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Last Updated on September 5, 2023, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 301

The Decay of Literature

The first of Dulness’s chosen agents is decay. The kingdom of Great Britain, at the time Pope composed The Dunciad, was in a state of slow rot. The goddess chooses a successor to the throne of squalor, and she has him set a litany of various games and tasks for people in different professions. Booksellers are sent to a race through bedpans and waste—symbolizing the blight that has taken place in literature and the prevalence of empty propaganda in the nation at the time.

Ignorance to Imbeciles

The goddess decides to create a poet of her own design. Instead of the starving poet—a thin, meager type of person—a fat, well-dressed, and wealthy poet arrives on the scene. This man represents a poet and playwright, James Moore Smythe, who had notably plagiarized other writers (including Alexander Pope) and seemed incapable of writing original work. The implication is that the poet is a nobleman and therefore need not write well in order to sell his poetry, showing the imbecility and ignorance prevalent in Britain's literary scene at the time.

The Tastelessness and Vulgarity of Consumerism

Tastelessness has also gripped Great Britain, in Pope's view. The booksellers are given two final tasks to illustrate this concept. Each one will urinate in the air to see who can achieve the highest stream, a tasteless and vulgar practice even in the most rudimentary of times. The competition is literally a "pissing contest" in which they all attempt to one-up each other. The last task is to sell to the wealthy solely through flattery to see who can flatter, or "tickle," the best. This shows that the booksellers—and the nation itself—care nothing for the quality of what they're consuming: they are just trying to make more money than anyone else.

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