The Bedford Glossary of Critical and Literary Terms - Ross Murfin 2018


Travesty: A type of low burlesque that treats a dignified subject in an especially undignified, even debased, way. Travesty ridicules a topic, literary convention, or specific work by employing a grossly low style.

EXAMPLES: In Henry IV (c. 1599), William Shakespeare uses the character Ancient Pistol, a commoner and friend from Henry’s wild youth, to ridicule heroic speech, as in the following lines:

O braggart vile and damned furious wight!

The grave doth gape, and doting death is near;

Therefore exhale.

Woody Allen’s comedy Bananas (1971) is a twentieth-century example of travesty, featuring a hapless protagonist who sets off for a fictional banana republic to impress his activist girlfriend, is catapulted to the presidency after a successful revolution, and is tried for treason upon returning to the United States — only to object, “This trial is a travesty. It’s a travesty of a mockery of a sham of a mockery of a travesty of two mockeries of a sham. I move for a mistrial.” Other examples include playwright Tom Stoppard’s Travesties (1974), a metatravesty, or travesty of travesties; and the television sitcom Married with Children (1987—97), which Rick Marin described as making “nuclear waste of the nuclear family” (“Nuking the Nuclear Family,” Newsweek, Apr. 29, 1996). The contemporary television comedy South Park (1997— ) also frequently employs travesty; death, for instance, is routinely trivialized, as with Kenny’s recurring demise, in various absurd and grotesque ways, in most episodes of the first five seasons.