vices of society that were too petty for legal action or the castigation of the religious preachers. He would try to inculcate good taste in the readers by satirizing anything that was a breach of decorum. The stage and puppet shows were not exempt from the sphere of his satire. But he would keep in mind not to satirize poverty or misfortune. He would not attack any individual person in his aim of reforming public manners. His satire would be general and not particular. This is an important aspect of Addison’s satire. He would create characters who are social types and not representations of any particular person.

      Addison’s humor is always present in the essay The Scope of Satire. There is the humorous anecdote of the old man with two wives and then there is the humorous reference to the situation of the Roman triumvirate. These add liveliness to the discussion of an abstract subject. Another technique that adds to the interest and liveliness of the essay, is the fact that the discussion is conducted in a dramatic setting. Each character is made to give views and suggestions which develop the essay. Some of them become the spokesmen of Addison’s points of view.


      Line. 5—10. The club......whole kingdom: In this essay, Addison sets out to put down the ideal and scope or range of his satire. He and Steele founded the Spectator Club for the main purpose of banishing vice and folly from the English society. Though the topic he discusses is often abstract, Addison makes it interesting and lively for the reader by involving dramatic settings and characters as he does here. The Spectator Club is a mixed bag. All the important classes of the society are represented in this club. This helps the Spectator to get his materials and suggestions. He can get his information regarding everything happening within each particular class. He gets information not only about the city but about different parts of the country as a whole. Thus the Spectator is well-informed and is quite qualified to satirize the follies and shortcomings of this society.

      Line. 29—33. All their wives......intrigues: In this essay, the members of the Spectator Club tell Addison, the Spectator, what they felt about his essays. Will Honeycomb told him that some ladies had not been very pleased with his remarks about the opera and puppet shows. Here Sir Andrew interrupted and said that, on the other hand, the wives and daughters of the merchants in the city had benefited from these papers which have criticized. Sir Andrew felt that these essays were doing a lot of good to the merchant class. He also felt that the papers had done good in respect of suggesting better habits or ways of spending time. Besides, the people of the city, i.e., the merchant class, appreciated Addison’s manner of attacking and criticizing follies and vices in general and not exposing individuals or particular scandals. Sir Andrew is made a mouthpiece through which Addison’s sphere of satire is presented. He aimed to expose folly and vice but of the type which belonged to a class as a whole and not that which was of an individual. He intended general satire and not personal satire.

      Line. 61—66. By this time......bald and naked: The members of the Spectator Club represented the different classes of the society. Humorously enough each member was averse to the idea of his particular class of society being criticized for its follies and vice. Satire was alright if their particular class was left alone! At that rate, the Spectator felt that he would not be left with any material for his satire, because he would not be allowed to satirize any of the classes of society. He compares himself to a man with two wives, one of whom disliked white hair and plucked out all white hair from his head. The other did not like black hair and plucked out all the black hair from his head. As a result, he was bald and without hair on his head. This humorous anecdote adds interest while being very apt in the situation. Addison’s satire was deprived of all its targets by the members of the Club.

      Line. 72—77. That vice and folly......circumstances: Addison felt that he had been deprived of all the topics which he could satirize because each member of the Club wanted his particular class to be exempted from satire. At this moment he got the support of the clergyman who sometimes came to the Club. He said that vice and folly were to be attacked and no place was too high to be exempted from the attack of satire if it presented some folly. Folly and vice should be attacked wherever it is be found. If the papers were to attack poverty and the poor classes, it would be indulging in unfair criticism, making the already unhappy classes more depressed. This would in fact, expose the Spectator papers themselves to ridicule. Folly should be especially attacked if it appears in the prominent classes of the society. It is appropriate that the clergyman should speak out so rationally as we have been told in an earlier essay, of The Club, that he was a sensible and learned man to whom the rest of the members listened respectfully. The clergyman becomes another spokesman for Addison through whom his range and justification for satire is expressed.

      Line. 77—84. He afterward......bestowed: The Spectator was left without a single area for his satire when the other members wanted the particular classes that they represented to be exempted from the scope of the satire. The Spectator was in a dilemma, when the learned clergyman, who used to come to the club sometimes, spoke up in his support. He said that folly and vice were to be attacked wherever they were found and no class could be exempted from satire if it deserved it, least of all, the important classes of society. He further encouraged the author by saying that the paper could do a great deal of good to the public. It would check and rebuke those vices which were too trivial or beyond the scope of the law, and those follies and ills of society which were not serious sins to be taken notice of by a religious preacher of a church. Thus the scope of Addison’s satire is clearly defined. He would attack those superficial absurdities and vanities of society, those follies and vices which result from extravagance and a breach of decorum and decency. He was not going to make his province, the serious offenses and crimes which could be dealt with by the law, nor was he going to deal with serious sins which was the province of the religious institutions. He was a lay preacher who wanted to and aimed at curing society of the minor faults of behavior and boorishness and ignorance. It is noteworthy how Addison uses a spokesman to express his own intentions and area of satire. This gives interest and liveliness to the essay. The clergyman who, we have been told in an earlier essay, is wise and learned, says that if Addison continued to do what he intended, he would get the praise of those enlightened people whose words of praise truly mattered.

      Line. 107-117. If Punch grows of mankind: The clergyman had pointed out that the other members of the Club were unjust in demanding their particular classes to be exempted from the satire of the Spectator. He supported the Spectator’s aim of holding up to ridicule the follies and vices of society. The other members fell in with his views readily. Addison here declares that he, as the Spectator, would not allow unfavorable reactions from a part of society to deter him from ridiculing the follies and vices of society. Referring to the popular puppet show of Punch and Judy, brought into the country by Martin Powel in 1710, he says that if Punch crossed the limits of decency in his exuberant and noisy speeches, the Spectator would not hesitate to criticize him. If the stage became the breeding ground of foolishness and insolence and incivility, he would speak out against it. He would not be afraid to comment upon this breach of good manners. Whatever he found, he felt was against the dictates of good behavior and shocked the feelings of decency, and wherever he found it— whether in the class of merchants, the high society of the courts, or the countryside, he would bravely condemn it and hold it up to ridicule. The Spectator, however, adds that his satire will not be directed against any individual. The target of satire will riot be a particular person but a class as a whole. If he portrayed a character with a certain fault, it would not be the portrait of any individual as such but the symbol of certain follies and vices, and as such would resemble thousands of people. He intended his satire with all the goodwill to humanity, with the purpose of reforming it out of these follies, and not because he disliked mankind. This paragraph sets forth the basis of Addison’s satire and brings to the fore the essential humanity and urbanity of the author. His good taste is also evident. His satire was prompted by his inclination to reform mankind out of folly. But one cannot help feeling the sense of superiority that Addison exhibited in his reforming zeal.

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