The Dunciad: Satirical Poem - Summary and Analysis

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      The Dunciad is a fierce satirical poem, in which Alexander Pope, the master poet of the age falls upon the minor poets, dramatists, and critics of the time with wrath and venom. It was published anonymously in 1728. It consisted then of three books and the hero of the 'Epic of Dunces' was Theobald, the famous Shakespearean Scholar, who had criticized Pope's edition of Shakespeare, as an inept work. The poem was enlarged by the addition of a fourth book and Theobald was dethroned from the kingship of dullness by Colly Cibber, who was made Poet-Laureate in 1740. In this final form the poem, appeared in 1743.

      The poem is modeled on Dryden's MacFlecknoe, in which the poet fell on his rival, dhadwell. In the opening book, Bayes (i.e. Cibber) is shown debating as to whether he should betake himself to church or gaming or party-writing, but is carried off by the goddess of poetry and appointed king of the realm of dullness. The coronation is celebrated with diverse games and sports in which poets, critics, and dramatists of the time take part. The king sleeping on the lap of the goddess is carried to the Elysian shade, where he is granted visions of the past and future of his realm culminating in the restoration of "Night primeval and of the chaos of old".

The Dunciad
The Dunciad

Critical Analysis

      The poem "shows Pope's satirical powers at their best and their worst. It is charged with a stinging wit and has great vigor and variety of pace but is spiteful, venomous and often coarse". The attack on Cibber is savage in its spitefulness. The bad verses and torn clothes of the poetasters are placed on a common footing and made objects of ridicule. Too often Pope condemns the good with the bad. It is, indeed, painful to find the master of the age castigating the non-entities with so much of fury and lack of taste. The poem abounds in isolated passages in which Pope's humorous and descriptive powers are at their best and have never been excelled by the poet himself. Such a passage is the conclusion of the poem, which is almost Miltonic in its grandeur.

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