Dryden’s art of characterization in Mac Flecknoe.

art of characterization in Mac Flecknoe

Mac Flecknoe is an allegorical satire in which a fictitious situation is made to represent Shadwell’s position and his character along with that of his father, Flecknoe is projected and satirised within this framework. The poem opens with a fictitious set up , Flecknoe is the aged monarch of Dullness. He is contemplating on whom to choose from his numerous children as a fit successor to his throne and realm of Nonsense. The situation embodies every aspect which Dryden could desire to exploit in his satire of Shadwell. Who better could be found for the throne of Nonsense than Shadwell, who never deviates into sense? Flecknoc’s speech on his decision to choose Shadwell as his successor is fraught with ironical remarks. He is made to dwell on the supposed merits of his son-his superiority in dullness and stupidity, his pretensions to music and verse, his supreme incapacity to be intelligent.

In drawing the character of Shadwell, Dryden has employed almost all the weapons of satire such as irony, innuendo, sarcasm, hyperbole and other techniques of mock-heroic poem.

Mac Flecknoe deals with Shadwell’s literary lapses alone, though the sub-title, “A Satire upon the True-Blue Protestant Poet T.S.” leads the readers to think that his religious opinions are to be attacked. Dryden does not castigate his rival’s moral character or any personal aspect of life. He restricts himself to satirizing his literary career.

In order to make his ridicule on Shadwell effective, Dryden adopted the mock-heroic approach to the subject. The method involves incongruity and disproportion. He uses vocabulary, images and ceremony which arouse epic associations of grandeur in order to make the enemy helplessly ridiculous. The heightened language of the heroic poetry when used in connection with an object of contempt, creates a discrepancy which produces laughter. The tone is one of praise, while the result is contempt for the victim.

Exaggeration has been used effectively by Dryden to give us an impression of Shadwell. The choice of Shadwell as heir to the realms of Nonsense is justified by the abdicating king; Flocknoe. Shadwell could be relied upon to wage “immortal war” against wit and sense. He could be expected not to deviate into sense for he had been “mature in dullness from his tender years.” He is a man who “stands confirmed in full stupidity.” Others might allow a ray of intelligence to lighten their stupidity but Shadwell’s mind would always be clouded by rising fogs.

Irony and innuendo are extensively used in character portrayal of Shadwell and his father Flecknoe. Shadwell and Flecknoe are praised in terms related to art, religion and kingship. The consequence is that the reader is clearly cognizant of Shadwell’s lack of art. It is a superb ironical skill-deflation of a character through praising him for the very things which he implicitly lacks. The use of the word ‘fabric’ suggests a massive structure, and the use of ‘goodly’ with it, gives a rounded scope to that structure. “Swelled with pride”, and “big with hymn” indicates an accompaniment of grossness in the intellectual sphere as well. Apparently innocent words become infected with irony. The word “mature” gives to Shadwell’s dullness something of the pulmp vacancy and the full stupidity in which Shadwell is confirmed. Thus all through the poem we get ridiculous figures of Shadwell and his father Flecknoe.

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