Mac Flecknoe

Mac Flecknoe Symbols, Allegory and Motifs

Rule and Succession (Motif)

Throughout the poem, Shadwell's move to the chief poet of London is characterized in terms of kings, princes, heirs, realms, kingdoms, etc. Dryden does this in order to let Shadwell's stupidity and complete lack of qualifications to rule in any real way shine through. Considering a fool like this in charge of an "infinite realm" is an incongruous, hilarious, and even sobering situation.

Prophecy (Motif)

Flecknoe doesn't just announce that he is turning the reins over to his son; rather, he is nearly prophesying this succession. He introduces Shadwell, boasts of his "abilities," and hints at the greatness to come. There are echoes of Elijah and Elisha in the final scene in which Flecknoe's mantle falls atop his son's shoulders. Again, like the allusions to kingdoms, using prophecy in any way to discuss Shadwell is ludicrous.

The Barbican (Symbol)

The Barbican was a Roman defensive wall on the outer edge of London. There was once a watchtower there but Dryden writes that it is now in ruins. Thus, the Barbican symbolizes the greatness of Rome, but its current crumbling state and a neighborhood of brothels and inferior theaters now suggests the lack of civilization and greatness associated with Shadwell.

Shadwell (Symbol)

Thomas Shadwell comes to symbolize all that is bad with poetry (at least in Dryden's opinion). He symbolizes dullness, lack of sense, foppishness, excess, tawdriness, an appeal to lower sorts of art and people, impudence, ignorance, and tendentiousness.

Ancient Rome and Greece (Motif)

Just as with the kingdom and biblical references/comparisons, the frequent evocation of the Roman Empire serves to emphasize just how far Shadwell is from the pinnacle of civilization. Flecknoe is no Augustus; Shadwell is no Ascansius. The coronation takes place on Roman ruins, serving to remind readers of the detritus Shadwell gleefully presides over.