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...
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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.
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 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 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."
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 replaced by Cibber, who is based on the real Colley Cibber, an eighteenth century playwright and poet laureate. Pope’s Cibber is a dull poet who possesses only enough talent to create poor occasional verses. Depicted in all four books of the epic as a pedantic critic, a Grub Street journalist, and a bad poet, the King of Dulness appears only at intervals. As Pope’s easy substitution of Cibber for Tibbald indicates, the role the King of Dulness plays in the epic is quite small. The King of Dulness is present as a spectator of, not a participant in, the games described in the second book, and during the third book, his actions are limited to sleeping with his head in the goddess’ lap and dreaming of her past and future conquests. In the fourth book, the King of Dulness merely continues to recline in the lap of his queen as she rules the world.
Poetic Justice, a character keenly interested in the affairs of mortals. Poetic Justice assists the goddess Dulness as she searches for one to crown as the King of Dulness.
Elkanah Settle, a character based on the Restoration poet of the same name. During the dream sequence of the third book, Settle shows the King of Dulness the future and the offspring of the goddess Dulness.
John Taylor, who represents the real Water Poet of the Restoration era. He accompanies the King of Dulness and Settle on the journey depicted in the third book of the epic.
The harlot, who appears in the fourth book as the first of many personages who tells of Dulness’ victory over the arts. The harlot comes as a representative of the Italian opera, and she rejoices in the banishment of Handel to Ireland and of the new chaos in music.
The specter, who, like the harlot, appears in the fourth book to celebrate Dulness’ triumph. Representing education, the specter gleefully assures the goddess that imagination and creativity are no longer allowed in school.