Mac Flecknoe

A Satire upon the True-blue Protestant Poet T.S.

Original Text: 
John Dryden, Poetry, Prose, and Plays, ed. Douglas Grant (Reynard Library edition: Hart-Davis, 1952). PR 3412 G7 1952 ROBA. The base text is John Dryden, Miscellany Poems (1684). B-10 4961 Fisher Rare Book Library (Toronto).
2And, when Fate summons, monarchs must obey:
3This Flecknoe found, who, like Augustus, young
4Was call'd to empire, and had govern'd long:
5In prose and verse, was own'd, without dispute
6Through all the realms of Non-sense, absolute.
7This aged prince now flourishing in peace,
8And blest with issue of a large increase,
9Worn out with business, did at length debate
10To settle the succession of the State:
11And pond'ring which of all his sons was fit
12To reign, and wage immortal war with wit;
13Cry'd, 'tis resolv'd; for nature pleads that he
14Should only rule, who most resembles me:
15Shadwell alone my perfect image bears,
16Mature in dullness from his tender years.
17Shadwell alone, of all my sons, is he
18Who stands confirm'd in full stupidity.
19The rest to some faint meaning make pretence,
20But Shadwell never deviates into sense.
21Some beams of wit on other souls may fall,
22Strike through and make a lucid interval;
23But Shadwell's genuine night admits no ray,
24His rising fogs prevail upon the day:
25Besides his goodly fabric fills the eye,
26And seems design'd for thoughtless majesty:
27Thoughtless as monarch oaks, that shade the plain,
28And, spread in solemn state, supinely reign.
30Thou last great prophet of tautology:
31Even I, a dunce of more renown than they,
32Was sent before but to prepare thy way;
33And coarsely clad in Norwich drugget came
34To teach the nations in thy greater name.
35My warbling lute, the lute I whilom strung
37Was but the prelude to that glorious day,
38When thou on silver Thames did'st cut thy way,
39With well tim'd oars before the royal barge,
40Swell'd with the pride of thy celestial charge;
42The like was ne'er in Epsom blankets toss'd.
44The lute still trembling underneath thy nail.
45At thy well sharpen'd thumb from shore to shore
46The treble squeaks for fear, the basses roar:
47Echoes from Pissing-Alley, Shadwell call,
48And Shadwell they resound from Aston Hall.
49About thy boat the little fishes throng,
50As at the morning toast, that floats along.
51Sometimes as prince of thy harmonious band
52Thou wield'st thy papers in thy threshing hand.
55Though they in number as in sense excel;
56So just, so like tautology they fell,
58The lute and sword which he in triumph bore
59And vow'd he ne'er would act Villerius more.
60Here stopt the good old sire; and wept for joy
61In silent raptures of the hopeful boy.
62All arguments, but most his plays, persuade,
63That for anointed dullness he was made.
65(The fair Augusta much to fears inclin'd)
66An ancient fabric, rais'd t'inform the sight,
68A watch tower once; but now, so fate ordains,
69Of all the pile an empty name remains.
70From its old ruins brothel-houses rise,
71Scenes of lewd loves, and of polluted joys.
72Where their vast courts, the mother-strumpets keep,
73And, undisturb'd by watch, in silence sleep.
75Where queens are form'd, and future heroes bred;
76Where unfledg'd actors learn to laugh and cry,
77Where infant punks their tender voices try,
80Nor greater Jonson dares in socks appear;
82Amidst this monument of vanish'd minds:
85Here Flecknoe, as a place to fame well known,
86Ambitiously design'd his Shadwell's throne.
88That in this pile should reign a mighty prince,
89Born for a scourge of wit, and flail of sense:
91But worlds of Misers from his pen should flow;
92Humorists and hypocrites it should produce,
93Whole Raymond families, and tribes of Bruce.
94      Now Empress Fame had publisht the renown,
95Of Shadwell's coronation through the town.
96Rous'd by report of fame, the nations meet,
97From near Bun-Hill, and distant Watling-street.
98No Persian carpets spread th'imperial way,
99But scatter'd limbs of mangled poets lay:
100From dusty shops neglected authors come,
101Martyrs of pies, and reliques of the bum.
103But loads of Shadwell almost chok'd the way.
104Bilk'd stationers for yeoman stood prepar'd,
106The hoary prince in majesty appear'd,
107High on a throne of his own labours rear'd.
109Rome's other hope, and pillar of the state.
110His brows thick fogs, instead of glories, grace,
111And lambent dullness play'd around his face.
113Sworn by his sire a mortal foe to Rome;
114So Shadwell swore, nor should his vow be vain,
115That he till death true dullness would maintain;
116And in his father's right, and realm's defence,
117Ne'er to have peace with wit, nor truce with sense.
118The king himself the sacred unction made,
119As king by office, and as priest by trade:
120In his sinister hand, instead of ball,
121He plac'd a mighty mug of potent ale;
123At once his sceptre and his rule of sway;
124Whose righteous lore the prince had practis'd young,
125And from whose loins recorded Psyche sprung,
126His temples last with poppies were o'er spread,
127That nodding seem'd to consecrate his head:
128Just at that point of time, if fame not lie,
129On his left hand twelve reverend owls did fly.
130So Romulus, 'tis sung, by Tiber's brook,
131Presage of sway from twice six vultures took.
132Th'admiring throng loud acclamations make,
133And omens of his future empire take.
134The sire then shook the honours of his head,
135And from his brows damps of oblivion shed
136Full on the filial dullness: long he stood,
137Repelling from his breast the raging god;
138At length burst out in this prophetic mood:
139     Heavens bless my son, from Ireland let him reign
140To far Barbadoes on the Western main;
141Of his dominion may no end be known,
142And greater than his father's be his throne.
143Beyond love's kingdom let him stretch his pen;
144He paus'd, and all the people cry'd Amen.
145Then thus, continu'd he, my son advance
146Still in new impudence, new ignorance.
147Success let other teach, learn thou from me
148Pangs without birth, and fruitless industry.
149Let Virtuosos in five years be writ;
150Yet not one thought accuse thy toil of wit.
152Make Dorimant betray, and Loveit rage;
153Let Cully, Cockwood, Fopling, charm the pit,
154And in their folly show the writer's wit.
155Yet still thy fools shall stand in thy defence,
156And justify their author's want of sense.
157Let 'em be all by thy own model made
158Of dullness, and desire no foreign aid:
159That they to future ages may be known,
160Not copies drawn, but issue of thy own.
161Nay let thy men of wit too be the same,
162All full of thee, and differing but in name;
164To lard with wit thy hungry Epsom prose.
165And when false flowers of rhetoric thou would'st cull,
166Trust Nature, do not labour to be dull;
167But write thy best, and top; and in each line,
169Sir Formal, though unsought, attends thy quill,
171Nor let false friends seduce thy mind to fame,
173Let Father Flecknoe fire thy mind with praise,
174And Uncle Ogleby thy envy raise.
175Thou art my blood, where Jonson has no part;
176What share have we in Nature or in Art?
177Where did his wit on learning fix a brand,
178And rail at arts he did not understand?
180Or swept the dust in Psyche's humble strain?
182Promis'd a play and dwindled to a farce?
183When did his muse from Fletcher scenes purloin,
184As thou whole Eth'ridge dost transfuse to thine?
185But so transfus'd as oil on waters flow,
186His always floats above, thine sinks below.
187This is thy province, this thy wondrous way,
189This is that boasted bias of thy mind,
190By which one way, to dullness, 'tis inclin'd,
191Which makes thy writings lean on one side still,
192And in all changes that way bends thy will.
193Nor let thy mountain belly make pretence
194Of likeness; thine's a tympany of sense.
195A tun of man in thy large bulk is writ,
196But sure thou 'rt but a kilderkin of wit.
197Like mine thy gentle numbers feebly creep,
198Thy Tragic Muse gives smiles, thy Comic sleep.
199With whate'er gall thou sett'st thy self to write,
200Thy inoffensive satires never bite.
201In thy felonious heart, though venom lies,
202It does but touch thy Irish pen, and dies.
203Thy genius calls thee not to purchase fame
204In keen iambics, but mild anagram:
205Leave writing plays, and choose for thy command
206Some peaceful province in acrostic land.
208And torture one poor word ten thousand ways.
209Or if thou would'st thy diff'rent talents suit,
210Set thy own songs, and sing them to thy lute.
211He said, but his last words were scarcely heard,
213And down they sent the yet declaiming bard.
215Born upwards by a subterranean wind.
216The mantle fell to the young prophet's part,
217With double portion of his father's art.


1] The first edition of Mac Flecknoe appeared in 1682 but the badness of the text makes it unlikely that it was authorized by Dryden. Consequently, the present text follows that of the "authorized edition" first published in Miscellany Poems, 1684.
The sub-title, "A Satire upon the True-blue Protestant Poet T.S.", refers to Thomas Shadwell. In Dryden's text, the name of Shadwell is indicated throughout by Sh.., and although it is tempting to see a scatological reference in this abbreviation Dryden's metre gives the name the value of two syllables. The Shaftesbury plotters made much of being the "true-blue Protestant party," and armed their bullies with "Protestant flails." Dryden's satire on Thomas Shadwell (1642-1692) would appear to have been written as early as 1678, when the two dramatists were, on the surface at least, on fairly friendly terms. The particular occasion of their quarrel is unknown but it was probably brought about by personal dislike and jealousy aggravated by the political fever of the years following the Popish Plot. Shadwell was a staunch adherent of the Earl of Shaftesbury, and Dryden's dislike of his Whiggish opinions is sufficiently indicated in the title-page to this poem. Shadwell answered Dryden's attack on Shaftesbury in The Medall with an abusive satire entitled The Medal of John Bayes, published in May, 1682; Mac Flecknoe appeared in about October of the same year. Dryden also pilloried Shadwell in the second part of Absalom and Achitophel.
The idea of Mac Flecknoe was suggested by the death of the Irish priest and poet Richard Flecknoe (d. 1678). Dryden imagined Flecknoe, the monarch of the "Realms of Non-sense," immediately before death, appointing Shadwell as his worthy successor. Back to Line
29] Thomas Heywood (d. 1650?) and James Shirley (1596-1666) were both voluminous dramatists but hardly deserving of this disparagement. Back to Line
36] Flecknoe had lived in Lisbon for some years and been patronized by King John. Back to Line
41] Shadwell published his play of Epsom Wells in 1673 but the phrase to which Dryden refers--"Such a fellow as he deserves to be tossed in a blanket"--occurs in another of Shadwell's plays, The Sullen Lovers. Back to Line
43] In Greek legend the poet and lyrist Arion was borne across the sea on the backs of dolphins. Back to Line
53] St. André: a popular dancing master. Back to Line
54] Shadwell's verse opera of Psyche was elaborately produced in 1676. Back to Line
57] Singleton, a singer, played the part of Villerius in Sir William D'Avenant's opera of The Siege of Rhodes. Back to Line
64] Augusta: London. Back to Line
67] The Barbican stood in Aldersgate Street, north of St. Paul's. Back to Line
74] The Nursery, a theatrical school for training boys and girls for the stage, was established in 1662. Back to Line
78] The hero of Dryden's Tyrannic Love is Maximin. Back to Line
79] Buskins and socks are symbols respectively of tragedy and comedy, associated here with the Elizabethan playwrights John Fletcher and Ben Jonson. Back to Line
81] Simkin: a character of a cobbler in an interlude. Back to Line
83] Clinches (sometimes clenches): puns. Back to Line
84] Panton: a celebrated punster. Back to Line
87] Thomas Dekker (1570?-1632), dramatist and miscellaneous writer. Back to Line
90] Psyche, The Miser, The Humourists: titles of Shadwell's plays. Raymond is a character in The Humourists, and Bruce a character in another of Shadwell's plays, The Virtuoso. Back to Line
102] John Ogilby (1600-1676), the translator of Virgil. Back to Line
105] Henry Herringman had been Dryden's publisher. Dryden gives in his text only the initial H.... Back to Line
108] Our young Ascanius: Shadwell. Ascanius was the son of Aeneas, the mythical founder of Rome. Back to Line
112] Hannibal, the great Carthaginian leader, was solemnly sworn by his father, Hasdrubal, to eternal enmity towards Rome. Back to Line
122] Flecknoe's pastoral tragi-comedy of Love's Kingdom was published in 1664. Back to Line
151] Gentle Gorge: Sir George Etherege (1634?-1691), the admirable comic dramatist. The names in the two following lines are characters in his comedies. Back to Line
163] Sir Charles Sedley (1639?-1701), dramatist, wit, and profligate, was supposed to have helped Shadwell in the composition of Epsom Wells. Dryden slightly disguises his name in the text as S--dl--y. Back to Line
168] Sir Formal Trifle, an oratorical character in Shadwell's comedy of The Virtuoso. Back to Line
170] A reference to Shadwell's dedications addressed to the Duke of Newcastle (1592-1676), himself a dramatist. Back to Line
172] Shadwell was an eulogist of Ben Jonson, whose theory of drama, particularly his conception of "humours," he copied, and wished to be compared with him in ability and style. Back to Line
179] Prince Nicander: a character in Shadwell's Psyche. Back to Line
181] Cant catch-phrases used by Shadwell characters, the last by a character in The Virtuoso. Back to Line
188] Shadwell sees himself as continuing Jonson's tradition of the "Comedy of Humours." Back to Line
207] It was a fashion during the earlier years of the seventeenth century to write verses in such a variety of metres that their shapes on the printed page resembled, among other objects, wings and altars. Back to Line
212] Bruce and Longeville, in Shadwell's The Virtuoso, dismiss Sir Formal Trifle by opening a trap-door while he is delivering a speech. Back to Line
214] Drugget: a coarse cloth. Back to Line
Publication Start Year: 
RPO poem Editors: 
G. G. Falle
RPO Edition: 
3RP 2.27-32.