How comfortably do history and satire sit together? Since the plays of Aristophanes, the fun that has been poked at taboo subjects belies a serious message, right up to the Spitting Image puppets cavorting on our screens in the 1980s. When the Seventeenth century spawned a rash of comedies of manners, it was to hold up a mirror to an absurd society, to reflect behaviours that had become bizarre and this is where the best satire succeeds, in highlighting a recognisable absurdity. The arrival of Double History this December, a new blog which has taken the facebook community by storm, has divided opinion over the purpose and relevance of satire which takes historical material as its subject.
To date, Double History has published posts that present almost viable theories, backed up with sound, apparently logical arguments, which might well convince the history dilettante. Questioning whether Edward IV was poisoned, if Richard III was a twin, whether he was killed instead of his brother Clarence, or if Edward V was actually a girl, the anonymous posts have been received with delight in some quarters and censure in others. Satire can be subtle, poking fun indirectly with certain clues that a cursory reading might overlook, and this is where the problem lies. While the blog posts are scholarly in tone and show a depth of understanding when it comes to the period, the clues certainly are there to indicate the authors' intentions. Citing sources like Ouija boards, spirit guides and ketchup, as well as texts like Smollett, Swift and Thomas More, "who came to me in a dream," Double History's tongue is firmly in its cheek for those who take the time to read their posts in their entirety.
Yet these satirical offerings have also been met with disapproval. The same objectors to the use of historical figures in novels have declared such gleeful fun to be disrespectful, even confusing, with some going as far as believing them to be misleading or deceitful. Whilst it is regrettable that perhaps some have, in their naivety, failed to notice the many indicators of genre which litter this blog, others have an objection to the partnering of history and satire. While the Horrible Histories series for children has been recognised as fitting within the Roald Dahl tradition of humour, it seems that the adult version, which Double History offers, is simply too opaque for some. Yet what exactly is being satirised here?
Double History appears not to be poking fun at the long-dead, about whom the writers are clearly well-informed; rather, it belongs within the tradition of a comedy of manners, exposing the frequent absurd and under-sourced theories that appear daily on facebook pages and the personal blogs of history enthusiasts. Its finger is gently but firmly pointed at the conspiracists and fantasists whose theories about the motivation and actions of people in the past defy logic, at those who defend historical characters from a position of emotion rather than rationality and at those who assert "facts" they have read in novels.
Double History is a fun, irreverent look at the way that memes of popular history are regurgitated until they fester into facts and the unbridled flights of fancy they give rise to. It is well worth a read, with its variety of anonymous authors contributing under different "Jeff" pseudonyms to tantalise your historical tastebuds and send you away with a smile on your face. Described as being history's version of The Onion, Double History, needs to be seen and enjoyed for what it is. There is certainly a place for a little light-heartedness amid the serious pursuit of the past. Keep up the good work, Jeffs.
Find the Double History blog here: https://doublehistory.wordpress.com/