In ancient Greek literature, a parody was a type of poem that imitated another poem's style. Indeed, the Greek roots of the word parody are par- ("beside" or "subsidiary") and -ody ("song", as in ode). Thus, the original Greek meant, roughly, "mock poem".
Roman writers explained parody as an imitation of one poet by another for humorous effect. In French Neo-classical literature, "parody" was also a type of poem where one work's style is imitated by another for humorous effects.
The first usage of the word parody cited in the Oxford English Dictionary is in Ben Jonson, in Every Man in His Humour in 1598: "A Parodie, a parodie! to make it absurder then it was." The next notable citation comes from John Dryden in 1693. He too appends an explanation, suggesting that the word was not in common use. In his "Preface to the Satires," he says, "We may find, that they were Satryrique Poems, full of Parodies; that is, of Verses patch'd up from great Poets, and turn'd into another Sence than their Author intended them."
Dryden's definition is therefore a departure from previous usage (as he implies satire), and Dryden adapts what was still a foreign term (parody) to apply to a recent literary subgenre that had no name: the mock-heroic.
It is vital to realize that parody, prior to the 18th century, was an effect or ornament roughly the equivalent of a musical "quotation." (Think, for example, of Mozart imitating bird songs, on the one hand, or of Felix Mendelssohn imitating Mozart, on the other.) In "MacFlecknoe," Dryden created an entire poem designed to ridicule by parody. Dryden imitates Virgil's Aeneid, but the poem is about Thomas Shadwell, a minor dramatist. The implicit contrast between the heroic style from Virgil and the poor quality of the hero, Shadwell, makes Shadwell seem even worse. When dressed in Aeneas's clothes, Shadwell looks all the more ridiculous.
Other parodies of the Restoration and early 18th century were similar to Dryden's: they employed an imitation of something serious and revered to ridicule a low or foolish person or habit. This is generally referred to as the mock-heroic, a genre generally credited to Samuel Butler and his poem Hudibras. When conscious, the contrast of very serious or exalted style with very frivolous or worthless subject is parody. When the combination is unconscious, it is bathos (derived from Alexander Pope's parody of Longinus, "Peri Bathos)."
Jonathan Swift is the first English author to apply the word parody to narrative prose, and it is perhaps because of a misunderstanding of Swift's own definition of parody that the term has since come to refer to any stylistic imitation that is intended to belittle. In "The Apology for the &c.," which is one of the prefaces to his A Tale of a Tub, Swift says that a parody is the imitation of an author one wishes to expose. In essence, this makes parody very little different from mockery and burlesque, and, given Swift's attention to language, it is likely that he knew this. In fact, Swift's definition of parody might well be a parody of Dryden's presumed habit of explaining the obvious or using loan words.
After Jonathan Swift, the term parody was used almost exclusively to refer to mockery, particularly in narrative.
In the older sense of the word, parody can occur when whole elements of one work are lifted out of their context and reused. Pastiche is a form of parody, and parody can also occur when characters or settings belonging to one work are used in a humorous way in another.
In Flann O'Brien's novel At Swim-Two-Birds, for example, mad King Sweeney, Finn MacCool, a pookah, and an assortment of cowboys all assemble in an inn in Dublin: the mixture of mythic characters, characters from genre fiction, and a quotidian setting combine for a humor that is not directed at any of the characters or their authors. This combination of established and identifiable characters in a new setting is not the same as the post-modernist habit of using historical characters in fiction out of context to provide a metaphoric element. However, in the postmodern sensibility, blank parody is common where an artist takes the skeletal form of another art work and places it in a new context with new content.
Some genre film theorists see parody as a natural development in the life cycle of any genre, especially in film. Westerns, for example, after the classic stage defined the conventions of the genre, underwent a parody stage, in which those same conventions were lampooned. Because audiences had seen these classic Westerns, they had expectations for any new Westerns, and when these expectations were inverted, the audience laughed.
Sometimes the reputation of a parody outlasts the reputation of what is being parodied. A notable case is the novel Joseph Andrews by Henry Fielding (1742), which was a parody of the gloomy epistolary novel Pamela, or Virtue Rewarded (1740) by Samuel Richardson. Many of Lewis Carroll's parodies, such as "You Are Old, Father William", are much better known than the originals.
A subset of parody is self-parody in which an artist or genre repeats elements of earlier works to the point that originality is lost.
Although a parody can be considered a derivative work under United States Copyright Law it can be protected under the fair use of 17 USC § 107. In 2001, the federal Court of Appeals, 11th District in Suntrust v. Houghton Mifflin upheld the right of Alice Randall to publish a parody of Gone With the Wind called The Wind Done Gone, which told the same story from the point of view of Scarlett O'Hara's slaves, who were glad to be rid of her. See also the Supreme Court of the United States case Campbell v. Acuff-Rose Music regarding the song Oh, Pretty Woman.
See literary technique.
See also parody religion
- Sir Thopas in Canterbury Tales, by Geoffrey Chaucer
- Don Quixote by Miguel Cervantes
- Beware of the Cat by Thomas Nashe
- The Knight of the Burning Pestle by Francis Beaumont and John Fletcher
- Dragon of Wantley, an anonymous 17th century ballad
- Hudibras by Samuel Butler
- "MacFlecknoe," by John Dryden
- A Tale of a Tub by Jonathan Swift
- Rape of the Lock by Alexander Pope
- Namby Pamby by Henry Carey
- Gulliver's Travels by Jonathan Swift
- The Dunciad by Alexander Pope
- The Memoirs of Martinus Scribblerus by John Gay, Alexander Pope, John Arbuthnot, Earl of Oxford, et al.
- Rasselas, Prince of Persia by Samuel Johnson
- Mozart's A Musical Joke (Ein musikalischer Spass), K.522 (1787) - parody of incompetent contemporaries of Mozart
- Sartor Resartus by Thomas Carlysle
- MAD Magazine - parody of all things in American popular culture
- The Rutles - parody of The Beatles
- The Onion - parody of newspaper and magazine journalism
- The Misprint - similar to The Onion, parodies politics in India
- Chris Morris's The Day Today and Brass Eye - parodies of high paced self-important genre of TV news programmes
- The parodoy of the British Government's Preparing for Emergencies website by a student Thomas Scott. The parody site  and the genuine site . Also the parody of the US-Visit infomation .
- The Rerun Show - television series that parodies classic episodes of old shows
- Blazing Saddles movie by Mel Brooks - parody of American westerns
- The Three Amigos movie with Steve Martin - another parody of American westerns
- Bored of the Rings a parody of The Lord of the Rings
- Ripping Yarns television tales penned by Michael Palin and Terry Jones to parody heroic stories/comics aimed at British boys during the 1920-1960 (?) period
- Much of the repertoire of Monty Python's Flying Circus
- Radio Active BBC parody of poorly funded rural local commercial radio
- Rutland Weekend Television Eric Idle inspired parody of low grade commercial television
- The Sunday Format BBC radio parody of vacuous lifestyle journalism
- Weird Al Yankovic's innumerable song parodies
- Barry Trotter - parodies of Harry Potter books.
- Parodies of several major hit films in the French & Saunders comedy series (including Titanic, Misery, Braveheart, Thelma and Louise, Lord of the Rings)
- The Planes of Parody - a parody of the storyline of the The Planes of Power expansion for the EverQuest online game.
- A parody of a website 404 error is available here.
- The Dundee Code - Parody of The Da Vinci Code, supposedly set in Australia