'Mac Flecknoe' by John Dryden

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All human things are subject to decay,
And, when Fate summons, monarchs must obey:
This Flecknoe found, who, like Augustus, young
Was call'd to empire, and had govern'd long:
In prose and verse, was own'd, without dispute
Through all the realms of Non-sense, absolute.
This aged prince now flourishing in peace,
And blest with issue of a large increase,
Worn out with business, did at length debate
To settle the succession of the State:
And pond'ring which of all his sons was fit
To reign, and wage immortal war with wit;
Cry'd, 'tis resolv'd; for nature pleads that he
Should only rule, who most resembles me:
Shadwell alone my perfect image bears,
Mature in dullness from his tender years.
Shadwell alone, of all my sons, is he
Who stands confirm'd in full stupidity.
The rest to some faint meaning make pretence,
But Shadwell never deviates into sense.
Some beams of wit on other souls may fall,
Strike through and make a lucid interval;
But Shadwell's genuine night admits no ray,
His rising fogs prevail upon the day:
Besides his goodly fabric fills the eye,
And seems design'd for thoughtless majesty:
Thoughtless as monarch oaks, that shade the plain,
And, spread in solemn state, supinely reign.
Heywood and Shirley were but types of thee,
Thou last great prophet of tautology:
Even I, a dunce of more renown than they,
Was sent before but to prepare thy way;
And coarsely clad in Norwich drugget came
To teach the nations in thy greater name.
My warbling lute, the lute I whilom strung
When to King John of Portugal I sung,
Was but the prelude to that glorious day,
When thou on silver Thames did'st cut thy way,
With well tim'd oars before the royal barge,
Swell'd with the pride of thy celestial charge;
And big with hymn, commander of an host,
The like was ne'er in Epsom blankets toss'd.
Methinks I see the new Arion sail,
The lute still trembling underneath thy nail.
At thy well sharpen'd thumb from shore to shore
The treble squeaks for fear, the basses roar:
Echoes from Pissing-Alley, Shadwell call,
And Shadwell they resound from Aston Hall.
About thy boat the little fishes throng,
As at the morning toast, that floats along.
Sometimes as prince of thy harmonious band
Thou wield'st thy papers in thy threshing hand.
St. Andre's feet ne'er kept more equal time,
Not ev'n the feet of thy own Psyche's rhyme:
Though they in number as in sense excel;
So just, so like tautology they fell,
That, pale with envy, Singleton forswore
The lute and sword which he in triumph bore
And vow'd he ne'er would act Villerius more.
Here stopt the good old sire; and wept for joy
In silent raptures of the hopeful boy.
All arguments, but most his plays, persuade,
That for anointed dullness he was made.

Close to the walls which fair Augusta bind,
(The fair Augusta much to fears inclin'd)
An ancient fabric, rais'd t'inform the sight,
There stood of yore, and Barbican it hight:
A watch tower once; but now, so fate ordains,
Of all the pile an empty name remains.
From its old ruins brothel-houses rise,
Scenes of lewd loves, and of polluted joys.
Where their vast courts, the mother-strumpets keep,
And, undisturb'd by watch, in silence sleep.
Near these a nursery erects its head,
Where queens are form'd, and future heroes bred;
Where unfledg'd actors learn to laugh and cry,
Where infant punks their tender voices try,
And little Maximins the gods defy.
Great Fletcher never treads in buskins here,
Nor greater Jonson dares in socks appear;
But gentle Simkin just reception finds
Amidst this monument of vanish'd minds:
Pure clinches, the suburbian muse affords;
And Panton waging harmless war with words.
Here Flecknoe, as a place to fame well known,
Ambitiously design'd his Shadwell's throne.
For ancient Decker prophesi'd long since,
That in this pile should reign a mighty prince,
Born for a scourge of wit, and flail of sense:
To whom true dullness should some Psyches owe,
But worlds of Misers from his pen should flow;
Humorists and hypocrites it should produce,
Whole Raymond families, and tribes of Bruce.

Now Empress Fame had publisht the renown,
Of Shadwell's coronation through the town.
Rous'd by report of fame, the nations meet,
From near Bun-Hill, and distant Watling-street.
No Persian carpets spread th'imperial way,
But scatter'd limbs of mangled poets lay:
From dusty shops neglected authors come,
Martyrs of pies, and reliques of the bum.
Much Heywood, Shirley, Ogleby there lay,
But loads of Shadwell almost chok'd the way.
Bilk'd stationers for yeoman stood prepar'd,
And Herringman was Captain of the Guard.
The hoary prince in majesty appear'd,
High on a throne of his own labours rear'd.
At his right hand our young Ascanius sat
Rome's other hope, and pillar of the state.
His brows thick fogs, instead of glories, grace,
And lambent dullness play'd around his face.
As Hannibal did to the altars come,
Sworn by his sire a mortal foe to Rome;
So Shadwell swore, nor should his vow be vain,
That he till death true dullness would maintain;
And in his father's right, and realm's defence,
Ne'er to have peace with wit, nor truce with sense.
The king himself the sacred unction made,
As king by office, and as priest by trade:
In his sinister hand, instead of ball,
He plac'd a mighty mug of potent ale;
Love's kingdom to his right he did convey,
At once his sceptre and his rule of sway;
Whose righteous lore the prince had practis'd young,
And from whose loins recorded Psyche sprung,
His temples last with poppies were o'er spread,
That nodding seem'd to consecrate his head:
Just at that point of time, if fame not lie,
On his left hand twelve reverend owls did fly.
So Romulus, 'tis sung, by Tiber's brook,
Presage of sway from twice six vultures took.
Th'admiring throng loud acclamations make,
And omens of his future empire take.
The sire then shook the honours of his head,
And from his brows damps of oblivion shed
Full on the filial dullness: long he stood,
Repelling from his breast the raging god;
At length burst out in this prophetic mood:

Heavens bless my son, from Ireland let him reign
To far Barbadoes on the Western main;
Of his dominion may no end be known,
And greater than his father's be his throne.
Beyond love's kingdom let him stretch his pen;
He paus'd, and all the people cry'd Amen.
Then thus, continu'd he, my son advance
Still in new impudence, new ignorance.
Success let other teach, learn thou from me
Pangs without birth, and fruitless industry.
Let Virtuosos in five years be writ;
Yet not one thought accuse thy toil of wit.
Let gentle George in triumph tread the stage,
Make Dorimant betray, and Loveit rage;
Let Cully, Cockwood, Fopling, charm the pit,
And in their folly show the writer's wit.
Yet still thy fools shall stand in thy defence,
And justify their author's want of sense.
Let 'em be all by thy own model made
Of dullness, and desire no foreign aid:
That they to future ages may be known,
Not copies drawn, but issue of thy own.
Nay let thy men of wit too be the same,
All full of thee, and differing but in name;
But let no alien Sedley interpose
To lard with wit thy hungry Epsom prose.
And when false flowers of rhetoric thou would'st cull,
Trust Nature, do not labour to be dull;
But write thy best, and top; and in each line,
Sir Formal's oratory will be thine.
Sir Formal, though unsought, attends thy quill,
And does thy Northern Dedications fill.
Nor let false friends seduce thy mind to fame,
By arrogating Jonson's hostile name.
Let Father Flecknoe fire thy mind with praise,
And Uncle Ogleby thy envy raise.
Thou art my blood, where Jonson has no part;
What share have we in Nature or in Art?
Where did his wit on learning fix a brand,
And rail at arts he did not understand?
Where made he love in Prince Nicander's vein,
Or swept the dust in Psyche's humble strain?
Where sold he bargains, whip-stitch, kiss my arse,
Promis'd a play and dwindled to a farce?
When did his muse from Fletcher scenes purloin,
As thou whole Eth'ridge dost transfuse to thine?
But so transfus'd as oil on waters flow,
His always floats above, thine sinks below.
This is thy province, this thy wondrous way,
New humours to invent for each new play:
This is that boasted bias of thy mind,
By which one way, to dullness, 'tis inclin'd,
Which makes thy writings lean on one side still,
And in all changes that way bends thy will.
Nor let thy mountain belly make pretence
Of likeness; thine's a tympany of sense.
A tun of man in thy large bulk is writ,
But sure thou 'rt but a kilderkin of wit.
Like mine thy gentle numbers feebly creep,
Thy Tragic Muse gives smiles, thy Comic sleep.
With whate'er gall thou sett'st thy self to write,
Thy inoffensive satires never bite.
In thy felonious heart, though venom lies,
It does but touch thy Irish pen, and dies.
Thy genius calls thee not to purchase fame
In keen iambics, but mild anagram:
Leave writing plays, and choose for thy command
Some peaceful province in acrostic land.
There thou may'st wings display and altars raise,
And torture one poor word ten thousand ways.
Or if thou would'st thy diff'rent talents suit,
Set thy own songs, and sing them to thy lute.
He said, but his last words were scarcely heard,
For Bruce and Longvil had a trap prepar'd,
And down they sent the yet declaiming bard.
Sinking he left his drugget robe behind,
Born upwards by a subterranean wind.
The mantle fell to the young prophet's part,
With double portion of his father's art.

Editor 1 Interpretation

Mac Flecknoe: A Literary Masterpiece by John Dryden

Mac Flecknoe is a satirical poem written by John Dryden in 1682. It is considered one of the most significant works in the history of English literature. In this poem, Dryden mocks a writer named Thomas Shadwell who he considers as an unworthy poet to succeed him as the king of the literary world.

The poem is a literary masterpiece that uses allegory, irony, and wit to create a satirical masterpiece. It mocks not only Shadwell but the entire literary scene of the time. The poem is a unique blend of classical and contemporary literary styles.

Background of Mac Flecknoe

Before delving into the literary analysis of the poem, it is important to understand the background that led Dryden to write it.

John Dryden was a prominent writer and poet of his time. He was a master of satire and was known for his sharp wit and sarcasm. In 1678, Dryden was appointed as the Poet Laureate of England. This was a significant achievement for him, but it also meant that he had to find a suitable successor to take his place as the king of English literature.

Dryden had high hopes for Thomas Shadwell, a fellow writer, and poet. He believed that Shadwell had the potential to succeed him as the Poet Laureate. However, as time passed, Dryden became disillusioned with Shadwell's writing. He realized that Shadwell lacked the necessary skills and talent to succeed him as the king of English literature.

This led Dryden to write Mac Flecknoe, a satirical poem that ridicules Shadwell's writing style and literary abilities. The poem was published in 1682 and received widespread acclaim. It was an instant success and cemented Dryden's reputation as a master of satire.

The Plot of Mac Flecknoe

Mac Flecknoe is a satirical poem that mocks Thomas Shadwell and his literary abilities. The poem is a parody of the epic poem, Aeneid, written by the Roman poet, Virgil.

The poem begins with an introduction to Richard Flecknoe, a poet who is described as "the worst of poets." Flecknoe decides to pass on his crown of literary incompetence to Shadwell, who he considers to be even worse than himself. Flecknoe stages a mock coronation ceremony for Shadwell, in which he declares him as his successor as the king of bad poetry.

The rest of the poem is a satirical portrayal of Shadwell's writing style and literary abilities. Dryden ridicules Shadwell's use of cliches, his lack of originality, and his tendency to rely on crude humor and sexual innuendos. The poem is full of witty remarks and biting sarcasm that make it a masterpiece of satirical writing.

The Literary Techniques Used in Mac Flecknoe

Mac Flecknoe is a masterpiece of satirical writing that uses several literary techniques to create a unique and powerful work of art.


One of the most significant literary techniques used in Mac Flecknoe is allegory. The poem is an allegory of the literary scene of the time, with Flecknoe representing the old guard of writers, and Shadwell representing the new generation of writers. Flecknoe's decision to pass on his crown of literary incompetence to Shadwell is a metaphor for the decline of literary standards in the late seventeenth century.


Irony is another literary technique used extensively in Mac Flecknoe. Dryden uses irony to create a contrast between the grandeur of the coronation ceremony and the reality of Shadwell's incompetence as a writer. The use of irony adds depth and complexity to the poem and makes it a powerful work of satire.

Wit and Sarcasm

Dryden's mastery of wit and sarcasm is evident throughout Mac Flecknoe. The poem is full of biting sarcasm and witty remarks that make it a delight to read. Dryden uses his wit and sarcasm to ridicule Shadwell's writing style and literary abilities, exposing his lack of originality and skill.


Mac Flecknoe is a parody of the epic poem, Aeneid, written by Virgil. Dryden uses the same structure and style as Aeneid, but he subverts it by using it to mock Shadwell's writing. The use of parody adds a layer of complexity to the poem and makes it a unique work of satire.

The Significance of Mac Flecknoe

Mac Flecknoe is a significant work of literature that has stood the test of time. It is a masterpiece of satire that uses allegory, irony, wit, and parody to create a powerful work of art.

The poem is a commentary on the state of English literature in the late seventeenth century. It reflects the decline of literary standards and the rise of mediocrity and incompetence. The poem is a warning against the dangers of complacency and the need to strive for excellence in all areas of life.

Mac Flecknoe is also a testament to Dryden's mastery of satire. The poem is a showcase of his wit, sarcasm, and literary prowess. It is a work of art that has inspired generations of writers and poets.

In conclusion, Mac Flecknoe is a literary masterpiece that deserves to be studied and appreciated. It is a testament to Dryden's literary genius and his ability to use satire to expose the shortcomings of society. The poem is a timeless work of art that continues to inspire and delight readers to this day.

Editor 2 Analysis and Explanation

Mac Flecknoe: A Masterpiece of Satirical Poetry

John Dryden, one of the greatest poets of the Restoration period, wrote Mac Flecknoe in 1682. This poem is a satirical masterpiece that mocks the literary pretensions of a rival poet, Thomas Shadwell. The poem is a classic example of the genre of mock-heroic poetry, which uses the conventions of epic poetry to satirize a person or a situation. In this article, we will analyze and explain the poem in detail, exploring its themes, structure, language, and historical context.

The Plot and Characters

Mac Flecknoe is a mock-heroic poem that tells the story of the succession of a king of dullness, who is retiring from his throne and looking for a worthy successor. The king of dullness is none other than Richard Flecknoe, a minor poet of the seventeenth century, who is known for his bad poetry and his pretensions to greatness. Flecknoe is looking for a successor who can continue his legacy of dullness and mediocrity. He decides to choose his son, Thomas Shadwell, as his heir and successor.

Shadwell is a poet who is known for his bad poetry, his lack of wit, and his pretensions to greatness. He is the perfect candidate for the throne of dullness, and Flecknoe is proud to pass on his legacy to his son. The poem describes the coronation of Shadwell as the new king of dullness, and the celebration that follows. The poem ends with a warning to the readers that if they want to avoid the fate of being dull and mediocre, they should avoid reading the works of Shadwell and his followers.


The main theme of Mac Flecknoe is the satire of bad poetry and the pretensions of mediocre poets. Dryden uses the conventions of epic poetry to mock the literary pretensions of his rival, Thomas Shadwell. He portrays Shadwell as a dull and mediocre poet who is unworthy of the title of a poet. He also mocks the literary trends of his time, such as the use of bombastic language, the excessive use of metaphors, and the lack of originality in poetry.

Another theme of the poem is the idea of succession and inheritance. Flecknoe is passing on his legacy of dullness and mediocrity to his son, Shadwell. This idea of inheritance is also present in the literary world, where poets pass on their style and ideas to their followers. Dryden is criticizing this practice, suggesting that it leads to the perpetuation of bad poetry and the lack of originality in literature.


Mac Flecknoe is a mock-heroic poem that follows the conventions of epic poetry. The poem is divided into three parts: the invocation, the description of Flecknoe's kingdom, and the coronation of Shadwell. The poem is written in heroic couplets, which are pairs of rhyming lines in iambic pentameter. The use of heroic couplets is a nod to the conventions of epic poetry, which often used this form of verse.

The poem also uses a variety of literary devices, such as metaphors, similes, allusions, and irony. Dryden uses these devices to create a satirical tone and to mock the literary pretensions of his rival. For example, he compares Shadwell to a "Rhyming Parrot," suggesting that he is a mere imitator of other poets. He also uses irony to mock the idea of succession, suggesting that the throne of dullness is not something to be proud of.


The language of Mac Flecknoe is a mixture of high and low styles. Dryden uses the conventions of epic poetry to create a grand and majestic tone, but he also uses colloquial language and slang to create a satirical tone. For example, he uses the phrase "dull as his Night-cap," which is a colloquial expression that contrasts with the grandeur of epic poetry.

Dryden also uses a variety of metaphors and similes to create vivid images and to mock the literary pretensions of his rival. For example, he compares Shadwell to a "Stuffed Owl," suggesting that he is a lifeless and unoriginal poet. He also uses allusions to classical literature and mythology to create a sense of grandeur and to mock the literary trends of his time.

Historical Context

Mac Flecknoe was written during the Restoration period, a time of great political and social change in England. The period was marked by the restoration of the monarchy, the growth of trade and commerce, and the emergence of new literary and artistic trends. Dryden was a prominent figure in the literary world of the Restoration period, and he was known for his satirical poetry and his support of the monarchy.

The poem was written in response to the growing popularity of Thomas Shadwell, a rival poet who was known for his bad poetry and his lack of wit. Dryden was critical of Shadwell's literary style, which he saw as a reflection of the decline of literature in England. He used Mac Flecknoe to mock Shadwell and to criticize the literary trends of his time.


Mac Flecknoe is a masterpiece of satirical poetry that uses the conventions of epic poetry to mock the literary pretensions of a rival poet. The poem is a classic example of the genre of mock-heroic poetry, which uses the conventions of epic poetry to satirize a person or a situation. The poem is divided into three parts and is written in heroic couplets. Dryden uses a variety of literary devices, such as metaphors, similes, allusions, and irony, to create a satirical tone and to mock the literary trends of his time. The poem is a reflection of the political and social changes of the Restoration period and is a testament to Dryden's skill as a poet and satirist.

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