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Last Updated on September 9, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 339


The goddess Dulness is the central character of the poem. Her powers are immense, and she inexorably increases her control over the denizens of Britain. Her avowed objective is to turn all humans into imbeciles. She is not devoid of mercy; however, her kindness, too, is nothing short of a curse, for she turns the subject of her mercy insensible. In the world of Pope's time, Dulness corresponds to a corrupt political class, lascivious tabloid reporting, and a dull public that is increasingly losing the ability to ask the right questions.

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Lewis Theobald

Lewis Theobald was an editor whose fame rests largely upon his achievement of putting the standardized text of Shakespeare’s works into the public domain. In the poem, Pope presents Theobald as the first incarnation of Dulness. Theobald's edition of Shakespeare was in reaction to Pope's review of the Bard's works, which were found to contain many errors. Displeased with Theobald's attacks on his work, Pope chooses to present him in a less-than-savory light in The Dunciad.

Colley Cibber

Colley Cibber was an actor in Pope's time. He also dabbled in poetry. However, his contemporaries accused him of blatantly plagiarizing the works of other poets and dramatists, such as Shakespeare. As such, he appears as the Head Dunce in The Dunciad. Pope’s attacks on Cibber continued for a quarter of a century: he memorably credited Cibber with less human genius than God gave an ape. Cibber was selected as poet laureate of England, while much more deserving poets, Pope included, were ignored for political reasons.

Jacob Tonson

Jacob Tonson was a publisher of renown. He is remembered for having obtained a copyright on Shakespeare's plays. He is portrayed as one of the dunces in Pope's poem because of the role he presumably plays in the lowering of sensibilities all around. Pope feels that people like Tonson, who are in a position to influence the reading habits and tastes of the populace, are abdicating their responsibilities by publishing drivel. Pope refers to Tonson as "left-legged Jacob" and "genial Jacob."

Characters Discussed

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 585


Dulness, the central character, introduced in the epic’s first lines. She is described as a goddess who is the daughter of Chaos and Night and who has ruled over the world and its inhabitants from the beginning of time. Enveloped in clouds, fog, and mist, which magnify her presence and obscure her face, Dulness is also continually surrounded by such allegorical figures as Fortitude, Temperance, and Prudence. In the first book, after surveying and appraising the numerous creators of dull writing, she finally anoints Tibbald as the king of her realm. Dulness, in the second book, presides over the games and contests held between rival booksellers, poets, publishers, and journalists, who all compete for her approval. Because no one can pass her final test—to stay awake while two authors read aloud—Dulness grants her favors to none. The past and future triumphs of Dulness are the subject of the third book, and in the fourth book, Dulness is depicted as a true deity. At the end of the epic, she reigns supreme over the sciences and universities as well as the arts and theatres.

Lewis Tibbald (Cibber)

Lewis Tibbald (Cibber), a character modeled on Lewis Theobald, a Shakespearean scholar who embarrassed Alexander Pope in 1726. He is introduced in the middle of the first book, when he is named King of Dulness by the goddess Dulness. In the fourth book, which Pope added to the original poem, Tibbald is...

(The entire section contains 924 words.)

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