“Mac Flecknoe” is a satirical poem by John Dryden, written in the 17th century. It’s a mock-heroic narrative poem that lampoons Thomas Shadwell, a contemporary poet of Dryden, depicting him as the inept heir to the throne of dullness, previously held by Richard Flecknoe, a minor poet and playwright. The poem is considered one of the finest examples of satirical portraiture in English literature.
Here are some key aspects of its satirical portraiture:
Mock-heroic Style: Dryden uses the mock-heroic style, mimicking the form and grandeur of epic poetry to present a trivial subject — the coronation of Shadwell as the king of dull poets. This juxtaposition of high style with a low subject creates a humorous, satirical effect.
Characterization of Shadwell: Shadwell, renamed ‘Mac Flecknoe’ in the poem, is portrayed as a dull, unimaginative, and plodding poet. Dryden satirizes Shadwell’s literary abilities, suggesting that his only talent lies in producing boring and uninspired work.
Use of Irony: Irony is a significant tool in the poem. Dryden ironically praises Shadwell’s ‘talents’ for dullness and mediocrity, making it clear that these are actually criticisms of his lack of skill and originality.
Literary Allusions: The poem is rich in allusions to classical literature, which Dryden uses to contrast the grandeur and depth of the classics with Shadwell’s perceived mediocrity. This serves to further satirize Shadwell’s lack of literary talent.
Political and Social Commentary: Beyond targeting Shadwell, “Mac Flecknoe” also serves as a broader commentary on the literary and political scene of the time. Dryden uses the poem to criticize the cultural decline and the lowering of literary standards.
Wit and Humor: Despite its scathing critique, the poem is known for its wit and humour. Dryden’s clever use of language and his playful manipulation of poetic forms contribute to the overall satirical impact of the work.
In summary, “Mac Flecknoe” is a masterful satirical portrait that uses the mock-heroic form, irony, and wit to critique not only a literary rival but also the broader literary and cultural landscape of Dryden’s time.