Mac Flecknoe

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Sashanka S. Das,
4028, B.A. (H), English, IInd year
Q. Write on John Dryden’s ‘Mac Flecknoe’ as a satire.
A. John Dryden’s Mac Flecknoe, as part of his corpus of satirical verse, is a short piece, and not as overtly political as, say, Absalom and Achitophel. It does aim to censure through indirect ridicule rather than direct condemnation, but, being a censorious poem directed specifically at an individual subject, Dryden’s literary rival Thomas Shadwell, it seems more a lampoon, as defined in Samuel Johnson’s Dictionary, than a proper, high satire. The object of this essay will be, therefore, to locate Mac Flecknoe, in the tradition of late 17th-century satire. Mac Flecknoe revolves around the succession of Richard Flecknoe, styled the ‘aged Prince’ (7) of Nonsense, by Thomas Shadwell, the eponymous satiric subject. The former was the archetypal untalented poet of Dryden’s time, and allied to Shadwell in “[apeing] Ben Jonson with offensive pride and lamentable incompetence” and “misuse of classicism”. Dryden thus fashions a critique of the bad literature produced by the poetasters of his time, and through that itself, establishes the neo-classical poetic theory of his age, and the corresponding role of the poet. He and his contemporaries adopted a stance of moderation, decorum, taste and order. They drew on classical models of regular form and graceful style, and considered certain normative ideas universal, but strove to formulate a literature uniquely of their age. There was also, to them, a close link “between affairs in the kingdom of letters and affairs in the kingdom of England”, and so the Augustan poet had an important role to play in both political debate and literature - the corrective and regulatory aspect of this role gave birth to the Augustan satirist. The trope of kingship and succession used here is thus no hollow literary device, but a reflection of Dryden’s anxiety at the charged political atmosphere of England at...
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