chapter  6
26 Pages

The Rhetoric of Augustan Mockery

This chapter explores the relation of mock-heroic to a habit of thought widely evident in early eighteenth-century aesthetic debate; too diffuse in its application to be called an 'idea', it provided a formula in which different ideas could be stated. It is, in brief, that attributes (as moral attributes or qualities of literary achievement) which might seem diametrically opposite can invariably be traced to a common source: that is, are cognate with one another. The good and the bad, the successful and the feckless, are not different in origin or essence but merely different in expression, and such different expressions may emerge from nothing more than fluke or serendipity. This chapter begins by making a general case for the prevalence and versatility of this concept, but my aim is to proceed eventually to argue a specifically literary point: this is, that the Augustans' sensitivity to the slim and chance-ridden line between good and bad outcomes had an especial relevance to an age that produced so many forms of mock-writing. The prolific output of parodies and mock-forms represented an avid exploitation of this perceived adjacency of the good and bad: nowhere, moreover, is this contiguity between good and bad outcomes more prosperous to mockwriting than in the relation between the true and false sublime.