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«An International Peer-Reviewed Open Access Journal SATIRICAL NOTE IN JOHN DRYDEN’S MACFLECKNOE: A CRITICAL STUDY JAYADEV KAR Assistant Professor in ...»

LangLit ISSN 2349-5189

An International Peer-Reviewed Open Access Journal




Assistant Professor in English,

Yuvodaya College of Advance

Technology, Balangir, Odisha,


Macflecknoe the Magnum opus of John Dryden is a satire on the then socio political scenario. The analysis of the poem is basically focalized on the poem’s content. Meanwhile historical and political situation of the Augustan period back the analysis up significantly.

Mac Flecknoe' begins by explaining that the reigning king, Flecknoe, is retiring from his position and that the throne of dullest poet must now be filled by another writer. The poem then humorously quotes Flecknoe's departing speech. In the speech, Flecknoe relates that, although he was able to produce impressively dull poetry throughout his career, Shadwell's ability to write terrible poetry easily surpasses his own. The poem goes on to explain the beautiful throne that has been designed in preparation for Shadwell's rule. We then learn of Shadwell's coronation and of how people come from all over to praise the new king and of the animals that applaud him. After Shadwell promises to always wage war with wit, his father presents a speech that blesses Shadwell's rule and encourages him to continue to produce terrible poetry. The poem then ends with Shadwell officially becoming the reigning king of dullness. This paper aims to high light the direct and indirect satire used in the poem.

Key Words: Shadwell, Richard Flecknoe, Satire, Dunce


John Dryden, an English poet who was born at Northamptonshire in August 9, 1631 was known as the founder of English literary criticism. Satire was his new style of poetic forms.

Satire is a literary work intended to arouse ridicule, contempt or disgust at abuses and follies of a man and his institutions. It aism at the correction fo malpractices by inspiring both indignation and laughter with a mixture of criticism and wit. MacFlecknoe (Mac means son in Irish language) is a satirical poem which treats its subject, Thomas Shadwell with irony and ridicule. Mac Flecknoe first appeared in 1682 in an unedited, and probably unauthorized edition D.Green Jacob Tonson published an edited and authorized copy of the poem in London in 1684 as part of a Dryden collection entitled Miscellany Poems. John Dryden wrote "Mac Flecknoe" to satirize another English writer, Thomas Shadwell (1642-1692), author of eighteen plays and a small body of poetry. Dryden and Shadwell had once treated each other amicably but became enemies because of their differing views on the following: 1...Politics.

Dryden was a Tory; Shadwell was a Whig. 2...Literature: Dryden and Shadwell differed strongly on who was the better writer: Shakespeare or Ben Jonson. Dryden took the part of Shakespeare; Shadwell idolized Jonson. When Shadwell attacked Dryden in The Medal of John Bayes (1682) and in a political work, Dryden retaliated with "Mac Flecknoe," a masterpiece of satire.

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An International Peer-Reviewed Open Access Journal Although many of Shadwell's plays were popular in his time, critics generally regard him today as a writer of small merit. Dryden, on the other hand, enjoys a reputation as one of the greats of English literature. Dryden here terms Shadwell as the disciple of Richar Flecknoe who was not that much popular. Richard Flecknoe (1600-1678) was an English dramatist and poet whose writing was ridiculed by poet Andrew Marvell (1621-1678), as well as Dryden. In "Mac Flecknoe," Dryden casts him in the fictional role of the King of Nonsense.

When the time comes for the aging king to select his successor, he chooses Thomas Shadwell. (In the poem, Dryden casts Shadwell as the son of the King of Nonsense.) Shadwell accedes to the crown as Mac Flecknoe. (Mac means son of.)

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He had had many sons from whom he wants to choose one who will continue the state of dullness for all times to come. He ponders over the issue as to which of his son is worthy to succeed him and wage immortal war with wit. He chose Shadwell to succeed him as he was the perfect nadir of genius. Of all his sons, Flecknoe selected Shadwell because he was mature in dullness from tender years. Other Children of Flecknoe do some time deviate into sense but Shadwell never deviates into sense. Some beams of wit on other souls may fall but Shadwell‟s genuine night admits no ray and his fog(ignorance) prevail upon the day. Over and above this, his enormous size fascinates the eyes of the beholder and seems to be intended by nature to make him fit for reigning over the dullards. He resembles a gigantic oak tree first by his huge size and secondly by his indolence and stupidity. There are others with similar qualities like Heywood and Shirley. However Shadwell‟s dullness is so deep that the dullness‟ of the above two stand nowhere before him. Flecknoe was a renowned dunce, but he was merely a harbinger, a forerunner to prepare the way for the ultimate dunce his son.

Here a clear biblical metaphor can be marked. It was John who prepares the way for Jesus for the salvation of humanity. But here the opposite is happening. And it is evident from the following lines Even I, a dunce of more renown than they Was sent before but to prepare thy way Then Dryden shifts the attention of the poem to the coronation ceremony in which he is supposed to hand over the throne to his son. The satirical note is again marked here because the place which he selects to hand over power is of ill repute. Near the wall of Augusta there stands an old building called the Barbican which once served as a watch tower, but such is the decree of fate that though the place is still called the Barbican, yet there is no trace of the tower left now. From its ruins, houses of ill fame have risen. In these brothels scenes of vulgar sexuality were enacted, and lustful pleasure was experienced. Ageing prostitutes ruled

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An International Peer-Reviewed Open Access Journal in these places and slept peacefully undisturbed by night watchmen. Near the brothels there stand a school for the training of actors or actresses. None of the tragedies of the great Fletcher or the comedies of Ben Jonson is ever rehearsed here. Only some dramas of third grade dramatist are practiced herein. Flecknoe chose this place because Thomas Dekker the famous Elizabethan dramatist had foretold long ago that a prince designed by nature to be a bitter enemy of wit and sense would have the seat of his government at that place.

By this time Rumor had spread about Shadwell‟s crowning ceremony. Stirred by this many dunce people attended the same. The path over which the emperor of the Dunces was to pass was not covered with costly Persian carpets but with some ordinary carpets. Supporters of Heywood, Shirle and Ogeby also attended the meaningless rituals. Publishers who had been deceived and ruined by writers were standing the guard of honour. The captain of Guards was Herringman, Shadwell‟s publisher. Old Flecknoe appeard in royal state, he was seated on a lofty throne formed by piling up a large mass of his own books. At his hand sat young Ascanius. A misty darkness and confusion covered his face and forehead instead of the bright radiance that surround the heads of saint and prophets. As Hannibal was made by his father Hamilcar to take a solemn oath that he would be a mortal enemy to Roame, so Shadwell swore and his vow was to remain a supreme dunce all his life fighting against wit and sense.

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Flecknoe place a huge cup of strong ale instead of the ball of sovereignty in the left hand of Shadwell and a foolish book called „Love‟s Kindgdom‟ in the right hand. Shadwell took this eagerly because he was accustomed with the kingdom of dunce and his work the Psyche was a vivid example of his stupidity. Just at the same time twelve owls flew on his left hand and the crowd expressed its joy by loud shouts accepting the event as the good omen for future days to come. Then the old king Flecknoe started advising his son Shadwell “Go on progressing towards fresh ignorance and nonsense, Leave the teaching of success to others. You learn how to produce nothing through much labour. It should take five year to write a play yet the audience should not understand head or tail of that play. You should write comedy with a tragic note and a tragedy having comical plot. And to which Shadwell was assenting silently. Then Flecknoe paused for a while and to this the gathering supported saying amen… Then Flecknoe went on advising not to follow the advice of other who would instigate to study. Let Shadwell write satire whose result be witty. Let him make new mistakes in literature by writing never ending and meaningless lines.

In these last lines of the poem, Mac flecknoe, Dryden says that while Flecknoe was advising his son, he disappeared all of a sudden. He was dragged below through a trap door even before he had concluded his speech. The trap door had been laid by Bruce and Longville.

This is an allusion to scene in Shadwell‟s play The Virtuoso. Dryden uses the very materials of his rival poet to ridicule him and his literary father. With this master stroke, Dryden puts an end to Flecknoe‟s speech. Flecknoe went down, his robe of Norwich Drugget was wafted

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An International Peer-Reviewed Open Access Journal upward by a wind. This mantle fell upon Shadwell as the mantle of Elijah, the Jewish prophet, fell on his son Elisha, when Elijah was taken to heaven. Shadwell became a successor to Flecknoe in the realm of Nonsense absolute. Dr. Johnson defined a lampoon as a personal satire written not to reform but to vex. A general satirist had the noble aim of not merely ridiculing vice but of correcting through laughter. Thus reform is part of the satirist‟s aim while the lampooner is content with pouring scorn over his victim. It is remarked that MacFlecknoe is not merely a satire but a comedy as well. There is a great deal of humour and even pure fun in it which warrents a critic‟s contention that MacFlecknoe is not only a satire it is also acomedy. All through the poem, we find an intermingling of satire and comedy. The comic overtone give a humorous tinge to the satire. Even the most satirical passage have the aura of comedy about them. The following devastating lines are comic as well as satirical.

To the modern reader, MacFlecknoe seems to have plenty of obscure allusions. The plays and characters of Shadwell, the characters from George Etherge‟s plays, various parodies of actual lines from Shadwell and other lesser known writers, make the poem slightly difficult to the modern reader. The allusions to contemporary London and its localities are also obscure now. The modern and in fact the universal appeal of MacFlecknoe lies in its mock-heroic style and the sheer fun of the burlesque ceremonies and the farcical situations. It is amazing that a triviality can be expanded to such comic lengths. That is why T.S. Eliot once said “the most fun….. the most sustained display of surprise of wit from line to line is MacFlecknoe.

The impact of this poem was so great that many writers imitated this style in their respective language and Odiya is no exception to it. In the Odiya Poem “Darabar” Radhanath attack the foolishness of high society. i.e Ichanti dambhike haste rakhibaku savinkara bhagya dori Nija bhagya dori kala hate bandha diantee eha pasori…..

MacFlecknoe was certainly motivated by personal enmity. MacFlecnoe became the corner stone of Dryden‟s success in his poetic career. The political situation in his lifetime, especially the idea to settle the succession of the state made Dryden to thought seriously.

With his keenness he reflected his thought either about political situation or literary condition in MacFlecknoe. Dryden enlarged its scope to include satire on contemporary literary taste and bad poets in general. However, if it were merely topical, its appeal would have vanished long ago. If it appeals us now, it is because of the delectable use made of the mock heroic technique with the accompanying comic overtones and the remarkable pen picture of Shadwell, which may be untrue to actuality but is great comic effort. This poem is satirical in outlook on the idea of both the succession of the state and the succession of the literary state between Flecknoe and Shadwell.


1. Ford, Boris. ed.1970. From Dryden to Johnson.Volume 4. The Pelican Guide to English Literature.

Harmsworth, Middlesex, England: Penguin Books Ltd.

2. Kinsley, James. ed. 1958. The Poems of John Dryden.Oxford: Claredon Press.

3. MacDonald, Hugh. 1960. John Dryden: A Bibliography of Early Editions and of Drydeniana.New York: Oxford University Press.

4. Monk, Samuel Holt. 1950. John Dryden: A List of Critical Studies Published from 1895 to

1948.Minneapolis: University of Minnessota Press.

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