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Summary: Jonathan Swift penned some of the most famous satires (and satirical hoaxes) of the eighteenth century.
Jonathan SwiftThe relationship between satire and hoaxing is complex. Satire is defined as the use of wit to expose stupidity or vice, whereas a hoax is a sensational act of deception. But frequently hoaxes can have a satirical effect. Therefore, it’s not clear where or how to draw a line between the two.
Jonathan Swift (1667-1745) was one of the pioneers of satirical hoaxing. For instance, his most famous work, Gulliver’s Travels, ostensibly told the true story of an Englishman’s travels to a series of incredible lands, but it actually was more of a comment on English society. Likewise, in A Modest Proposal for Preventing the Children of Poor People From Being a Burden to their Parents or the Country, he pretended to make a serious case for the benefits to be had by feeding poor children to the rich, although he clearly was making a dark comment on the inhumanity of the rich towards the poor.
In both these instances, the deception was fairly obvious. But his Bickerstaff hoax managed to fool quite a few people into believing it was true. It was his most successful hoax, as well as being one of the earliest recorded examples of an elaborately planned April Fool’s Day prank.