The Augustan Age spans the first half of the eighteenth century, and among other things, it was characterized by its scathing satire. Satire is a literary device that criticizes, ridicules, and exposes stupidity and corruption in people, events, organizations, governments, and just about anything else. Satirists use humor, exaggeration, and irony to serve their purpose.
Satire was especially prevalent in the Augustan Age due to the era's political conflicts (Whigs versus Tories, for instance), religious conflicts (Catholics versus Protestants), literary conflicts, and social corruption. No one was safe from the satirists' mighty pens, and many satirists were extremely creative and literary in their ridicule, too.
Alexander Pope and John Dryden stand at the forefront of Augustan satire. Pope's mock epic The Rape of the Lock, for instance, hilariously critiques the silliness and shallowness of upper-class society and its pursuits. The poet includes everything from an epic battle at a card table to the horrors of the cutting of a woman's lock of hair to the nearly religious ritual of a lady's beauty routine. Pope also produced satire at its finest in The Dunciad, in which he ridicules the declining quality of literary and artistic activities, claiming that they have been handed over to a confederacy of dunces who are more interested in money than in literature and art.
John Dryden, too, spares no one when he attacks with his pen. He is especially brutal in his political satire, as in the long poem Absalom and Achitophel, which uses a Biblical background to critique the political situation of Dryden's day. The poet also reaches the heights of satire in Mac Flecknoe, another long poem, which attacks Dryden's fellow poet Thomas Shadwell.