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What Is Burlesque In Literature: Definition And Examples, Types

Burlesque in literature is quite different from the modern meaning and understanding of the word, burlesque. The latter is a variety of shows

Burlesque In Literature

Burlesque in Literature




Burlesque in literature is quite different from the modern meaning and understanding of the word, burlesque. The latter is a variety of shows called American Burlesque. For such reasons, this article poses a clear overview of the literary, original meaning of the word "Burlesque" in literature.

In this article, we will consider the following:
  • Burlesque In Literature Definition
  • Origin Of Burlesque In Literature
  • Burlesque Vs. Parody
  • Types Of Burlesque
  • Burlesque In Literature Examples
  • Importance Of Burlesque


Burlesque In Literature Definition

What Is Burlesque In Literature — Burlesque in literature is a literary, musical or dramatic work that is intended to mock or imitate a subject though its representation in a ironic way, thereby resulting in comedy. 

In other words, Burlesque is a style of work in literature that representing a more serious work in a ludicrous and ironic way by caricaturing the work through imitation or mimicking. Thus, as a literary devices in literature, it's primary purpose is to create humour through ridicule.

However, it is imperative to note that burlesque primarily depends on the listener's or reader's knowledge of the subject. This allows the work to have the intended effect, which is ridicule.

Origin Of Burlesque In Literature


The word burlesque originated from the Latin word "burla" and later "burlesco" which means ridicule, mockery or joke.

Burlesque has been used in literature
 both literary and theatrical sense as far back as late 17th century. And as such has been applied and evident in works of renowned authors like Chaucer and Shakespeare.

The first appearance of the word, burlesque is from Francesco Bernie's work titled "Berne Burlesque". This was in the early 16th century. From then, it was circulated in Italy, France and England. However, in England, burlesque was formerly referred to as grotesque initiation of the dignified or pathetic.

Burlesque Vs. Parody.


In Literature, both burlesque and parody are used interchangeably to represent the same purpose or things. Just like burlesque, parody is a work intending to ridicule through imitation of another work. 

Hence, parody is considered as a type of burlesque.

Types Of Burlesque

Following the advent of burlesque as a considered literary device to employ, it was later divided into two.

The two types of burlesque in literature are:

  • High Burlesque
  • Low Burlesque

Now, let's consider the meaning of each type of burlesque.

  • High Burlesque

This is an imitation where a literary, elevated manner was applied to a commonplace or comically inappropriate subject matter. In other words, in this type of burlesque, the style of the work is high, that is, considered serious or dignified. Whereas, the subject matter is low; insignificant or trivial.

Under high burlesque, there are other types of burlesque known as parody and mock heroic.

Parody— parody is a style of work, genre or author that is intended to mock or ridicule a subject through exaggeration by representing it in a more elegant way than it normally deserves. 

This is considered one of the most popular form of burlesque.

On the other hand, mock-heroics is more formal as it used to imitate the form or style of an epic poem by presenting insignificant subjects for the purpose of inducing humour.

Examples Of High Burlesque

One of the most cited examples of high burlesque are Alexander Pope's "sly, knowing and courtly" The Rape of the Lock.

  • Low Burlesque
Unlike the high burlesque, low burlesque uses and apply a low, undignified or improper style of work  to a more serious object. This is the total opposite of high burlesque.

Type Of Low Burlesque

Travesty— A travesty is a lewd or exaggerated imitation of a significant work or subject, or, an absurd representation of a subject. Its purpose is to ridicule the subject, work or author by mocking it in a vulgar or grotesque way.

Example Of Low Burlesque

Samuel Butler's poem Hudibras, which described the misadventures of a Puritan knight in satiric doggerel verse, using a colloquial idiom.


Burlesque In Literature Examples

This is an interesting example from literaryterms.net. This examples provides a clear insight on what burlesque is really all about considering its initiative styles.

"Roses are red,
Violets are blue,
Sugar is sweet,
And so are you!

A burlesque version of the poem, specifically a parody, would be:

Roses prick your fingers,
Violets make you sneeze,
Sugar fills your veins with fat,
It’s best you stick to peas!

First, the poem above mimics the style of the first poem in that it follows the same ABCB rhyme scheme. Second, it mimics the subject of the first poem by using the same words—roses, violets, sugar, and you. However, the second poem is funny because it highlights the negative elements of these things rather than the positive. 

Thus, by changing these words to funny alternatives, while keeping the same style, the second poem mocks the traditional love poem, making it a burlesque poem."

Importance Of Burlesque In Literature


Burlesque In Literature is regarded as a major literary and dramatic style that has contributed immensely to the development of literature due to the satirical feature it possesses. 

It has been employed to comment on social issues and for social activism by using humour as a form of attraction. Thus, with humour, attention of the public can be easily drawn to the serious issues in the society.

Despite the fact that its purpose in the modern times has been specifically drawn to entertainment and comedy, it's still considered an effective technique useful for criticism.






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Pawners Paper: What Is Burlesque In Literature: Definition And Examples, Types
What Is Burlesque In Literature: Definition And Examples, Types
Burlesque in literature is quite different from the modern meaning and understanding of the word, burlesque. The latter is a variety of shows
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