English Literature

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  • Topic: Satire, John Dryden, Thomas Shadwell
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By P Baburaj Senior Lecturer

Dept. of English Sherubtse College, Bhutan

MAC FLECKNOE - John Dryden
In Restoration period, in 1660 was a nation divided against itself. The plague of 1665- 70,000 people died in London alone. In September 1666- The Great fire of London.13, 000 houses destroyed. As mentioned England was in bad condition. The literature of the period was influenced by the writings of the classical poets such as Virgil, Horace, and Ovid. They tend to return Classical Period. The restoration Period was marked by an advance in colonization and overseas trade, by Dutch wars, by the great plague and the great fire of London, by the Whig and Tory parties and by the Popish plot. Mock‐heroic, written in an ironically grand style that is comically incongruous with the ‘low’ or trivial subject treated. This adjective is commonly applied to mock epics, but serves also for works or parts of works using the same comic method in various forms other than that of the full‐scale mock‐epic poem. Heroic couplet is a traditional form for English poetry, commonly used for epic and narrative poetry. It refers to poems constructed from sequence of rhyming pairs of iambic pentameter lines. The rhyme is always masculine used in the heroic couplet first pioneered by Geoffrey Chaucer in the Legend Of Good Women and The Canterbury Tales. Chaucer is also widely credited with first extensive use of iambic pentameter.

The mock heroic style was popular in the Post-Restoration.
MacFlecknoe" traces its "hero’s rise to stupidity in verse deliberately mimicking the style of and alluding to the Aeneid and other epics. Like the Odyssey, it starts in a kind of Olympus, only it's the realm of Nonsense, until recently ruled by Flecknoe. The dying king of dullness searches for a successor and, by virtue of his vices (as it were) MacFlecknoe (Shadwell) gets the nod. The rest of the poem develops by a pattern of mock praise of poetic vices wherein "success" is failure and the slightest deviation from the stultifying norm is a clear sign that somebody's got poetic talent. "MacFlecknoe" is the mocking Scottish form for "son-of-Flecknoe," and the character stands for Thomas Shadwell, whose pretention to be taken for the inheritor of Ben Jonson's poetic tradition Dryden skewers by making him the son of Richard Flecknoe, a poet even Shadwell would see was d ull. Other characters represent contemporary or recent poets (Heywood, Decker, Shirley, Fletcher), or they are allegorical, part of the epic "machinery of the gods" by which Dryden mocks Shadwell, making him inherit the throne of Nonesense.

John Dryden's “Mac Flecknoe” - is a poem in the mock-heroic tradition. Written in about 1678, “Mac Flecknoe" is the outcome of a series of disagreements between Thomas Shadwell and Dryden. Their quarrel blossomed from the following disagreements: "1) their different estimates of the genius of Ben Jonson, 2) the preference of Dryden for comedy of wit and repartee and of Shadwell, the chief disciple of Jonson, for humors comedy, 3) a sharp disagreement over the true purpose of comedy, 4) contention over the value of rhymed plays, and 5) plagiarism. Flecknoe comprehends that it is time for his departure as he has for long reigned over the realms of dullness beginning his tenure like Augustus at an early age. The first two lines are an ostentatious platitude on the transience of Life; how Fate eventually wins over the former. The only common aspect between Flecknoe and Augustus was that both of them began to rule young; the insignificance of Flecknoe is contrasted against the huge stature of Augustus, in keeping with the mock -heroic tradition. Flecknoe was indubitably the undisputed King of Dullness in the realms of prose and verse. He has produced a large number of dunces and now seriously contemplates over a successor. Flecknoe pitches on Shadwell owing to a persistent dullness right from his literary infancy. There is a Biblical allusion as to how God...
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