Mac Flecknoe

1091 Words Sep 14th, 2011 5 Pages
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
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Michael Seidel calls this assertion that “bad art is bad succession” the greatest satirical strength of Mac Flecknoe. The subtitle of the poem, which calls Shadwell a “True-Blew Protestant Poet”, introduces the issue of Protestant-Catholic tensions, and through association, makes radical Protestantism “a code for vulgar art”. The three main issues that Mac Flecknoe deals with are thus established to be literature, politics and religion. Dryden had idealized a satiric structure of one main argument, with others complementing it, in his Discourse Concerning the Origin and Progress of Satire, and so he makes Shadwell’s literary character the foremost concern of Mac Flecknoe, with the other two underlying it. The chosen idiom for its mockery is that of the mock-heroic; the familiar panegyric use of the heroic style is turned to satiric purposes. From the sententious opening couplet onward, the mock-heroic conception of the poem is clear. Dryden goes about “comparing small men to giants” – Flecknoe is compared to Augustus Caesar, John the Baptist and the prophet Elijah, and Shadwell to Arion, Ascanius, Romulus, Elisha and even Christ. These, and other instances of dignified, laudatory imagery, are used in the most undignified contexts, and as praises of the most unflattering characteristics. The use of the heroic couplet is central to this: its structure allows the sharp, ironical comparison of the solemn and the

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