Analyzing a joke is one sure way to ruin it, but I would like for you to offer some analysis as to why “The Vision of Judgment” succeeds as a comic poem. What are some of the targets of the...
Analyzing a joke is one sure way to ruin it, but I would like for you to offer some analysis as to why “The Vision of Judgment” succeeds as a comic poem. What are some of the targets of the satire? As in all successful jokes, the "set up" is crucial. How does Byron set up his joke?
George Gordon, Lord Byron (1788-1824), wrote the poem "The Vision of Judgement" as a parody, or sarcastic satire, of the sycophantic poem "A Vision of Judgement" written by Poet Laureate Robert Southey. Byron and Southey detested each other for a variety of reasons. One of the biggest reasons was Byron's jealousy over Southey's honor of being Poet Laureate. Another was due to the usual drama Lord Byron would cause with friends-turned-foes. Regardless, this particular issue was due to Southey writing the original poem as an elegy to King George III.
You may remember that the Hanoverian King George III is infamous in history for having gone "mad" during his kingdom. His position was briefly taken by George's son, the prince regent George, who showed that he would make an even worse monarch than his mad father.
Lord Byron was a favorite in the glitzy and extravagant social circle of Prince George's set where the famous English dandy Beau Brummel dictated the fashion style of all aristocrats and upperclassmen. However, in typical Byron style, he fell out with the monarchy due to his controversial and moody behavior. This is why Southey badmouthed Lord Byron for a long time and even represented Byron as Satan in the original poem.
Back to Southey and "A Vision of Judgement", the poem completely kissed up to the memory of the King, presenting a magnificent scene showing the moment when the King would enter heaven, where St. Peter would be waiting.
Byron, fed up with both Southey, the King, and everybody else in general, wrote "The Vision of Judgement" to show a crude, mean and satirical version of that very scene.
The set up was the same as Southey's poem: Heaven, the night of the passing of King George the III. However, what we find is far from the expecting angels, the rattling keys of Saint Peter, and all the whimsical notions put forth by Southey. In Byron's poem everyone in heaven is bored, while everyone in Hades is very busy considering the thousands of hypocritical renditions rendered to the King, whose destination clearly will not be heaven either.
In the first year of freedom's second dawn
Died George the Third; although no tyrant, one
Who shielded tyrants, till each sense withdrawn
Left him nor mental nor external sun:
A better farmer ne'er brush'd dew from lawn,
A worse king never left a realm undone!
As far as the targets (King George and Southey) and the settings (Heaven and Hell) the poem is very much clear.
My poor comparisons must needs be teeming
With earthly likenesses, for here the night
Of clay obscures our best conceptions, saving
Johanna Southcote, or Bob Southey raving.
Now, let's analyze the comical situations, as there are plenty.
We have a King whose entrance into Heaven is blocked not only by his own misgivings as a monarch and as a man, but also by the chaos caused by his death. We have Archangel Michael and Satan fighting over the soul of the poor King. Then there is Byron literally laughing at Southey. The characterization of otherworldly and saintly characters as bored heaven workers makes the solemnity of the original poem fall flat completely, making the audience partial to Bryron's proclivities and biases.
This was the case, indeed. It wasn't until Byron wrote "The Vision of Judgement " that people actually paid any attention to Southey's "A Vision of Judgement". Satire draws more attention than tragedy or elegies, particularly a satire written from the core of a very angry man and brilliant man.