Bathos is a literary device that involves a sudden shift from a serious, lofty, or elevated tone to one that is trivial or ridiculous. This technique is often used to create a humorous or ironic effect, highlighting the contrast between the two tones. Bathos can be intentional or accidental, and it is particularly effective in parody and satire.



How Writers Use Bathos

Writers use bathos to:

  • Create Humor: The abrupt shift in tone can surprise the reader and create a comedic effect.
  • Highlight Contrast: By juxtaposing serious and trivial elements, writers can emphasize the absurdity of certain situations.
  • Engage Readers: The unexpected twist can capture the reader’s attention and make the text more engaging.
  • Critique Society: Bathos is often used in satire to critique societal norms and behaviors by highlighting their ridiculous aspects.

Types of Bathos

Intentional BathosDeliberate use of a shift from serious to trivial to create humor.“He lost his job, his house, and his favorite pen.”
Accidental BathosUnintended shift from serious to trivial, often due to poor writing.“The hurricane destroyed the town and my collection of rare stamps.”
Parodic BathosUsing bathos to parody or satirize a serious subject.“The knight was brave, noble, and slightly overweight.”

Rules of Bathos

Know Your AudienceEnsure the use of bathos will be appreciated and understood by your readers.
Context MattersUse bathos in appropriate contexts where the shift in tone will have the desired effect.
Subtlety is KeyAvoid making the shift too jarring; the transition should be smooth enough to be humorous but noticeable.
Avoid OveruseUse bathos sparingly to maintain its impact and avoid diminishing the overall tone of the work.
Balance SeriousnessEnsure that the serious elements are strong enough to make the shift to triviality effective.

Examples of Bathos in Different Media

Bathos in Literature

The Rape of the LockAlexander Pope“Here thou, great Anna, whom three realms obey, Dost sometimes counsel take—and sometimes tea.”
Don QuixoteMiguel de Cervantes“He attacks windmills, thinking they are giants, and gets knocked off his horse.”
Pride and PrejudiceJane Austen“She was convinced that she could have been happy with him, when it was no longer likely they should meet.”

Bathos in Children’s Books

The Tale of Peter RabbitBeatrix Potter“Peter lost one of his shoes among the cabbages, and the other shoe amongst the potatoes.”
Winnie-the-PoohA.A. Milne“Here is Edward Bear, coming downstairs now, bump, bump, bump, on the back of his head, behind Christopher Robin.”
Alice’s Adventures in WonderlandLewis Carroll“The Queen turned crimson with fury, and, after glaring at her for a moment like a wild beast, screamed ‘Off with her head!’ Those whom she sentenced were taken into custody by the soldiers, who of course had to leave off being archers to do this.”

Bathos in Poetry

The Rime of the Ancient MarinerSamuel Taylor Coleridge“He went like one that hath been stunned, And is of sense forlorn: A sadder and a wiser man, He rose the morrow morn.”
The Love Song of J. Alfred PrufrockT.S. Eliot“No! I am not Prince Hamlet, nor was meant to be; Am an attendant lord, one that will do To swell a progress, start a scene or two.”
Ode on a Distant Prospect of Eton CollegeThomas Gray“To each his sufferings: all are men, Condemn’d alike to groan; The tender for another’s pain, Th’ unfeeling for his own. Yet ah! why should they know their fate, Since sorrow never comes too late, And happiness too swiftly flies? Thought would destroy their paradise. No more; where ignorance is bliss, ’Tis folly to be wise.”

Bathos in Songs

The Ballad of John and YokoThe Beatles“Christ, you know it ain’t easy, You know how hard it can be. The way things are going They’re gonna crucify me.”
You’re So VainCarly Simon“You’re so vain, you probably think this song is about you.”
Albuquerque“Weird Al” Yankovic“Oh well, it would’ve been a good excuse, but I forgot my harmonica.”

Bathos in Movies

Monty Python and the Holy GrailThe Black Knight Scene“Tis but a scratch!” (after losing his arm)
The Naked GunOpening Scene“I love it! It’s so refreshing to see something other than the same old senseless violence.” (while chaos ensues around him)
Airplane!Various Scenes“Looks like I picked the wrong week to quit sniffing glue.”

YouTube Links:

  1. Monty Python and the Holy Grail – The Black Knight Scene
  2. The Naked Gun – Opening Scene
  3. Airplane! – Various Scenes

Bathos in Advertising

Old SpiceThe Man Your Man Could Smell Like“Look at your man, now back to me, now back at your man, now back to me.”
SnickersYou’re Not You When You’re Hungry“You’re not you when you’re hungry.” (showing celebrities in absurd situations)
GeicoHappier Than… Campaign“Happier than a camel on Wednesday.”

YouTube Links:

  1. Old Spice – The Man Your Man Could Smell Like
  2. Snickers – You’re Not You When You’re Hungry
  3. Geico – Happier Than… Campaign

FAQs about Bathos

What is bathos in literature?

Bathos in literature is a sudden shift from a serious or elevated tone to a trivial or ridiculous one, often creating a humorous or ironic effect.

How does bathos differ from pathos?

While pathos evokes pity or sadness, bathos intentionally or unintentionally creates a ludicrous or humorous contrast by abruptly shifting tones.

Can bathos be used in all types of writing?

Bathos can be used in various types of writing, including literature, poetry, songs, movies, and advertising, to create humor or highlight absurdity.

Why is bathos effective in writing?

Bathos is effective because it surprises the reader with an unexpected shift in tone, making the text more engaging and often humorous.

Related Devices


The use of words to convey a meaning that is opposite of its literal meaning, often used to create humor or emphasize a point.


A humorous or satirical imitation of a serious piece of literature, music, or film.


A technique used to expose and criticize foolishness or corruption of individuals or society, often through humor, irony, or exaggeration.


An exaggerated statement or claim not meant to be taken literally, used for emphasis or effect.


Placing two elements or ideas close together to highlight their differences or create contrast.