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Parody

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English Literature

Have you ever read or seen something that seemed so serious and soulful that you wanted to laugh? Sometimes it can seem that other people take themselves too seriously - and others decide to prick that bubble of self-esteem. This is how parody begins.

A figure puncturing a balloon with a needle | StudySmarterParody punctures Self-esteemJW - StudySmarter Original created on Canva.com

What is a parody?

A parody is a work of literature written in the style of another author or written work, often fiction (prose). Imagine looking at a reflection of yourself in water. Now throw a stone in: immediately there will be ripples that change or distort the reflection. Parody works in a similar way: like a distorted reflection of the original.

Parody is mostly used to poke fun at a perceived weakness. It can also be used to suggest a new interpretation of an idea; usually in a humorous way.

For instance, a potter makes a beautiful vase with a picture of Apollo on it. His assistant, feeling it’s time for a change, makes a copy - but draws a top hat and Groucho Marx moustache on Apollo. The copy becomes a parody. The figure of Apollo may still be as fine as the original, but our perception will have changed from awe to sympathetic humour - or possibly outrage.

Other words for parody include to lampoon (a verb), to/a send-up (verb and noun), to/a take-off (verb and noun), and to/a caricature (verb and noun).

Two Apollo figures with lyres and one vase | StudySmarterThe Original versus the ParodyJW StudySmarter Original made on Canva.com

Some examples of literary parody are:

Shamela (1740)

Samuel Richardson’s Pamela, or Virtue Rewarded, was published in 1740. The story follows Pamela, a maidservant, in her prudent navigation of a relationship with her late mistress’s son, until she ultimately marries him. The story is narrated mostly through Pamela’s letters and journal entries to her parents.

An immediate bestseller, Pamela was widely imitated - although not always admiringly. In the same year (1740), Henry Fielding published his parody Shamela only five months after Pamela came out. In Shamela, the virtuous Pamela is revealed to be a very naughty woman who deliberately manipulates her wealthy master into marrying her. Fielding wrote his parody in protest at what he considered the moral hypocrisy of Pamela.

Northanger Abbey (1818)

Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey is the story of imaginative Catherine Morland, an avid reader of gothic novels, who sees everything through the tint of Gothic Romanticism. While staying in Bath she meets Henry Tilney and is invited home by his father General Tilney. The General lives at Northanger Abbey and is a widower - so according to Catherine’s Gothic precepts, he must have murdered his wife. The abbey is old - and therefore, must be haunted. There are rooms closed off in the abbey - so there must be a tremendous secret hidden within. A series of misunderstandings follow before Catherine, a little wiser than before, can marry Henry.

Austen makes fun of the Gothic novel, in particular Ann Radcliffe’s novels, by including some of its most popular tropes: old houses and ruined castles, locked rooms, and mystery. She then explains them away with common sense and humour, presenting the story as a comedy of manners.

Nightmare Abbey (1818)

Later Thomas Love Peacock also used the traits of the Gothic novel to make fun of both the Gothic genre and the Romantics - which included several of his friends - by writing Nightmare Abbey (1818). Peacock was friends with several of the Romantic greats, in particular with Shelley.

Peacock felt it was time to hold up a mirror for the Romantics to look at themselves in. They might be producing some quality work, but perhaps they were taking themselves too seriously. Nightmare Abbey is a good-humoured poke in the ribs at his friends; it seems it was taken in good part, as Shelley pronounced himself ‘delighted with Nightmare Abbey’. (Shelley, Letter to T.L.Peacock, June 1819)

The plot of Nightmare Abbey features the dilemma of Scythrop Glowry who tries to choose between the affections of two women, Marionetta and Stella. This reflects Shelley’s real-life triangular relationships, first with Harriet Westbrook and Mary Godwin (Mary Shelley) and later with Mary and her half-sister Claire Claremont. Lord Byron, Shelley and Coleridge are parodied as the characters Cypresse, Scythrop and Flosky respectively.

Ulysses (1918)

As the title suggests, James Joyce mirrors Homer’s Illiad, using the idea of Ulysses the wanderer. In the original Illiad, the Odyssey is the story of Ulysses’ return home after the battle of Troy. The journey takes years - part of Ulysses’ lifetime.

In Joyce’s Ulysses, we follow the wanderings of two characters, Stephen Dedalus and Leopold Bloom across Dublin over the course of one day until eventually, they meet. The book closes with a monologue by Bloom’s wife Molly.

Joyce roughly follows the chapters of the Odyssey and assigns his characters with the principal roles of the Odyssey: Dedalus is Telemachus, Bloom is Ulysses and Molly is Penelope.

How do you write a parody?

A parody must be a recognisable reflection of a book's style. Take Fielding’s Shamela for instance. Shamela is a parody of Richardson’s Pamela. Pamela is a virtuous, intelligent girl who refuses to be treated as a plaything by her master; the book is written as a series of letters.

To imitate Richardson, Fielding also wrote his book as a series of letters, adjusting the content - Pamela is still intelligent, but not quite so virtuous: she manipulates her master into marrying her. As a final touch, Fielding only slightly adjusts the name for his heroine: by combining the word ‘sham’ with Pamela, we get Shamela.

Fielding takes the same form (letter writing to narrate the story), and uses it to adjust the content. The actions may be similar or identical but are given a different background or intention.

Here's another example:

Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey

Austen takes the tropes of the gothic novel (haunted houses, sinister characters, frightened, fainting heroines) and re-cycles them, suggesting they are figments of Catherine’s overactive imagination. In Northanger Abbey, Catherine imagines the worst of her host, the Captain, and fancies the abbey must be haunted because it is so old.

Parody and Film

Parody is popular in the film world as well.

Parody films include:

  • Garfield - A Tale of Two Kitties, 2006 (dir. Tim Hill). The plot is very loosely based on Charles DickensA Tale of Two Cities.

  • Galaxy Quest, 1999 (dir Dean Parisot) is a parody of the Star Trek franchise

  • Alice in Wonderland, 2010 (dir. Tim Burton). Burton’s 2010 film version is a parody of the original classic children’s novel by Lewis Carroll.

What is the difference between parody and satire?

A parody is aimed at a piece of written work (prose) or a style of writing; satire is aimed at people, usually politicians, celebrities and/or events (think of the TV series Spitting Image).

Satire was popular in the 18th century with writers like Sterne (The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, 1759–67) and Sheridan (The Critic, (1779), the late 19th century with Oscar Wilde (The Importance of Being Earnest, 1895), and into the 20th century with G.B. Shaw (Pygmalion, 1913) and since the 20th century it has continued to have a recognised place in entertainment and literature. A more contemporary master of the art is Terry Pratchet, whose Discworld novels often parody literary works as well as aspects of our world. His Lords and Ladies (1992) is based on Shakespeare's Midsummer's Night Dream, while his Maskerade (1995) is a send-up of Gaston Leroux's The Phantom of the Opera (1910). Tom Holt is another author who adopts the classics to his own ends (Flying Dutch (1991,Ye Gods (1992))

Parody - Key takeaways

  • Key Takeaways A parody is written in the style of another author or written work, usually to point out weaknesses.
  • Parody examples include:
  • A parody must be a recognisable reflection of the book of style
  • A parody is aimed at a written work (prose), or style of writing; satire is aimed at people, usually politicians and celebrities and events
  • Other words for parody include: lampoon, send-up, take-off, caricature

Parody

A parody is written in the style of another author or written work, usually to point out weaknesses. 

Fielding’s  Shamela (1740), Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey (1818)

James Joyce’s Ulysses (1918) etc

A parody must be a recognisable reflection of the book of style.

A parody is aimed at a written work (prose), or style of writing; satire is aimed at people, usually politicians and celebrities and events

Final Parody Quiz

Question

What is a parody?

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Answer

A parody is written in the style of another author or written work, usually to point out weaknesses. 

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Question

What is an example of a parody?


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Answer

Parody examples include:

Fielding’s  Shamela (1740), Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey (1818)

James Joyce’s Ulysses (1918) etc

Show question

Question

How do you write a parody?


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Answer

A parody must be a recognisable reflection of the book of style.

Show question

Question

What is the difference between parody and satire?

Show answer

Answer

A parody is aimed at a written work (prose), or style of writing; satire is aimed at people, usually politicians and celebrities and events.

Show question

Question

Complete: Other words for parody include: …, send-up, take-off, …

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Answer

Other words for parody include: lampoon, send-up, take-off, caricature.

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Question

Austen takes the tropes of the gothic novel (... houses, … characters, frightened, fainting …) and re-cycles them.

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Answer

Austen takes the tropes of the gothic novel (haunted houses, sinister characters, frightened, fainting heroines) and re-cycles them.

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Question

True or False? A parody is aimed at a person or event; satire is aimed at written works or style of writing.

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8A)False: A parody is aimed at a written work, or style of writing; satire is aimed at people, usually politicians, celebrities and/or events.

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Choose (more than one answer is possible): satire was popular in the 18th century with writers like


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Answer

 Sterne

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Nightmare Abbey is a parody of... (there is more than one answer is possible). 

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Ann Radcliffe’s novels

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Complete: A parody must be a ... reflection of the book or ....

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Answer

A parody must be a recognisable reflection of the book or style.

Show question

Question

Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey is the story of imaginative Catherine Morland, an avid reader of 


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Answer

romantic novels

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Complete: Parody is like a distorted ... of the original.

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Answer

Parody is like a distorted reflection of the original.

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