Satire – What is Satire, Definition, Characteristics, Works and How to Write Satire


What is satire?

It is one of the most important sub-genres of literature within the lyrical genre, used not only in this artistic field, but has managed to transcend other scenarios such as the graphic arts and fundamentally in the performing arts.

Satire is a composition that focuses on the expression of indignation. It can be written in both prose and verse, and in some works both forms are combined. It is mostly developed in Latin literature inspired by Greek poetry. In satire, aspects such as human vices, abuses, collective vices, deficiencies are exposed through irony and ridicule.


The term satire comes from the Latin satĭra, from satŭra, which refers to overloaded or abundant. So it will give rise to a concept on which a topic that at first glance seems simple but that keeps a criticism or position with a humorous, sarcastic and ironic appearance will be treated. It is distinguished for being a sharp speech that censures someone or something.


It is a subgenre that expresses feelings of indignation towards a person, situation or object with a moralizing, critical or mocking intention. Although at first it was used for fun and entertainment purposes, it soon begins to establish a real pretension, becoming an attack on reality that questions, disapproves and gives way to reflection.

Satire becomes a literary form that allows the author to express and expose his opinion through sarcastic and ironic mockery of a real life event, character or situation.

What is satire

Origin of satire

The beginning of satire is located in Ancient Greece with iambic poetry, since it becomes one of the most important resources used by Aristophanes, one of the most relevant exponents of Greece, who focused his creations and compositions of parodic comedies. However, satire will be developed especially in Rome under the writing of authors such as Juvenal and Horace. Later it will also be worked by other authors such as Seneca, Lucian of Samosata, Lucilius, Martial, among others.

From the Middle Ages onwards, satire began to be incorporated into different literary subgenres of genres such as the narrative genre, the dramatic genre and what would later become the didactic genre (which you will find in our Literature section). Thus, they were developed into subgenres such as poetry, novels, plays, essays, short stories and plays, as well as adding resources of description and opinion.

From its approach to other genres of literature, but considering its origin within the lyric genre, satire begins to implement elements such as exaggeration, ridicule, irony and one of the most important aspects: sarcasm. In this way, it has managed to express and transmit a message towards what is intended to be a criticism with the humorous dye, capturing the attention of the public or the reader. Later on, authors such as Francisco de Quevedo, Miguel de Cervantes, George Orwell, Giovanni Boccaccio, among others, will continue to work with it.

Characteristics of satire

Although satire has been transformed over the years, it is important to keep in mind the following aspects as a fundamental and essential part of its evolution in literature and in other artistic fields where it has eventually emerged:

Sarcastic content

This is one of the most important characteristics of satire, as sarcasm and irony become key means for the expression of indignation or annoyance. Other elements such as parody, mockery and comparison also appear.


Often in satire the characters that appear are flesh and blood characters, historical figures or figures of relevance in a given context, for example.


This is another of the most important resources of satire, in which two juxtaposed or opposing facts are placed in such a way that, through their evaluation, one of them can be valued and the other devalued.


Although it is an element that is incorporated much later, it becomes one of the most important graphic resources. Thus, the drawing is impregnated with satirical dyes to represent, for example, a character through which his features are deformed and the whole figure of the individual is ridiculed, as a kind of distorted portrait where some of the features are exaggerated.

Types of satire

Satire, especially in ancient times, was identified by two types, although in later years it would take a much more focused and transformed path:

Satire written in verse

In this type of satire, topics related to common aspects of human life are handled, so that they will focus on aspects much closer to everyday life.

Menippean satire

It is the type of satire in which the composition is written both in prose and verse, so that it combines both mechanisms for the final creation. Its most important precursor was Marcus Terentius Varron, who was a writer and politician in Rome in the first century B.C. Often the subject to which this type of satire resorts is related to intellectual attitudes of the characters who become the very object of the satire.

As time went by, other types of satire began to be identified, such as the following:

Formal satire

This is a more direct type of satire in which the narrator speaks in the first person, formulating a discourse that allows him to immediately address his readers or the listening audience.

Informal satire

This is a more indirect satire in which the discourse, although it takes the same narrative form, can also take the dramatic form, so that it is distinguished mainly by the use of characters. It is the characters who carry the discourse of the satire with the dialogues they develop and the actions they perform.

How to write a satire

How to write a satire?

Writing a satire involves both the knowledge of what satire is and its main characteristics, as well as reading satires by authors recognized as representatives of the subgenre to take them as points of reference and explore their dimensions.

So, let’s see how to start:

Identify the topic

While it is in the course of writing where you will begin to find resources and aspects that can nurture the satire, ideally we should have an identified point to aim at throughout the development. For some writers the goal may be emerging along the way, even if they do not want to write satire, but if you want to focus on this subgenre, it is necessary that we have a goal we want to reach.

It is important to keep in mind that the goal can either change in the writing of the satire or even pose a completely different objective, this is part of the art of writing, as you will surely find elements with which you can explore more than one option. Keep track of the ideas that come up and take note of them.


If you have not yet defined your central theme, what you can do is to start looking around you to find an element that you can address. You can examine the popular culture of the environment you live in, examine social or political failures, celebrities and celebrities, politicians, choose a topic of general interest such as an event that is of concern to you or you can even choose viral topics that are considered to be of little relevance but of great popularity.

Nowadays you can find a lot of satire source spaces, social networks and websites are full of resources, try taking a look at them. It is possible to compose satirical mockery on family, religious, racial, cultural, etc., the possibilities are many.

Test and explore

As you begin to explore areas of interest to you in composing your satire, try different resources. Part of establishing satirical mockery or irony includes not only making fun of what is happening to another or to a particular context, but also having the ability to make fun of yourself, as self-criticism is the most efficient way to find satire.

Set an audience or reader

One thing to keep in mind is that a subgenre such as satire is meant to be read. It may well be written to give an account of a social or political situation, explain an individual activity, etc.

Make a description of the type of audience to whom you would address your satire. Consider the topic you are dealing with in the satire and the type of audience that will be aware of the topic and even identify with it. Don’t forget that without belonging to the same context, many other people could understand the mockery, so don’t discard them.

Opt for simple writing 

Your audience should easily understand the topics you are referring to, so it is key that in writing you use words that are easy to understand, avoiding impressing with a very elaborate vocabulary that is not in the context of the majority, which would only end up alienating the audience.

Another important aspect has to do with the substitution of the name of the person to whom the satire is addressed, if it is directed to someone in particular. Although it is necessary to hide part of his or her identity, for the satire to work it must be clear who you are addressing and therefore, provide all the necessary characteristics that lead the reader to discover the character’s identity. You can use a name that is similar to the real one, sounds similar and matches the person’s name.

Check the satire

As with any other composition, it is necessary that at the end you revise and reread the work you have written. This will allow you to correct basic aspects and even find flaws or details that you left out and that you can improve for the final composition. This will be key for your satire to pass the litmus test with the editors.

Authors and most important works

Since the appearance of satire as such, authors such as Seneca, Lucian of Samosata, Lucilius, Martial, Juvenal and Horace also appear. Later many more authors emerge in different regions such as Luis de Góngora, Voltaire, Charles Dickens, Juana Inés de la Cruz, Alexander Pope, Juan Ruiz, Jonathan Swift, Miguel de Cervantes in the novel “Don Quixote de la Mancha”, Giovanni Boccaccio with the work “Decameron”, George Orwell with “Animal Farm”, Francisco de Quevedo with “The Mighty Gentleman is Money” a selection of poetry, among others.

For the modern era also stand out other authors such as Woody Allen, Groucho Marx, Jorge Luis Borges, Charles Chaplin, among others.

Example of satire 

One of the most important works of this subgenre is The Mighty Gentleman is Don Money, by Francisco de Quevedo, the following is a fragment of one of his creations:

Mother, I humble myself to gold,

He is my lover and my beloved,

For purely in love

He walks continuous yellow.

Who then, doubly or simply

He does all that I want,

Mighty knight

Is Don Dinero.

He is born in the Indies honored,

Where the world accompanies him;

He comes to die in Spain,

And is in Genoa buried.

And since he who brings him to the side

He is beautiful, though he be fierce,

Mighty knight

Is Don Dinero.

To learn about other sub-genres of the lyric genre, don’t forget to keep visiting our Literature section, where you will find complete articles about each one of them.