Analysis of Rochester's A Satyr Against Mankind

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Analysis of Rochester's A Satyr Against Mankind Although John Wilmot, better known as the Earl of Rochester, wrote "A Satyr Against Mankind" in 1679, his ideas are still relevant over three centuries later. His foresight in satirizing humankind's use of reason reinforces the intrinsic role of rationality in the human condition. But implicit in his condemnation of rationality is an intentional fallacy—the speaker of the poem uses reason in the same manner as those that he claims to abhor. In doing this, Rochester widens the perimeter of his criticism to encompass the speaker as well as those he admonishes, a movement that magnifies the satire. Considering this, the anti-reason cadences of the poem become exaggerated so greatly that the speaker's words must be taken lightly. Accordingly, Rochester's intent in "A Satyr Against Mankind" is to persuade readers to use their gift of reason humbly, a sentiment expressed by making the poem's narrator one of the "unreasonably reasonable" people of whom he speaks. In the first line of the poem, the narrator immediately interjects a handicap that accounts for his potential poetic ineptness: he is a man. He establishes the poem's prevailing attitude that man is a "strange, prodigious creature" (Wilmot 2), monstrous because of his vainglorious rationality. Rochester is careful not to detach the narrator from the humans he criticizes, but let him glow with a misleading aura of objectivity, as if by acknowledging that he is a man with unjust pride of reason he is partially exempt from the criticisms he bestows upon his ... ... middle of paper ... ... rational observations and conclusions. A great thread of irony lashes together the speaker's arguments in "A Satyr Against Mankind"—his use of reason undermines his disapproval of it. As he deplores rational thinking as kindling for interpersonal discord and fuel for useless pursuits of truthful resolve, he places himself in the same position of those he criticizes. Rochester manipulates the narrator with this paradox to heighten the satire, which ultimately exaggerates the human tendency of proudly flouting rational aptitudes to praise those who use reason with sensible restraint. Work Cited Wilmot, John. "A Satyr Against Mankind." Eighteenth-Century English Literature. Ed. Geoffrey Tillotson. Fort Worth: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich College Publishers, 1969. 33–36.

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