Satirical Wit

When government censorship was discontinued in Britain around 1695, many writers began to use a literary concept called satire. Satire criticized political, social, and moral issues through a witty, whimsical way.

One artist who wanted to use satire in his visual works was William Hogarth. One of his most famous satirical works were the six paintings in his series: Marriage á la Mode. His detailed paintings make fun of marriages that are suppose to be based on love but aren’t.

His series represents the young Squander and the merchant’s daughter being married through a legal contract. Essentially, the Lord will gain money from the merchant, and the merchant will gain access into aristocracy through his daughter. Throughout the series, both the wife and husband’s lack of love leads them to infidelities. Ultimately, their promiscuous relations exposes them to a venereal disease, syphilis. As a result, they die from mercury poison (which was used as medicine back then).

Even though this narrative is a little hard to digest, it is important to note the motive behind these works. Hogarth is not painting this to gross people out, but to address a larger issue. This problem being that people in the 1700s were not getting married for love, instead they were getting married for other reasons. One of them being financial benefits, and/or status upgrade. Hogarth takes the concept of marriage and transfers it into a harsh, comedic view mocking middle class marriages.

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If you would like to read more about each painting, click here!

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