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A travesty is a cheap mockery, usually of something or someone serious, such as a travesty of justice.

You have likely heard someone call something a travesty before. In common usage, something is a travesty when a thing fails to live up to the expectations associated with that thing, especially in a morally outrageous way. If travesty is used in a comedic fashion, it can also be included within the genre of farce.

In a more narrowly literary sense, the term travesty refers to the genre of burlesque, which tends to mock the tone and pretentions of serious literature, sometimes in satirical fashion

How to use travesty

For your reference, here are some examples of the term travesty being used in a correct way within sentences

"When the court decided to exonerate the policeman who had clearly overstepped the limits of his authority, the media began to report that this was a travesty of justice." 

"The dramatic work was generally considered an old-fashioned travesty due to the central role played by the buffoon and the gutter humor that characterized much of the dialogue." 

"The author's former friend wanted to sue him for libel, on the grounds of his feeling that the way that the author had portrayed him was an insulting travesty." 

Now, for the purposes of further clarification, here are a couple rules you can follow if you want to correctly use the literary term travesty. 

1. In common modern usage, the term travesty refers to a thing that is a severe distortion of what that thing is expected to be. A jury's decision could thus be a travesty of justice; and an author's portrayal of others could be a travesty of truth. In general, the term travesty implies the gross violation of some moral ideal. 

2. The narrow literary meaning of travesty is not really in common usage in these times. A more common term to refer to this may now be burlesque. Indeed, most people probably do not know that travesty can even be used in this sense, and that this was even the original meaning of the word. These days, travesty is most commonly used in a moral and not an aesthetic way. 

Travesties in Greek literature

The theatrical form of travesty can actually be traced all the way back to the ancient Greeks. In this context, the travesty generally accompanied dramatic tragedies, and it was intended as a kind of comic relief in order to lighten the mood of the audience. The travesty here was also called the satyr play. In a popular Athenian theater festival, for example, playwrights were expected to submit three tragedies accompanied by one satyr play (or travesty). The travesty generally featured bawdy humor, including buffoonery, drunkenness, and overtly sexual jokes and gags. 

It is easy to see of this traditional use of the term travesty evolved into the modern use of the word. In the theatrical context, the travesty was a kind of "travesty" (in the modern sense) of the high ideals and heaviness portrayed by the tragedies; whereas tragedy conveyed a sense of the profundity of the human condition, travesty mocked that sense of profundity and suggested that there was nothing but lightness. In the aesthetic sphere, though, these attitudes may be complementary with each other. They become antagonistic with each other only when travesty is translated into the moral sphere.    

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