Study Guide

Mac Flecknoe Lines 94-117

By John Dryden

Lines 94-117

Lines 94-101

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.
No Persian carpets spread th'imperial way,
But scatter'd limbs of mangled poets lay:
From dusty shops neglected authors come,
Martyrs of pies, and reliques of the bum.

  • It's coronation time! 
  • Shadwell's fame stretches from "Bun-Hill" to "distant Watling-street"—which in reality was hardly distant at all. The speaker's ironic statement shows the narrow limits of Shadwell's influence. 
  • It is not "Persian carpets" and other traditionally royal, luxury items that line the street for his coronation, but rather the "scatter'd limbs of mangled poets." This thought suggests that Shadwell's ascension to the throne occurs at the expense of good and sensible poetry. 
  • In times of scarcity, paper from books would often be repurposed for other needs. Lining pie tins was one such usage, and toilet paper was another ("reliques of the bum")—classy.
  • Dryden's use of toilet humor contrasts the elevated tone of the poem, combining high art and lowbrow jokes effortlessly.

Lines 102-109

Much Heywood, Shirley, Ogleby there lay,
But loads of Shadwell almost chok'd the way.
Bilk'd stationers for yeoman stood prepar'd,
And Herringman was Captain of the Guard.
The hoary prince in majesty appear'd,
High on a throne of his own labours rear'd.
At his right hand our young Ascanius sat
Rome's other hope, and pillar of the state.

  • Lots more identification is called for here. Got your notes ready?
  • The speaker again makes reference to mediocre poets John Heywood, James Shirley, and now includes John Ogleby—a Scottish translator and cartographer who also happened to write bad poetry. These poets may be bad, the speaker suggests, but Shadwell is even worse. 
  • "Bilk'd stationers" refers to the booksellers who cannot sell Shadwell's shoddy poetry. "Yeomen" were royal attendants. 
  • Henry Herringman was a publisher and bookseller, who published Dryden, as well as Shadwell. "Hoary" means "white," referring here to the elderly Flecknoe as he appears. 
  • Ascanius was a hero and king featured in Virgil's epic The Aeneid. He was one of the founders of the Roman people. Much like Shadwell, he inherited the throne from his father. 
  • The reference here to Rome reinforces the mock epic tone, the speaker ironically likening Shadwell's situation to that of the classical heroes of old.

Lines 110-117

His brows thick fogs, instead of glories, grace,
And lambent dullness play'd around his face.
As Hannibal did to the altars come,
Sworn by his sire a mortal foe to Rome;
So Shadwell swore, nor should his vow be vain,
That he till death true dullness would maintain;
And in his father's right, and realm's defence,
Ne'er to have peace with wit, nor truce with sense.

  • The speaker ironically describes Shadwell's dullness as "lambent," or glowing, playing around his face as if it were wit or some semblance of radiance. 
  • Hannibal was a general from Carthage who warred against Rome. As commanded by his father, he swore to combat Rome as long as he lived. 
  • Thus, Shadwell swears to wage war on wit and sense, all in the name of "true dullness" and the defense of the realm.