In Gulliver's Travels, the explanation about the rope dancers is a clear example of Swift’s satire coming out. Describe the rope dancers and their purpose.

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Swift used the Lilliputians to satirize the English court of his day. In a broad sense, the rope-dancers in chapter three can be seen as a comic take on the work people in the English court would have to do to attain office. We can see that for Swift, the "skills" these would-be ministers have to practice are at once irrelevant to the nature of the office they seek and potentially deadly (people are often injured in the rope dance). The suggestion is that politics is a kind of dangerous carnival show. Little has changed from then to now!

More specifically, critics have argued that ministers Flimnap and Reldresal represent real people in the English government in Swift's time. Flimnap, for example, is connected to Robert Walpole (1676-1745), England's first (and longest serving) Prime Minister. Flimnap "is allowed to cut a caper on the straight rope, at least an inch higher than any other lord in the whole empire," Swift writes, suggesting that he is the greatest rope-dancer of them all. Walpole was known as master of compromise and negotiation between the crown and Parliament; when Swift says that Flimnap has done "the summerset several times together, upon a trencher fixed on a rope which is no thicker than a common packthread in England," he is no doubt making a pretty astute (and funny!) comparison to Walpole's negotiating skills.

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Gulliver's Travel's is Jonathan Swift's masterwork of satire. This lengthy story follows Gulliver to a number of strange, unknown countries inhabited by all manner of unexpected people and creatures. Each stop on Gulliver's journey allows Swift to satirize some aspect of English life in the early Enlightenment period.

Early in Gulliver's Travels Gulliver finds himself washed up on the shores of a land called Lilliput. After a while he observes a Lilliputian ritual called the “Rope Dance.” Here, according to Gulliver, is the purpose of the dance:

When a great office is vacant, either by death or disgrace (which often happens) five or six of those candidates petition the emperor to entertain his majesty, and the court, with a dance on the rope, and whoever jumps the highest, without falling, succeeds in the office.

Swift is satirizing the English monarchy. He is saying that governmental positions are filled based not in knowledge and ability, but by some other criteria that really has nothing to do a candidates ability to do the job. Just as the Lilliputians use rope dancing to fill important positions, the English of that time often filled positions based on noble birth, patronage, or political favoritism.

Of course, the English were not the only ones to do this, and the practice is still employed today. Just look at how often campaign supporters are hired by governors and presidents to fill important posts.  

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