Imagery Used in The Poem Mac Flecknoe

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      Dryden's Mac Flecknoe is first and foremost a satire. The mock-heroic technique is used for enhanced satirical effects. It mocks by narrating a trivial incident in a heroic or epic manner. Dryden's method includes the use of vocabulary, images and ceremony of a heroic nature, which arouse epic associations of grandeur, and as a consequence, makes the enemy helplessly ridiculous. The imagery is in keeping with the mock-heroic style.

Image of Coronation used for Ironic Effect

      The poem begins with Flecknoe the king of dullness wondering on an appropriate successor. There is a continuous imagery of coronation in the poem. The settlement of the succession of state by Elecknoe, the king of the realm of Nonsense, sets the tone. Monarchy is a controlling metaphor. The successor of Flecknoe would have to be one who wages a constant war on wit. Shadwell is a fit successor, a prince among princes of dullness and nonsense. He is the "last great prophet of tautology". The coronation site is appropriately strewn, not with Persian carpets, but with torn leaves from the books of worthless authors. The princely grace which should lie regally on the brow of a candidate to the throne is replaced by "lambent dullness" and "thick fogs." The imagery, all the time contributes to the ridiculous effect. Shadwell's "goodly fabric" seems "designed for thoughts majesty."

Thoughtless, as monarch oaks that shade the plain,
And, spread in solemn state, supinely reign.

      Images of kingship are combined with the impression of dull lethargy to convey a deadly effect of irony and ridicule. At the same time, it suggests Shadwell's ponderous bulk, heavy insensitivity, and creative inertia. He is incapable of movement And thought just as the 'monarch oaks'. It is a richly ironic use of imagery.

Religious Imagery with Mock-Heroic Tones

      Religious imagery is intermingled with the imagery of monarchy and coronation. Shadwell is not only the prince of dullness; he is also a 'prophet'. Flecknoe, a greater dunce than several others, is nothing compared to Shadwell. Flecknoe was merely sent to "prepare the way" so that he could "teach the nations in thy greater name." The shades of John the Baptist coming before the advent of Christ, are apparent enough. Biblical overtones cannot be missed. Dryden, understandably enough, does not project the comparisons of Shadwell to Christ and Flecknoe to John the Baptist in a clear and bold manner - he might have been accused of blasphemy if he had done so. The imagery is, however, suggestive, the more prominent image being that of the monarch and his successor. The comparison, in true mock-heroic style, does not demean Christ or John the Baptist. It merely renders Shadwell and Flecknoe in a ridiculous light.

      Mock-heroic and religious imagery and imagery of succession all combine in that superbly funny scene at the end of the poem, namely; the exit of Flecknoe and the falling of the mantle on Shadwell's shoulders. Flecknoe is abruptly interrupted in his speech when a trapdoor is opened beneath him, and he disappears into the hole. His mantle flies up in a whirlwind and falls on the shoulders of Shadwell, "with double portion of his father's art." The incident clearly involves a parody of the Biblical incident of Elijah and his son Elisha. Elijah, a Jewish prophet was taken by a whirlwind to heaven - notice the subtle difference in the parody, for Flecknoe sinks into the ground, perhaps, because of his heavy dullness. Elijah's mantle fell on the shoulders of his son, Elisha, who became the next prophet. Shadwell is even more lucky than Elisha, for he gets twice the amount of his father's portion. i.e. he is deemed to be twice as dull and nonsensical. It is a superb use of religious imagery for ironic purposes with the help of mock-heroic techniques.

Direct Satirical Imagery

      Shadwell's mind is compared with "night", and darkness is the opposite of light or enlightenment. Thick fogs decorate his brow while lambent dullness plays about his face. Shadwell is compared to Ben Jonson and Etherege, so that his true worthlessness is exposed and the worth of the Elizabethan and the Restoration dramatists stands vindicated. Shadwell should not, says Dryden through Flecknoe’s words, pretend to be like Jonson because of his "mountain belly." Shadwell’s huge bulk is a "tympany of sense." It is mere flatulence, empty of sense:

"A tun of man in thy large bulk is writ,
But sure thou'rt but a kilderkin of wit"

      The above lines are direct in their satirical imagery, which is also visual. The corpulence of Shadwell is brought out here, as in the lines which compare his expansiveness to the oak trees.

Deflationary Images: Another Mock-Heroic Tendency

      The comparison between Shadwell and epic heroes achieves superb ironic deflation. By praising the defect of a man, Dryden reduces his status to an even lower level. By comparing him with past heroes, he turns his victim into a pigmy. Shadwell is the new Arion, who charms fishes instead of dolphins. His name echoes from no less a quarter than "Pissing-alley." He is the young "Ascanius", and like Hannibal, swears eternal fidelity to his father's principles. Through all these heroic images, Shadwell is deflated to a position of ridicule.


      Mac Flecknoe employs imagery of different kinds, but all are directed to one end - that of satire. Shadwell is the object of satire. The imagery which involves the mock-heroic style, and deflates through irony; is most effectively used by Dryden. He is equally adept at direct satirical imagery.

University Questions

Write note on the imagery of Mac Flecknoe.
"The imagery of Mac Flecknoe is closely involved with the intention of its author", Elucidate.

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