Shadwell By John Dryden

About the Poet

➡ Born in Aldwinkle, Northamptonshire, England, the eldest of fourteen children.

➡ Entered Trinity College, Cambridge in 1650.

➡ Heroic Stanzas (1658), written on the death of Oliver Cromwell is his first important work.

➡Became Poet Laureate and Royal Historiographer.

Important Highlights of The Poem

Stanza 1

➡ The poet states the reality of life that all human beings are mortal.
➡ Death comes to everybody and when it comes, even kings have to obey it.

➡ Mac Flecknoe, the emperor of the realm of Nonsense also realized this hard fact.

Stanza 2

➡ Flecknoe, the king, was considered famous in his empire in the matter of prose and poetry.

➡ The king was ruling his empire successfully and was blessed with a number of children.

➡ After growing old, he wanted to choose his successor.

Stanza 3

➡The king thought about his sons as his successor, who could be the greatest enemy of wisdom and wage a never-ending war against it.

Stanza 4

➡ The king chooses Shadwell, his son, as his successor who resembles him most in stupidity and foolishness.

➡ Other Children may show some rays of wisdom but Shadwell stands confirmed in foolishness.

Stanza 5

➡ Flecknoe compares Shadwell with his other sons and says that they have a little bit of commonsense but Shadwell’s stupidity is like a dense fog where day-light cannot pass through it.

Stanza 6

➡ Flecknoe says that Shadwell’s fat body will attract others’ attention and appears that it has been designed like this to rule the empire.

➡ Flecknoe compares Shadwell’s fat body to a huge Oak tree which spreads over a vast area and casts its shadow on the ground. In the same way, Shadwell is a useless person and will rule the realm of Nonsense.

➡ Other Foolish writers like Heywood and Shirley were merely the shadows of Shadwell.

Summary of the Poem

‘Shadwell’ is a satirical poem written by John Dryden, a great dramatist and poet of the seventeenth century. He wrote a number of satirical poems. His most important satires are ‘Absalom and Achitophel’ and ‘MacFlecknoe’ from which Shadwell is extracted. Dryden had fire and vigour in him which remained alive till his death. It was he, who developed the heroic couplet and made it a powerful medium of satirical poetry. Walter Scott called him third great English poet after Shakespeare and Milton.

The portrait of Shadwell is an extract from Dryden’s satire ‘MacFlecknoe’ named after Richard Flecknoe, a notoriously bad poet and playwright of later seventeenth century. Dryden had very poor opinion of both Flecknoe and Shadwell. The genesis of the poem can be traced to a personal dispute between Dryden and Thomas Shadwell (1642-92). Dryden was a Tory and Catholic, whereas Shadwell was a Whig and a Protestant. In Dryden’s time poems attacking the rival poets were in fashion. Dryden and Shadwell were contemporary poets. There was bitter rivalry between them. Shadwell had written an abusive and slanderous poem on Dryden. Naturally, Dryden was provoked and he retaliated by writing a satirical poem on Shadwell, MacFlecknoe, Here in this poem ‘Shadwell’, Dryden invents a humorous situation. Though occasioned by personal motives, the poem rises above particularity and assumes universal appeal, because it is a merciless satire on writers of Shadwell’s brand, who write singularly bereft of serious and lofty norms of literature. Dryden felt deeply distressed with such types of writings as they fail to adhere to the norms of honesty and authenticity in sentiment and style. Through Shadwell, Dryden is satirizing the deteriorating standard of literature with the sole motive of restoring it back to health.

The poet says that time is the monarch of monarchs. Everything in this world must come to an end one day. Fate favours no one when fate or death summons, even emperors have to obey. Flecknoe realised this truth. According to Dryden Flecknoe was the ruler of the empire of Nonsense. Like the great Roman King Augustus, Flecknoe was also called upon to rule an empire when he was still young. He ruled the empire on Nonsense for a long time. In the whole of his empire, he was considered absolute in poetry and prose. When he grew old, he wanted to appoint successor to him. He had a number of children. But he wanted to appoint the most foolish of them to rule his empire. He decided that his son Shadwell was most suitable for this task. Only he could wage a continuous battle against wisdom. Shadwell resembled him most in foolishness. He had been a great stupid ever since his childhood.

Dryden satirizes Shadwell by referring to his poor writing abilities. Shadwell was chosen to be Flecknoe’s successor because his strongest characteristic was his perfect dullness. Shadwell’s having bulky frame made his appearance imposing. Dryden is making use of popular belief that fat people generally lack intelligence and commonsense. Dryden compares his unwieldy body to a big oak tree which lords over the plane by shutting out light from the plains and covering it with the dark shade. Such trees are vast but useless. In the same way Shadwell’s physique was specially suited to his stupidity because he was very fat but utterly foolish.

Thus we find that this poem is a bitter satire on Shadwell. The poet attacks his poor capabilities and as well fat body.

Explanation with reference to the context:-

Stanza – 1

All human things …………………… governed long.

Reference to Context:-

These lines quoted above have been taken from the poem ‘Shadwell’, written by John Dryden. This Portrait of Shadwell is an extract from Dryden’s satire ‘MacFlecknoe’ named after Richard Flecknoe, a notoriously bad poet and playwright of the later seventeenth century. Dryden had very poor opinion of both Flecknoe and Shadwell. This poem is a merciless satire on writers of Shadwell’s brand, whose writings are singularly bereft of serious and lofty norms of literature. Dryden felt deeply distressed with such types of writings as they fail to adhere to the norms of honesty and authenticity in sentiment and style. Through Shadwell, Dryden is satirizing the deteriorating standard of literature with the sole motive of restoring it back to health.

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Explanation :-

In the beginning of this stanza, the poet states a philosophic truth. He says that time is the monarch of monarchs and all human beings are mortal. When fate or death summons, even the great emperors obey it. Flecknoe, the undisputed ruler of the realm of nonsense also realised this fact. Like the Roman king Augustus, Flecknoe also became the ruler of his realm at a young age and was omnipotent and no rival in his kingdom. Flecknoe was the monarch of monarchs in the empire of his dullness and stupidity. He ruled for a long time.

Stanza 2

In prose and verse ……………. Of the state

Reference to Context:-

These lines quoted above have been taken from the poem ‘Shadwell’, written by John Dryden. This portrait of Shadwell is an extract from Dryden’s satire ‘MacFlecknoe’ named after Richard Flecknoe, a notoriously bad poet and playwright of the later seventeenth century. Dryden had very poor opinion of both Flecknoe and Shadwell. This poem is a merciless satire on writers of Shadwell’s brand, whose writings are singularly bereft of serious and lofty norms of literature. Dryden felt deeply distressed with such types of writings as they fail to adhere to the norms of honesty and authenticity in sentiment and style.

Explanation :-

In these lines the poet tells us about Flecknoe. He was the king of the realm of nonsense. He was considered absolute in his realm in the matter of prose and poetry. As he knew that time is monarch of monarch and does not spare any body. So when he grew old, he wanted to choose his successor. He had been blessed with a number of children. He gave a lot of thought to the matter of choosing a successor to him.

Stanza – 3

And Pond’ring ……………. …… most resembleme

Reference to Context:-

These lines quoted above have been taken from the poem ‘Shadwell’, written by John Dryden. This Portrait of Shadwell is an extract from Dryden’s satire ‘MacFlecknoe’ named after Richard Flecknoe, a notoriously bad poet and playwright of the later seventeenth century. Dryden had very poor opinion of both Flecknoe and Shadwell. This poem is a merciless satire on writers of Shadwell’s brand, whose writings are singularly bereft of serious and lofty norms of literature. Dryden felt deeply distressed with such types of writings as they fail to adhere to the norms of honesty and authenticity in sentiment and style.

Explanation :-

The poet says that Flecknoe had ruled over the realm of nonsense for so long that he got tired of ruling the state. In other words, Flecknoe himself got bored with his own dull and stupid literary output. So he decided to choose one of his sons to be his successor. He wanted to nominate that son as his successor who would wage perpetual war against wisdom, intelligence, and commonsense. At last he made the choice. He decided to make that son his successor who resembled him most and could surpass him in his stupidity and dullness.

Stanza 4

Shadwell alone …………….…………. Deviates into sense

Reference to Context:-

These lines quoted above have been taken from the poem ‘Shadwell’, written by John Dryden. This portrait of Shadwell is an extract from Dryden’s satire ‘MacFlecknoe’ named after Richard Flecknoe, a notoriously bad poet and playwright of the later seventeenth century. Dryden had very poor opinion of both Flecknoe and Shadwell. This poem is a merciless satire on writers of Shadwell’s brand, whose writings are singularly bereft of serious and lofty norms of literature. Dryden felt deeply distressed with such types of writings as they fail to adhere to the norms of honesty and authenticity in sentiment and style.

Explanation :-

In these lines, Flecknoe thinks over the qualities of his son Shadwell. He thinks that according to nature’s law, only the strongest and the most powerful are best suited to rule. Shadwell was chosen to be Flecknoe’s successor because his strongest characteristic was his perfect dullness like Flecknoe. Other ‘sons’ of Flecknoe show sometimes a slight glimmer of intelligence, and wit in their writings, where as Shadwell’s writings are singularly bereft of these luxuries. He is mature in stupidity from his childhood. He stands confirmed in foolishness. He never departs from nonsense. He never utters a meaningful sentence even by mistake.

Stanza 5

Some beams of wit ……………. …… upon the day.

Reference to Context:-

These lines quoted above have been taken from the poem ‘Shadwell’, written by John Dryden. This portrait of Shadwell is an extract from Dryden’s satire ‘MacFlecknoe’ named after Richard Flecknoe, a notoriously bad poet and playwright of the later seventeenth century. Dryden had very poor opinion of both Flecknoe and Shadwell. This poem is a merciless satire on writers of Shadwell’s brand, whose writings are singularly bereft of serious and lofty norms of literature. Dryden felt deeply distressed with such types of writings as they fail to adhere to the norms of honesty and authenticity in sentiment and style.

Explanation :-

In these lines Flecknoe compares Shadwell with his other sons. He says that sometimes the rays of wisdom may fall on his sons. In other words, there may be some meaning in what his other sons say or write. They may act with reason, though for a short period.

But Shadwell is born foolish. Shadwell’s genuine stupidity blocks intrusion of any ray of intelligence that could illumine his dark and foggy mind. Here ‘Night’ and ‘fog’ are metaphors of dullness and stupidity whereas ‘ray’ and ‘day’ stand for intelligence, wit and wisdom.

Stanza 6

Besides ……………. …… prophet of tautdogy

Reference to Context:-

These lines quoted above have been taken from the poem ‘Shadwell’, written by John Dryden. This Portrait of Shadwell is an extract from Dryden’s satire ‘MacFlecknoe’ named after Richard Flecknoe, a notoriously bad poet and playwright of the later seventeenth century. Dryden had very poor opinion of both Flecknoe and Shadwell. This poem is a merciless satire on writers of Shadwell’s brand, whose writings are singularly bereft of serious and lofty norms of literature. Dryden felt deeply distressed with such types of writings as they fail to adhere to the norms of honesty and authenticity in sentiment and style.

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Explanation :-

Flecknoe has chosen Shadwell to be his successor. He resembles him most in stupidity. He never talks sensibly even by mistake. Here he gives another reason also. The poet says that Shadwell’s physique was specially suited to this stupidity. Shadwell was fat. His heavy and bulky frame made his appearance imposing. Shadwell’s fat body easily attracts other’s attention. It appears that his fat body has been designed for a thoughtless royal figure. Here in these lines Dryden makes use of popular belief that fat people generally lack intelligence and commonsense. He compares his fat body to a big tree which lords over the plane by shutting out light from the plains and covering it with dark shade. In other words, such trees spread over vast areas but without any useful activity. In the same way Shadwell is foolish and useless person. Foolish writers like Heywood and Shirley were only shadows of him. Dryden says that Shadwell is the last prophet of repeating the same things and confusing them.

Questions -Answer (Essay Type)

Q.1. Give a detailed analysis of the extract ‘Shadwell’.

Ans.: Dryden and Shadwell were contemporaries. There was bitter rivalry between them. Shadwell had written an abusive and slanderous poem on Dryden. Naturally, Dryden was provoked. So he hit back and wrote a very satirical poem on Shadwell ‘MacFlecknoe’. The poem ‘Shadwell’ is an extract from this poem. Here in this poem Dryden satirizes Shadwell’s poetic capabilities. He invents a humorous position and describes Shadwell as the ruler of the empire of nonsense.

The portrait of Shadwell is an extract from Dryden’s satire ‘MacFlecknoe’ named after Richard Flecknoe, a notoriously bad poet and playwright of later seventeenth century. Dryden had very poor opinion of both Flecknoe and Shadwell. The genesis of the poem can be traced to a personal dispute between Dryden and Thomas Shadwell (1642-92).

Dryden was a Tory and Catholic, whereas Shadwell was a Whig and a Protestant. In Dryden’s time poems attacking the rival poets were common. Dryden and Shadwell were contemporary poets. There was a bitter rivalry between them. Shadwell had written an abusive and slanderous poem on Dryden. Naturally, Dryden was provoked and he retaliated by writing a satirical poem on Shadwell, MacFlecknoe, Here in this poem ‘Shadwell’, Dryden invents a humorous situation. Though occasioned by personal motives, the poem rises above particularity and assumes universal appeal, because it is a merciless satire on writers of Shadwell’s brand, whose writings are singularly bereft of serious and lofty norms of literature. Dryden felt deeply distressed with such types of writings as they fail to adhere to the norms of honesty and authenticity in sentiment and style. Through Shadwell, Dryden is satirizing the deteriorating standard of literature with the sole motive of restoring it back to health.

Dryden satirizes Shadwell by referring to his poor writing abilities. Shadwell was chosen to be Flecknoe’s successor because his strongest characteristic was his perfect dullness. Shadwell’s having and bulky frame made his appearance imposing. Dryden is making use of popular belief here that at people generally lack intelligence and commonsense. Dryden compares his unwieldy body to a big oak tree which lords over the plane by shutting out light from the plains and covering it with the dark shade. Such trees are vast but useless. In the same way Shadwell’s physique was specially suited to his stupidity because he was very fat but utterly foolish.

Q.2. Give the background and the date of composition of ‘MacFlecknoe’.

Ans.: Shadwell and Flecknoe were contemporary poets of Dryden. Dryden had very poor opinion of both these poets. The genesis of the poem can be traced to a personal dispute between Dryden and Shadwell (1642-92). At that time, England was divided between the Tories and the Whigs. The Tories were in favour of the king and wanted his prerogatives to continue. The Whighs wanted to curtail the powers of the king. Dryden was Tory and Catholic, whereas Shadwell and Flecknoe were Whigs. Their differing political affiliations and ideologies spilled over into literature, and we have a great satirical work of art in Mac Flecknoe, when there was the dispute of succession, Dryden, supported King Charles II and the Whigs supported Duke of Monmouth. Shadwell and Flecknoe also supported him. The Earl of Shaftsbury, the evil counsellor, who incited Monmouth, was arrested on treason charges but was later acquitted. The Whigs celebrated his acquittal by striking a medal in his honour. Dryden wrote ‘The Medal’ satirizing Whig’s action in honouring Shaftsburry by striking a medal. It provoked a reply in the form of ‘The Medal of John Bayss’, by Thomas Shadwell. Dryden retaliated by publishing ‘MacFlecknoe’. Mac means ‘son’ Hence MacFlecknoe means the son of Flecknoe. This poem is a bitter attack on Shadwell. Dryden calls him crown prince of dullness. The poem was composed in 1682. This poem is a merciless satire on writers of Shadwell’s brand, whose writings are singularly bereft of serious and lofty norms of literature. Dryden felt deeply distressed with such types of writing as they fail to adhere to the norms of honesty and authenticity in sentiment and style. Through

Shadwell, Dryden is satirizing the deteriorating standard of literature with the sole motive of restoring it back to health. ‘MacFlecknoe’ deals with a coronation ceremony by itself a grand and solemn matter, but then there is the coronation of the monarch of dullness and stupidity. The mock-heroic tone is too obvious to be missed even by a casual reader.

Q. 3. Consider Shadwell as a satire.

Ans. The portrait of Shadwell is an extract from Dryden’s satire ‘Mac Flecknoe’ named after Richard Flecknoe, a notoriously bad poet and playwright of later seventeenth century. Dryden had very poor opinion of both Flecknoe and Shadwell. The genesis of the poem can be traced to a personal dispute between Dryden and Thomas Shadwell (1642-92). Dryden was a Tory and Catholic, whereas Shadwell was a Whig and a Protestant. In Dryden’s time poems attacking the rival poets. Dryden and Shadwell were contemporary poets. There was bitter rivalry between them. Shadwell had written an abusive and slanderous poem on Dryden. Naturally, Dryden was provoked and he retaliated by writing a satirical poem on Shadwell, MacFlecknoe, Here in this poem ‘Shadwell’, Dryden invents a humorous situation. Though occasioned by personal motives, the poem rises above particularity and assumes universal appeal, because it is a merciless satire on writers of Shadwell’s brand, whose writings are singularly bereft of serious and lofty norms of literature. Dryden felt deeply distressed with such types of writings as they fail to adhere to the norms of honesty and authenticity in sentiment and style. Through Shadwell, Dryden is satirizing the deteriorating standard of literature with the sole motive of restoring it back to health.

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Dryden satirizes Shadwell by referring to his poor writing abilities. Shadwell was chosen to be Flecknoe’s successor because his strongest characteristic was his perfect dullness. Shadwell’s having fat and bulky frame made his appearance imposing. Dryden here is making use of the popular belief that fat people generally lack intelligence and commonsense. Dryden compares his unwieldy body to a big oak tree which lords over the plane by shutting out light from the plains and covering it with the dark shade. Such trees are vast but useless. In the same way Shadwell’s physique was specially suited to his stupidity because he was very fat but utterly foolish.

Q.4. Trace points of similarity between Shadwell and Flecknoe.

Ans.: According to Dryden Flecknoe was the undisputed ruler of the realm of nonsense. When he becomes old, he wanted to choose an heir who could surpass him in stupidity and dullness. Because Flecknoe had ruled over the realm of nonsense for so long that he got tired of ruling the state. He wanted to nominate that son as his successor who would wage perpetual war against wisdom, intelligence and common sense. He wanted that his successor should be like him. So he chose Shadwell because his strongest characteristic was his perfect dullness. He was extremely stupid since his childhood. Only Shadwell could wage a continuous battle against wisdom. Flecknoe felt that his other sons show sometimes a slight glimmer of intelligence and wit in their writings whereas Shadwell’s genuine stupidity blocks intrusion of any ray of intelligence that could illumine his dark and foggy mind. His mind always wandered in the darkness of nonsense. He never departed from nonsense, even by mistake. Moreover, he was fat in appearance like his father. Shadwell’s heavy and bulky frame made his appearance imposing. It is generally believed that fat people generally lack intelligence and commonsense. That’s why Shadwell’s physique specially suited to his stupidity. It seemed that God had made him for ruling the Kingdom of nonsense. Thus there are a number of similarities between Shadwell and Flecknoe.

Questions -Answer (Short Type)

Q.1. Who was Shadwell?

Ans.: Shadwell was a contemporary poet of Dryden’s. Dryden was a Tory and Catholic, whereas Shadwell was a Whig and a protestant. There was bitter rivalry between them. In Dryden’s time it was common for poets to write satirical poems attacking the rival poets. Shadwell had written an abusive and slanderous poem on Dryden. Naturally Dryden was provoked. So he hit back and wrote a very satirical poem on Shadwell ‘Mac Flecknoe’. Dryden satirized Shadwell’s poetic capabilities and described him as the prince of the empire or Nonsense.

Q.2. Who was Flecknoe?

Ans.: Flecknoe was contemporary poet of John Dryden. He was an Irish catholic priest and poor poet and playwright of that later seventeenth century. His work had no literary merit. His works are known for their dullness and stupidity. Dryden had a very poor opinion of Flecknoe. He probably died in 1678.

Q.3. Whom does Flecknoe choose his successor and why?

Ans.: Flucknoe was the monarch of the monarchs in the empire of dullness and stupidity. As he became old, he wanted to choose an heir who could surpass him in stupidity and dullness. So he chose Shadwell as his successor because he thought that only Shadwell could wage a continuous war against wisdom, intelligence, and commonsense. Shadwell’s genuine stupidity blocks intrusion of any ray of intelligence that could illuminate his dark and foggy mind. He had given evidence of his stupidity in his early childhood. Moreover he was fat like Flecknoe. So Shadwell was chosen to be Flecknoe’s successor.

Q.4. Write about Shadwell’s physical appearance in your own words.

Ans.: Shadwell had a fat body. Shadwell’s heavy and bulky frame made his appearance imposing. He at once attracted other’s attention. Dryden compared his body to a big oak tree which lords over the plane by shutting out light form the plains and covering it with dark shade. In other words such trees are vast and useless. In the same way Shadwell was very fat but was utterly foolish.

Q.5. What is the reference to Heywood and Shirley? Is Dryden justified in comparing them with Shadwell?

Ans.: Heywood and Shirley were contemporaries of Dryden. Heywood was an Elizabethan dramatist, better known for his prolific writings. It is said that he had written almost 220 plays. Shirley was also a prolific writer of his age. Some critics have argued that they certainly did not deserve the contempt of Dryden. Heywood, according to lamb, ‘is a sort of prose Shakespeare.’ Lamb yields to Shirley a place among the worthies of Dryden. So perhaps Dryden is not justified in comparing them with Shadwell.

Q.6. Explain: ‘But Shadwell never deviates into sense.

Ans.: Dryden calls Shadwell a stupid, foolish and worthless poet. Flecknoe wants to choose as his successor the most foolish of his sons. He sees that his other sons show sometimes a slight glimmer of intelligence and wit in their writings. But Shadwell writings are singularly bereft of these luxuries. Shadwell is a genuine stupid who would wage perpetual war against wisdom, intelligence, and commonsense. He is so stupid that he never says anything wise, even by mistake.

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