Table of contents
In ancient Greek literature, a parody was a type of poem that imitated another poem's style. Indeed, the Greek roots of the word parody are par- ("beside" or "subsidiary") and -ody ("song", as in ode). Thus, the original Greek meant, roughly, "mock poem".
Roman writers explained parody as an imitation of one poet by another for humorous effect. In French Neo-classical literature, "parody" was also a type of poem where one work's style is imitated by another for humorous effects.
In 15th- and 16th-century music, "parody" refers to a reworking of one kind of composition into another, such as turning a motet into a keyboard work; Cavazzoni, Cabezon, and Mudarra created keyboard parodies of Josquin motets. More commonly, a parody mass (missa parodia) used extensive quotation from other vocal works such as motets; Victoria, Palestrina, Lassus, and other notable composers of the 16th century used this technique.
Song parodies can be filled with mishearings known as mondegreens.
The first usage of the word parody in English cited in the Oxford English Dictionary is in Ben Jonson, in Every Man in His Humour in 1598: "A Parodie, a parodie! to make it absurder then it was." The next notable citation comes from John Dryden in 1693, who also appended an explanation, suggesting that the word was not in common use. In his "Preface to the Satires", he says: "We may find, that they were Satryrique Poems, full of Parodies; that is, of Verses patch'd up from great Poets, and turn'd into another Sence than their Author intended them."
Dryden's definition is therefore a departure from previous usage (as he implies satire), and Dryden adapts what was still a foreign term (parody) to apply to a recent literary subgenre that had no name: the mock-heroic.
In "MacFlecknoe", Dryden created an entire poem designed to ridicule by parody. Dryden imitates Virgil's Aeneid, but the poem is about Thomas Shadwell, a minor dramatist. The implicit contrast between the heroic style from Virgil and the poor quality of the hero, Shadwell, makes Shadwell seem even worse. When dressed in Aeneas's clothes, Shadwell looks all the more ridiculous.
Other parodies of the Restoration and early 18th century were similar to Dryden's: they employed an imitation of something serious and revered to ridicule a low or foolish person or habit. This is generally referred to as the mock-heroic, a genre generally credited to Samuel Butler and his poem Hudibras. When conscious, the contrast of very serious or exalted style with very frivolous or worthless subject is parody. When the combination is unconscious, it is bathos (derived from Alexander Pope's parody of Longinus, "Peri Bathos").
Jonathan Swift is the first English author to apply the word parody to narrative prose, and it is perhaps because of a misunderstanding of Swift's own definition of parody that the term has since come to refer to any stylistic imitation that is intended to belittle. In "The Apology for the &c.", which is one of the prefaces to his A Tale of a Tub, Swift says that a parody is the imitation of an author one wishes to expose. In essence, this makes parody very little different from mockery and burlesque, and, given Swift's attention to language, it is likely that he knew this. In fact, Swift's definition of parody might well be a parody of Dryden's presumed habit of explaining the obvious or using loan words.
After Jonathan Swift, the term parody was used almost exclusively to refer to mockery, particularly in narrative.
In the older sense of the word, parody can occur when whole elements of one work are lifted out of their context and reused. Pastiche is a form of parody, and parody can also occur when characters or settings belonging to one work are used in a humorous way in another.
In Flann O'Brien's novel At Swim-Two-Birds, for example, mad King Sweeney, Finn MacCool, a pookah, and an assortment of cowboys all assemble in an inn in Dublin: the mixture of mythic characters, characters from genre fiction, and a quotidian setting combine for a humor that is not directed at any of the characters or their authors. This combination of established and identifiable characters in a new setting is not the same as the post-modernist habit of using historical characters in fiction out of context to provide a metaphoric element. However, in the postmodern sensibility, blank parody is common where an artist takes the skeletal form of another art work and places it in a new context with new content.
Evolution of film genres
Some genre film theorists see parody as a natural development in the life cycle of any genre, especially in film. Western movies, for example, after the classic stage defined the conventions of the genre, underwent a parody stage, in which those same conventions were lampooned. Because audiences had seen these classic Westerns, they had expectations for any new Westerns, and when these expectations were inverted, the audience laughed.
Sometimes the reputation of a parody outlasts the reputation of what is being parodied. A notable case is the novel Joseph Andrews by Henry Fielding (1742), which was a parody of the gloomy epistolary novel Pamela, or Virtue Rewarded (1740) by Samuel Richardson. Many of Lewis Carroll's parodies, such as "You Are Old, Father William", are much better known than the originals.
A subset of parody is self-parody in which artists satirize themselves or their work, or an artist or genre repeats elements of earlier works to the point that originality is lost.
Although a parody can be considered a derivative work under United States Copyright Law it can be protected under the fair use of 17 USC § 107. In 2001, the federal Court of Appeals, 11th District in Suntrust v. Houghton Mifflin upheld the right of Alice Randall to publish a parody of Gone With the Wind called The Wind Done Gone, which told the same story from the point of view of Scarlett O'Hara's slaves, who were glad to be rid of her. See also the Supreme Court of the United States case Campbell v. Acuff-Rose Music regarding the song Oh, Pretty Woman.
- Sir Thopas in Canterbury Tales, by Geoffrey Chaucer
- Don Quixote by Miguel Cervantes
- Beware of the Cat by Thomas Nashe
- The Knight of the Burning Pestle by Francis Beaumont and John Fletcher
- Dragon of Wantley, an anonymous 17th century ballad
- Hudibras by Samuel Butler
- "MacFlecknoe", by John Dryden
- A Tale of a Tub by Jonathan Swift
- The Rape of the Lock by Alexander Pope
- Namby Pamby by Henry Carey
- Gulliver's Travels by Jonathan Swift
- The Dunciad by Alexander Pope
- The Memoirs of Martinus Scribblerus by John Gay, Alexander Pope, John Arbuthnot, Earl of Oxford, et al.
- Rasselas, Prince of Persia by Samuel Johnson
- Mozart's A Musical Joke (Ein musikalischer Spaß), K.522 (1787) – parody of incompetent contemporaries of Mozart, as assumed by some theorists
- Sartor Resartus by Thomas Carlysle
- Sir Peter MaxwellA parody of a personal vanity website supposedly written by an English aristocrat
- Avenue Q – parody of Sesame Street and children's television.
- Barry Trotter – parodies of Harry Potter books.
- Blazing Saddles – a movie by director Mel Brooks, parodying American westerns
- Bored of the Rings – a parody of The Lord of the Rings
- The Dundee Code – a parody of The Da Vinci Code, supposedly set in Australia
- Excel Saga and Puni Puni Poemi – anime parody series/OVA that parodize every aspect of the anime culture
- The Fifth Element – a film by Luc Besson which parodies many science fiction films
- French & Saunders – a comedy series which has featured parodies of several major hit films (including Titanic, Misery, Braveheart, Thelma and Louise, Lord of the Rings)
- "I have terrible news." – a parody of a website 404 error.
- Kung Fu Hustle – a movie by Steven Chow parodying Chinese wuxia films, as well as gangster films in general
- MAD Magazine – parody of all things in American popular culture
- The Misprint – similar to The Onion, parodies politics in India
- Much of the repertoire of Monty Python's Flying Circus
- Chris Morris's The Day Today and Brass Eye – parodies of high paced self-important genre of TV news programmes
- The Onion – parody of newspaper and magazine journalism
- The Planes of Parody – a parody of the storyline of The Planes of Power expansion for the EverQuest online game.
- Preparing for Emergencies – a parody of the British Government's Preparing for Emergencies website (original site) by the student Thomas Scott.
- Radio Active – BBC parody of poorly funded rural local commercial radio
- The Rerun Show – television series that parodies classic episodes of old shows
- Ripping Yarns – television tales penned by Michael Palin and Terry Jones to parody heroic stories/comics aimed at British boys during the 1920-1960 (?) period
- Rutland Weekend Television – Eric Idle inspired parody of low grade commercial television
- The Rutles – parody of The Beatles
- Spaceballs – Mel Brooks-directed parody of space opera, such as Star Wars and Star Trek
- The Sunday Format – BBC radio parody of vacuous lifestyle journalism
- Allan Sherman's and "Weird Al" Yankovic's innumerable song parodies