Mac Flecknoe Symbols, Allegory and Motifs

Mac Flecknoe Symbols, Allegory and Motifs

Human waste

The poet creates a dismal image by mentioning more than once human waste. Every time human waste is mentioned, the image created is linked with Shadwell, becoming a motif in the novel. The motif appears for the first time when London is described before Shadwell’s arrival. The water in the port is described as being filthy with human waste that just floats on the water. Another reference towards human waste is made when the crowd coming to greet the new king is described. The poet notes how they all seem to come from a single place, the Pissing Alley, a real alley found in London during Dryden’s period.

Influential poets

Throughout the poem, the name of numerous poets is mentioned thus becoming a motif. The reason why the names of other poets appear is to compare Shadwell with them. Dryden uses the name of brilliant poets like Ben Jonson to accentuate the idea that Shadwell will never reach his level of literary talent but he also uses the names of other poets, less known and without talent, with the purpose of making sure that the reader knows in which category to place Shadwell.


Being a satirical poem, jokes and puns addressed to Shadwell appear frequently. Dryden compares Shadwell with inanimate objects like barrels and trees to highlight the idea that Shadwell is incompetent and to hint that Shadwell is obese. The poet does not only attack Shadwell’s intelligence and appearance but also the characters created by Shadwell. Throughout the poem, Dryden mentions numerous works written by Shadwell and criticizes them harshly.

Cheering crowd

The cheering crowd who comes to welcome Shadwell back is used as symbol to characterize the people who support Shadwell and his work. The people are common, uneducated people, coming from brothels and infamous alleys and symbolizing the ignorant part of the population. The poet want to emphasize by using this description that Shadwell’s work is inferior and only ‘’inferior’’ people can enjoy it. The cheering crowd can be seen as a symbol that stands for the quality of Shadwell’s work and its value.

Small Kingdom

The poet mentions the Kingdom over which Shadwell rules and uses it as a symbol to emphasize the influence or lack of it Shadwell has. When Mac Flecknoe talks about the kingdom Shadwell will get, he describes its boundaries by mentioning two street names. While at a first glance these names seem to delineate a large territory, in reality it refers to a short street that existed in London during Shadwell’s time.

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