Study Guide

Mac Flecknoe Lines 64-93

By John Dryden

Lines 64-93

Lines 64-71

Close to the walls which fair Augusta bind,
(The fair Augusta much to fears inclin'd)
An ancient fabric, rais'd t'inform the sight,
There stood of yore, and Barbican it hight:
A watch tower once; but now, so fate ordains,
Of all the pile an empty name remains.
From its old ruins brothel-houses rise,
Scenes of lewd loves, and of polluted joys.

  • "Augusta" refers here to London. The word "august" originally means to inspire reverence or awe, reinforcing the poem's mock-epic tone. 
  • London was in a state of fear during this time due to the so-called "Popish Plot," an alleged conspiracy suggesting that the Jesuits planned to assassinate King Charles II. The plot turned out to be completely inaccurate 
  • The Barbican ("it hight" means "it was called") was a defensive fortification located in London. Its former glory is gone, however, as it has become the site of brothels, for the purpose of "polluted joys."

Lines 72-78

Where their vast courts, the mother-strumpets keep,
And, undisturb'd by watch, in silence sleep.
Near these a nursery erects its head,
Where queens are form'd, and future heroes bred;
Where unfledg'd actors learn to laugh and cry,
Where infant punks their tender voices try,
And little Maximins the gods defy.

  • Here Dryden paints for us a picture of a "nursery," where the brothel children learn to be actors. His tone is quite ironic here, seeing as this brothel is an unlikely birthplace for "queens" and "future heroes." 
  • We have more terminology to clear up: the term "punks" refers to prostitutes. 
  • Also, Maximin was a character in Dryden's own 1670 drama Tyrannick Love—a tragic hero.

Lines 79-84

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:
Pure clinches, the suburbian muse affords;
And Panton waging harmless war with words.

  • John Fletcher was an early seventeenth-century playwright known for his tragedies; in the ancient Greek tradition, "buskins" were the kind of boot worn by actors when performing tragedies. 
  • Ben Jonson, a contemporary of Fletcher's and an idol of Shadwell's, was a playwright best known for his comedies, for which performers on stage generally wore socks. 
  • "Simkin" is a dramatic term for a simpleton or a clown, while "clinches" is another word for puns, of which Thomas Panton was a well-known practitioner. 
  • In short, the speaker explains here that there is no room for tragedies or comedies in this place; only fools and punsters who wage "harmless war[s] with words" may find an audience here.

Lines 85-89

Here Flecknoe, as a place to fame well known,
Ambitiously design'd his Shadwell's throne.
For ancient Decker prophesi'd long since,
That in this pile should reign a mighty prince,
Born for a scourge of wit, and flail of sense:

  • What better place for Shadwell to reside than here, this unfortunate part of town devoid of good writers and culture? It is here that Flecknoe sets up Shadwell's new throne. 
  • Thomas Dekker was an ill-regarded English writer, and a victim of Ben Jonson's satire, The Poetaster. A prophecy from Dekker, in this sense, is hardly a shining endorsement—though this anticipated prince without wit or sense seems to perfectly fit the bill.
  • Dryden is right back at belittling Shadwell. The previous twenty lines have served to set up Shadwell's new domain as a place of ill repute and lack of taste—now Shadwell is about to assume his place on the throne.

Lines 90-93

To whom true dullness should some Psyches owe,
But worlds of Misers from his pen should flow;
Humorists and hypocrites it should produce,
Whole Raymond families, and tribes of Bruce.

  • These lines make reference to three of Shadwell's plays: The Miser, The Humorists, and The Hypocrite
  • Raymond is a character from The Humorists, and Bruce is a character from The Virtuoso
  • Dryden is taking a shot at every Shadwell work he can.