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JONATHAN SWIFT

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Source: Portraits of Jonathan Swift

Genealogical resources: Jonathan Swift

SPECTRUM Biographies - Jonathan Swift

Hertford College: Jonathan Swift

Swift was a man of affairs who became a writer because literature was a way of getting affairs directed. His method was to expose a sham or evil by setting up a more outrageous evil against it, and defending the latter with serious irony.  

The Comedy of Manners

The Comedy of Manners is a play which satirizes the customs, attitudes and manners of a society. Some of these manners include the way people dress, behave, think and talk; specifically, the manners in which people "act" are satirized. The origination of the comedy of manners is said to be Menander (c. 342 BC-291 BC), and its forms can be seen in Roman plays. However, it is primarily associated with the Restoration and Eighteenth Century era in England. The comedy of manners is characterized by witty dialogue, and uses repartee. This device depicts a verbal wordplay where characters try to top one another. Also among these characteristics are the violations of social norms and an emphasis on fashion, social behavior and speech. The audience plays a crucial role in that their knowledge of the particulars of that society are necessary to scoff at what is being satirized.

William Wycherly, John Dryden, George Etherege, William Congreve, Oliver Goldsmith and Richard Sheridan are often cited as exemplary playwrights of the comedy of manners.
Beyond the art of Congreve, Restoration comedy of manners could not advance. Its essential excellences and its essential limitations were completely realized in his work. In brilliant dialogue, in vivid contrasts of social types, in the expression of that eager, yet formal urbanity of temper which characterized Restoration society at its best, Congreve triumphed over all other comic dramatists of his age (Kathleen Lynch 217).


Gulliver's Travel (1726)

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Source: Gulliver's Travels

Summary

Study Questions

General Questions

Links

Summary

Pt. I:  Lemuel Gulliver, a ship's surgeon, is shipwrecked at Lilliput where the inhabitants are six inches tall, except their emperor who is taller by almost the "breadth of my nail" than any of his court. Swift satirizes war by showing how seriously the little people wage it, and has harsh words for the politicians and government officials. The parties are known by the height of their heels; a dispute over the question at which end an egg should be broken is enough to plunge Lilliput into a civil war.

Pt. II:  In Brobdingnag, the natives are as tall in proportion to Gulliver as the Lilliputians were short. He engages in lengthy discussions with the king, who cannot understand the lofty pretentions and vanities of the warfare; what he hears strikes the king with horror.

Pt. III:  In Laputa, men abandon all common sense and concern themselves with speculative philosophy. In Lagado, the flying island, Gulliver is amazed to see the scientists trying to extract sunbeams from cucumbers.

Pt. IV:  Gulliver visits the land of the Houyhnhnms, where intelligent horses are the masters and the Yahoos, filthy, degenerate human beings, are the slaves. At last, Gulliver returns to his wife and family, but finds them impossible to live with, after having associated with the Houyhnhnms. The yahoos represented for Gulliver the worst to which human beings could descend. 


Study Questions

1.  In the letter Captain Gulliver wrote to his cousin Sympson, how is Gulliver presented?

2.  In Lilliput, Lemuel Gulliver is charmed by Lilliputians at first, but later feels disgusted. Why? Give examples.

3.  In Lilliput, how do you see the Lilliputian Emperor? And Flimnap and Bolgolam?

4.  In Gulliver's voyage to Lilliput, how does Swift portray Gulliver's character?

5.  How is the King of Brobdingnag portrayed? How about the Queen?  What does Gulliver offer to the king? In this act how is Gulliver changed?

6.  Who are the Struldbruggs? Are they happy to have eternal life?  Why or why not?

7.  Describe the Houyhnhnms and Yahoos.  What are their strength and weakness? What is your attitude toward them?

8.  Who is Captain Pedro De Mendez?  Why does Swift put him at the end of the book?

9.  How does Swift describe women in Gulliver's Travels?

10. How would you compare Gulliver's Travels with More's Utopia since these two

   works invent an ideal imaginary state and satirize one's own society?  


General Questions

1.  At the beginning and end of each of the four Parts of Gulliver's Travels Swift locates Gulliver's travels in a familiar world with exact geographical references etc. What is the effect of this realistic style on the reader?

2.  How does the realistic style establish the narrator's persona and what are Gulliver's qualities as a narrator? Are you inclined to believe him and do you want to hear more?

3.  What is the reader's impression of the Lilliputians--at the beginning? Later? Find the reason that cause the reader's change of opinions.

4.  Discuss the size discrepancies in Gulliver's Travels. What does Swift suggest by the smallness of the Lilliputians and the big size of the Brobdingnagians?

5.  Size discrepancies point to the relativism of human nature. Find passages that show how Swift satirizes by treating humanity as malformed and diseased, both in body and soul, which is one of the conventions of satire.

6.  Gulliver never explains conditions in England to the Lilliputians as he does in Part II to the Brobdingnagians. What may be his (the author's) reason?

7.  Summarize your understanding of Swift's method of narration.  How does Gulliver function as a foil to the Lilliputians and to the Brobdingnagians and by what exactly does the author achieve satiric effect?


Links

Gulliver's Travel by Jonathan Swift

Comparing Utopia and Gulliver's Travels

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