Study Guide

Mac Flecknoe Lines 175-202

By John Dryden

Lines 175-202

Lines 175-182

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?

  • We're given another reference to earlier playwright Ben Jonson, whom Shadwell greatly admired. Dryden scoffs at the notion that Shadwell would consider himself the heir to the legacy of Jonson, given Jonson's status as a much superior writer. 
  • Other things to know about for this section include the fact that "rail" means to reproach, or speak out against. 
  • As well, Prince Nicander is a character in Shadwell's Psyche
  • Finally, "whip-stitch" and "kiss my arse" were catchphrases used by some of Shadwell's characters. Dryden takes a shot here at the lack of substance in Shadwell's plays, which the speaker proclaims are nothing more than cheap farces.

Lines 183-192

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.

  • Here we get more references to comedic playwrights John Fletcher and George Etherege, whom it seems Dryden viewed more favorably than Shadwell. 
  • The Ancient Greeks developed a theory in medicine that the human body was made up of four humors, which contribute to temperament and wellbeing. Ben Jonson famously pioneered the "Comedy of Humors" genre, writing plays that featured four main characters, each representing one of these humors. Shadwell attempted to copy this style in his own plays, including his aptly titled, The Humorists. He did so unsuccessfully, though, Dryden would say. 
  • In the epilogue of The Humorists, Shadwell writes: "a humor is a bias of the mind," which is why that phrase appears here. 
  • We're told that Shadwell doesn't have to worry about things like humor in his writing, though. His work's inclined to be dull and uneven. Shadwell is really getting flamed here.

Lines 193-202

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.

  • Look out, here comes another fat joke. Jonson was also a heavy guy, like Shadwell. But while the size of their bellies may compare, their writing certainly does not. 
  • Here the word "tympany" means "a swelling," while "tun" refers to a barrel for beer or wine. A "kilderkin" is a quarter of a tun. So quickly we move from a fat joke to a stupid joke.
  • When Shadwell tries to be dramatic ("thy Tragic Muse"), he just makes the audience laugh; when he tries to be funny ("thy Comic"), he puts the audience to sleep. 
  • His satires lack punch and his plays are insipid and vacuous. In other words, they are super-lame (in case, you know, you hadn't picked up on that idea by now).