Mac Flecknoe Themes

Mac Flecknoe Themes

Literary talent

The main theme in the poem is the answer to the question: what is genuine literary talent? The poet harshly criticizes both Mac Flecknoe and Shadwell because of their writing style and considers their poems and works as being far from what true talent is. Dryden describes their stile as being boring, monotone, witless and unintelligent, choosing to copy the style of the great writers instead of working towards developing a style of their own. Dryden does not only criticize the way they write, but also the attitude they have towards progress in the literary field. In his speech, Mac Flecknoe revels that he feels safe being mediocre, considering his boring style as being a safe zone where he can flourish. Mac Flecknoe even advises Shadwell to try and reach the same level of boringness in order to be sure that he is safe and that he appeals to all types of people. Dryden criticizes those who opt to write in an unintelligent manner, a style aimed, in his opinion, at those without an education and suitable for brothels and not for literary circles. The poem offers details regarding Dryden’s opinion on what make a good writer and its main focus is proving that Shadwell’s style should not be considered as being talent. It becomes obvious that in order to be considered talented, a writer has to have wit, to express his ideas in an intellectual way and to not sacrifice the quality of his work just to try to be accepted by the masses. The poem doesn’t criticize only Shadwell’s writing, but bad writing in general and it offers a glimpse into the Dryden’s mind and his way of thinking.


In the poem, Dryden mentions more than once Shadwell’s obvious attempts at imitating Ben Jonson’s style of writing. This slowly damaged Shadwell’s reputation in the literary circles and he began to be known as a person who is not innovative and chooses to let the others do the work for him. Even though Shadwell was chosen as Poet Laureate of England didn’t meant that writers like Dryden changed their opinion about Shadwell and his writing. This poem proves that an award will not repair a bad reputation and will not change the way people see a person’s work. The poem proves that while Shadwell was recognized nationally, he was shunned by his own friends and by some writers of his time because of his reputation and unoriginal style.

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