Satire, it can be argued, became an especially popular genre in English poetry during the age of John Dryden and Alexander Pope for a number of reasons. Among those reasons are the following:
- The growth of political partisanship, especially developing tensions between “Whigs” and “Tories.” A hundred years earlier, during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I, factions had existed at the royal court, but the rise of formal political factions or “parties” as such was still in the future. Satire was a means by which political factions in the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries could express their opposition to one another.
- The growth of religious divisions, particularly between Protestants and Catholics and within Protestantism. Again, satire was a kind of writing especially appropriate to the expression of religious conflict.
- The rise of rationalism (an emphasis on “Reason”), which was now increasingly seen as an alternative to religion and which soon had its own advocates and detractors.
- The rise of professional writers – authors who earned their livings by writing poetry, often of a satirical kind. Satire was lively, controversial, and topical and thus had plenty of readers. The “market” for satire during this period was a healthy one.
- The rise of the power of parliament and of the middle classes. Whereas under Queen Elizabeth the monarch and the aristocracy were the most powerful persons in the land, after 1660 power became more dispersed, conflicts among the powerful became more open, and the need to win allies and attack enemies by using the popular press had become more urgent.
- The controversies associated with the Civil War had schooled many English writers in the arts of satirical prose, especially in the form of satirical pamphlets. During the age of Dryden and Pope, writers of satire were often poets influenced by classical Roman satirists, especially the poet Horace.
- A growing sense that the purpose of literature was to be explicitly didactic (that is, to teach lessons, especially moral lessons). Satire is a genre that lends itself to explicit instruction and persuasion.