Study Guide

Mac Flecknoe Respect and Reputation

By John Dryden

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Respect and Reputation

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: (79-82)

Dryden mentions the names of several well-respected poets in "Mac Flecknoe." He then proceeds to make it abundantly clear that Shadwell's own name does not belong among those luminaries. Shadwell in no way deserves the same respect and recognition, Dryden says.

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. (94-97)

Dryden jokes that Shadwell's fame stretches all the way from "Bun-Hill" to "distant Watling street"—in reality, two London locations that are very close to one another. Perhaps Shadwell suffers from an undeserved and inflated sense of self-importance, Dryden suggests.

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. (139-142)

Shadwell is to become the poet king of the Realm of Nonsense, which—given the geography explained here—is actually just the vast and empty Atlantic Ocean. And as ruler of this dominion, Shadwell's unparalleled ability to produce appallingly bad poetry will exceed that of his predecessors, changing the bad poetry game forever.

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? (173-176)

Shadwell ought not cheat himself; he is no Ben Jonson. Shadwell belongs instead in the long, infamous tradition of bad poets, Dryden chides, and his reputation should never be anything other than "that one sap who tried to copy Ben Jonson and ended up failing miserably because he actually is a terrible writer." Sorry, Thomas.

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