John Dryden's MacFlecknoe is one of the finest satires in the English language.
It was Neo-classical period in English literature and Dryden, along with another brilliant satirist Alexander Pope, was the power who dominated the literary scene. Satire was the most popular form of poetry and both Dryden and pope were great masters of this poetic genre.
Mac Flecknoe is the product of a literary and personal rivalry. The poem was Dryden's reply to Thomas Shadwell's poem. The Medal of John Bayes which in turn was a criticism of Dryden's earlier poem. The Medal. Shadwell's poem was an unfair and indecent attack. This provoked Dryden and he brought out mac Flecknoe that silenced his adversary.
Dryden's satirical genius is fully revealed in the poem. It is a satire on Thomas Shadwell. Who was once a friend of Dryden.
Mac Flecknoe is ready to vacate his tile as the world's worst poet. A worthy successor has to be chosen. The choice falls on Shadwell. The coronation takes place in Barbican, London suburb notorious for its low and vulgar life. The events are presented in an absurd ridiculous manner.
Dryden uses allusions, paradies and quotations profusely to ridicule the great hero of the poem.
The gross stupidity of Shadwell is highlighted from the beginning of all the sons of Flecknoe, he Shadwell is dullest and therefore by nature the fittest to succeed his father. His stupidity is of such comprehensive nature that the rest to some faint meaning make pretense. But Shadwell never deviates into sense. Shadwell is described as a giant of a man, but a pygmy intellectually. Thus Nature designed him to be the great monarch of dullness. Flecknoe himself was the king of the kingdom of dullness. He says he was only a John the Baptist preparing the way to the great Jesus Christ.
Irony is the most potent weapon Dryden wields in his literary warfare. Shadwell's enormous stupidity is highlighted throughout the poem. The man's corpulence, his mountain belly and his addiction to opium are referred to. Apart from this attack on his adversaries personal attributes, Dryden uses, most of the poem to criticise the 'poetic talents' of his rival.
Mac Flecknoe is designed to be a mock heroic poem. So the interest is always focused on this aspect.
Mock-heroic poetry employs a satirical devise in which the great ad the silly are brought together and compared. This way the absurd nonsensical effect is largely increased. For this purpose Dryden has chosen events and characters from the Bible and ancient history. Shadwell is selected and put n the throne of stupidity in a coronation which is described in detail. It is as if the audience is witnessing the coronation of a great king who is destined to rule a vast empire. The poem ends drawing a parallel to the Biblical story of the mantle of Elijah falling on the shoulders of Elisha giving him a double portion of his sire's prophetic spirit.