Study Guide

Mac Flecknoe Lines 118-138

By John Dryden

Lines 118-138

Lines 118-123

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;

  • "Unction" here refers to the process of anointing a new king with sacramental oil. 
  • We know that Richard Flecknoe's day job was as a priest. 
  • The term "sinister" just means "left," so the speaker referring to the king's left hand. The word "sinister" in modern English comes from that Latin word for left-handed. (Sorry, southpaws.) 
  • At his coronation, the king of England would be presented with a scepter and orb as a symbol of power. In this case, instead of an orb, or ball, the new king is presented with booze, implying the dimwitted dullness of the new monarch. 
  • Love's Kingdom was another of Shadwell's plays.

Lines 124-131

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.

  • In this section, we get another reference to Shadwell's Psyche
  • Shadwell also had an addiction to opium, which is made from poppies. 
  • According to Roman myth, Romulus, the legendary founder of Rome, was visited by twelve vultures who told him where to establish the city. Again, Dryden mockingly juxtapositions this debased narrative with classical epics, comparing Shadwell's coronation and visitation by owls to the founding of Rome.

Lines 132-138

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:

  • A throng of admirers cheers Shadwell on, as he takes his seat on the throne. 
  • Of course, he is so daft, the speaker claims, that he literally sweats obliviousness. 
  • By "filial," the speaker means that Shadwell inherits his dullness from the old king Flecknoe. 
  • And thus Flecknoe prepares to address the crowd. (This ought to be good…)