The politics of bestial imagery in satire, 1789-1820

Christopher Machell

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis


This thesis examines the widespread use of bestial imagery in satirical verse, prose and prints published between 1789 – 1820, through a study of Shelley, Spence, Gillray, Gifford, Robinson, Catherine Ann Dorset, Thelwall, Eaton, and Wolcot. The thesis asks why these writers and printers used animal metaphors so frequently, but moreover, what impact the use of this imagery had on the political landscape of satire in the period. Recent criticism has focussed on the historical and political contexts of Romantic-era satire, and this thesis follows that criticism with an historicist methodology, combining literary, historical and political approaches. Furthermore, the thesis analyses verse, prose and pictorial satires as contributing to the same political discourse and as doing so in closely related cultural arenas. This thesis claims originality on the basis that not only the use of animal imagery has a significant impact on how both contemporary and modern readers interpret its political meanings and contexts, but also that this is an argument that has not yet been posited by other critics. In addition, this thesis argues that through bestial metaphors, satirical writers and artists create a community wherein imagery is exchanged, developed and manipulated, and that this practice of cultural exchange significantly shapes those satires’ historical contexts. Each of the thesis’ five chapters focuses on a major satiric animal metaphor, whereby close readings of satires are offered alongside wider political and historical contexts. Consequently, this thesis provides a map of the most common satiric animal metaphors and their concomitant politics, and in doing so creates a new critical framework in which the growing interest in Romantic- period satire can be further developed.
Original languageEnglish
  • Walker, David, Supervisor
  • Wetherall-Dickson, Leigh, Supervisor, External person
Publication statusAccepted/In press - Jun 2011


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