By contrast, the Whigs drew on a broader, more varied power base, comprising disparate interests outside the establishment. Above all, they represented the newly emerging commercial middle class—tradesmen, merchants, and shopkeepers whose growing wealth was based on cash, not land. These new party allegiances not only encompassed political and economic issues but shaped, and were shaped by, broader cultural and aesthetic values as well. While not the ostensible substance of the disagreement between the Tory John Dryden and the Whig Thomas Shadwell, political concerns can be vaguely but certainly discerned in the literary feud that developed between these two Restoration playwrights, whose respective political affiliations paralleled their literary tastes and standards.
The Puritans had banned theatrical performances in , but when Charles II was restored in , the institution of theater was restored as well. Yet the tragedies and comedies that flourished during the Restoration period did so on a smaller scale than their Elizabethan or Jacobean predecessors, Dryden, though not considered a great playwright by modern critics, was adept at pleasing audiences, and did so with grand heroic tragedies in verse, and refined, amoral, and chatty comedies of wit or manners.
He left that university before taking a degree and in entered the Middle Temple in London to study law. His reputation has not yet recovered. According to one Shadwell scholar,. His change in attitude has a lot to do with the evident pleasure that other theatergoers, from the king himself to the common folk, take in the play.
Shadwell did in fact enjoy the favor of upper-class patrons prominently, the duke of Newcastle throughout his career and was a favorite among the masses as well. He followed The Sullen Lovers with a host of other plays: later in with The Royal Shepherdess a pastoral tragi-comedy ; in with The Humorists a comedy ; in with The Miser a comedy ; and, before the end of , with 10 other plays of varying success.
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His next play, a comedy entitled The Squire of Alsatia, would not be produced until , although he would write and translate poetry in the interim. Thanks to his patron, the earl of Dorset, Shadwell became poet laureate on March 9, , a position he would retain until his death in The shots on both sides had been fired off largely in the prologues, epilogues, prefaces, and dedications to plays written between and Shadwell responded in the preface of his own very Jon-sonian play The Sullen Lovers by defending Jonson,.
Shadwell in Oden, p. In the play The Rehearsal by George Villiers, duke of Buckingham, satirized rhymed heroic drama and included a character named Mr. Bayes, who recognizably mocked Dryden himself.
As the s progressed, Shadwell continued to fire off barbs at Dryden in prologues to such plays as Epsom-Wells and Psyche That there are a great many faults in the conduct of this Play, I am not ignorant. But I having no Pension but from the Theatre, which is either unwilling or unable to reward a Man sufficiently for so much pains as correct Comedies require cannot allot my whole time to the writing of Plays, but am forced to mind some other business of Advantage.
Shadwell in Winn, p. The poem itself is relatively short, amounting to lines. Only the one who most resembles the monarch himself is fit to rule, Flecknoe cries:. Little fish flocked around the boat in the same way as they crowded around the bits of floating sewage in the river, and, in strumming the lute, Sh—kept better time even than the mechanical meter of his play Psyche.
Near the walls around the fair city of Augusta London is an old ruined building, once a watchtower but now the site of several brothels.
Plays by the great John Fletcher are not performed there; nor are those by the greater Ben Jonson. The clowns Simkin and Panton often practice their verbal tricks at the Nursery, though. The news of the coronation spreads throughout the city, or at least through that neighborhood. Then Flecknoe himself appears, high up on a throne of his own works. Acting as both king and priest, Flecknoe prepares the oil with which to anoint his heir.
The ceremony and the omens of coming might are cheered by the admiring crowd. Fighting the urge to make a speech, Flecknoe shakes his hair; droplets of sweat fly from his forehead onto Sh—as Flecknoe gives in and begins speaking prophetically. Let others teach success, he says, addressing Sh—after the crowd roars its approval, but you learn from me how to go through labor without giving birth and how to work hard without producing anything. When did Jonson inject vulgar non sequiturs into his dialogue, or produce a situation comedy when he had promised a real play?
When did he steal whole scenes from Fletcher, the way you do from George Etherege c. Your mind is bent toward dullness, which makes your writings lean that way, too. Your only resemblance to Jonson is that you both had mountainous stomachs, but yours is full of wind, not sense, making you a huge wine cask of a body but only a small keg of wit. Your verse, like mine, drones weakly: your tragedies make people laugh, while your comedies put them to sleep; your satires are toothless, and the poison in your heart loses its venom when it touches your pen.
Dryden was a Tory because he saw the king as fighting in the front lines of that battle, indeed as having rescued the nation from dullness:.
At his return, he found a Nation lost as much in Barbarism as in Rebellion. Thus, our way of living became more free: and the fire of the English wit, which was before stifled under a constrained melancholy way of breeding, began first to display its force.
Dryden in Oden, p. Ranged against freedom and wit is the panoply of Whiggishness, as embodied by Shad-well, the monarch of dullness. It is this larger preoccupation that lies behind the more overtly political and topical concerns in the poem with coronations, succession, and legitimate rule. For Dryden, dullness threatened to undo the invigorating atmosphere of the Restoration itself. The mock epic takes the elevated style and diction of epic poetry and applies them to trivial or unworthy subjects, using the resulting disparity to make its humorous point.
Like all English gentlemen in this period, Dryden received a classical education in Greek and Latin literature. His ancient models can be found in the epics of Homer the Iliad and the Odyssey and Virgil the Aeneid , with which he was intimately familiar. Later he would translate the works of Virgil, including the Aeneid, from Latin into English. Milton had worked in relative obscurity, and Dryden was among the first to recognize the magnitude of his poetic achievement, which may have been imposing enough to deflect Dryden from attempting a grand English epic of his own.
The poem circulated in manuscript for years before being published some 15 manuscripts are known to have survived. Dryden himself authorized its anonymous publication in in Miscellany Poems, a poetry anthology published by Jacob Tonson in London. Ashley, Maurice. As this century enjoyed the benefits of the thriving printing press, literature had a wide reach.
There was competition between writers who were interpreting the Classics and aiming to influence history and write their names in its annals.
The 17th century stress on order and harmony united with the translation of classics, to codify the necessary features of satire. Dryden in his Discourse traces etymology and compares the three classical poets, but also develops an argument about what is a good satire and what is the duty of a satirist. Dryden is responding to a significant feature of the literary demands of his time, which is to take a position on issues and address the readers in hope of shaping public opinion.
Public poetry required the writers to address important issues and placed a great deal of importance in the literature being read by the masses. The method to accomplish this was to comment on other poets and their work.
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This method led to development of the genre of satire. Dryden outlines the shape of satire in his Discourse in terms of what the poet should address and how he should structure his argument with a variety of themes. He also foregrounds his position as a modernist by outlining how a modern satire is to be written, even though the foundation of his discourse rests on the Classical poets. This guides the structure of the verse and hence dictates its shape.
Recalling the etymological roots of satire as a dish serving a variety of food, Dryden allows for a variety of themes but emphasises the role of these sub-themes as helping the main theme. The profusion of themes present in Mac Flecknoe reflects this view penned down by Dryden much later in the Discourse.
Mac Flecknoe as a Satire - Words | Bartleby
The many levels that subjects under art, monarchy, and religion add to the poem perform the function which Dryden regards as imperative to shaping a satire. One of the key questions that Mac Flecknoe raises is about its classification as a satire in the first place. These features make this famous poem of the 17th century a satire reflecting the anxieties of its time. The lines of the poem that savour strongly of personal censure are metaphorically linked to public concerns of quality of literature being produced. The distaste for a rival also reveals an underlying anxiety about the public preference deviating from the norm considered superior by a particular literary group.
This balancing of private and public concerns in Mac Flecknoe is accomplished by a complex design of metaphor and allusion. This undercutting is not only present at the level of metaphor and allusion, but Dryden also undercuts the panegyric tone in which he writes. As the poem is a mock-epic, the subject of praise is satirised. The mock epic uses elevated themes for Shadwell which satirise him for not possessing greatness, and also for aspiring towards such high standards. The mock heroic style serves to magnify all that Shadwell lacks, and at the same time infuses several themes in the poem.
The most persuasive argument against reading the poem as a lampoon is its blithe and lively tone which is unlike the virulent tone of a lampoon. The panegyric tone adds irony, but also gives him the chance to dismiss by mock appreciation. The use of sexual puns and scatological humour serve the purpose of presenting a perverted praise of a bad poet, a poet whose very name is censored and is a pun in itself. The religious and literary overtones associated with night and day in the [Miltonic] epic tradition, are exploited to satirise Shadwell.
Even though the Kingdom of Nonsense exists only in fiction and is exempt from claims to reality, Dryden uses allusions to the city of London that add realism. These allusions are to the spaces of the city that are far from the civility of the Town and Court. The flute playing is the only creative activity that Dryden allows Shadwell [Earl Miner], and as the tactic functions, this activity also undergoes a perversion.
Another instance of decay in the poem is brothels rising out of Barbican ruins.
The past giving way to a perverted present is a motif that is brought quite literally alive here. Dryden is deliberately keeping Shadwell out of a genealogy of canonised authors, placing him instead in the line of Ogelby and Shirley. The topography of the poem also functions as a metaphor that implies the bad quality of plays that Shadwell produces. It likens him to the playwrights and authors from Grubb Street, which was famous as a haven for hack writers. As the poem progresses, the emphasis on the utter lack of sense intensifies.