James Gillray’s The Plumb Pudding in Danger is one of the world’s renowned Political cartoons. This print was one of over 1,000 pastiches created by James Gillray, the renowned political cartoonist recognized as the “Father of the Political Cartoon.” Cartoon characters and portraits were a common approach of criticizing and calling the authorities to respond in the 18th century. Indeed, some things in society often remain unspoken, and if spoken, it is better to speak indirectly rather than openly. Gillray in his legendary cartoon “The Plumb Pudding in Danger,” uses symbolism, and sarcasm, and exaggeration to represent the Prime Minister William Pitt of England and his territory, and Napoleon Bonaparte emperor of France, in their quest for Global Naval Supremacy.
Prime Minister William Pitt represents England and his territory, while Napoleon Bonaparte, the Emperor of France, is satirized in this print. They’re cutting up a custard that spans the actual globe between them. Between 1793 and 1815, Britain and France were frequently always at odds. Bonaparte became Emperor in December 1804 and was willing to have a new agreement with Britain when this print was produced in February 1805. The cartoon is satirical because it ridiculed the idea of the two superpowers coexisting peacefully. Gillray is implying that the two prominent empires will be unable to divide the earth and will be forced to fight to the last man.
Similarly, throughout the majority of this political cartoon, Gillray employs symbolism. Pitt spears a large chunk of saltwater with his scimitar fork, symbolizing Britain’s goal for global naval domination. Meanwhile, Napoleon divides France, Holland, Spain, Switzerland, Italy, and the Mediterranean to express his hunger. Gillray portrays both leaders as being out of the usual. Pitt is shown to be unhealthily thin, but Napoleon is shown to be little, with a beak-like snout and a manic expression. Both are seen tearing the world apart savagely, oblivious to the other’s equally ravenous appetite, hinting that they will soon collide.
Gillray also makes use of a little bit of exaggeration to show the extremes to which the two superpowers were willing to go to get what they wanted. Bonaparte satisfies his expansionist ambitions by feeding himself a chunk of what seems to be France, Switzerland, Holland, Spain, Italy, and other Mediterranean countries. The plum pudding-shaped Earth indicates to the reader that these strong individuals regard the planet as one they can easily take for themselves and use for the advantage of their own country. James Gillray, known as one of the best cartoonists and satirists of the Georgian period, seizes the opportunity to use his perfect talent to bring the protagonists in this political play to life. Napoleon’s overly-dwarfish physique and beaked nose are exaggerated, contributing to the infamous cliché that the emperor was abnormally short and hot-headed. This image became so well-known that the unproven inferiority problem is known as “short man syndrome” was dubbed the “Napoleon complex.” Gillray took this concept to its logical conclusion, depicting Bonaparte as being so short that he had to get out of his chair just to reach the table. It’s no coincidence that his hat is feathered in the colors of the French flag; Gillray wants his viewers to know the character. Meanwhile, William Pitt has been mocked for being so thin that he almost looks emaciated.
The Plumb Padding danger skillfully uses symbolism, sarcasm, and exaggeration to criticize these two powers of their greed for supremacy. Even in contemporary society, criticizing the authority needs to be something that is done discretely. Such matter is not spoken of openly, but rather in ways like this. The importance of criticizing authorities is always underrated but Gillray did an incredible job in this piece of art. Even though Gillray died in 1815, his effect on modern cartoonists is still felt. The fundamental concept of ‘The Plumb-pudding in Danger’ has been widely imitated. It is “perhaps the most famous political cartoon of all time,” according to cartoonist Martin Rawson.
James Gillray (1756-1815), Caricaturist. Artist associated with 881 portraits, Sitter in 7 portraits.