The Poem

(Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

Sir Hudibras, a Presbyterian knight, is among those who rode out against the monarchy during England’s civil war. He is a proud man, one who bends his knee to nothing but chivalry and suffers no blow but that which was given when he was dubbed a knight. Although he has some wit, he is shy about displaying it. He knows Latin, Greek, and Hebrew; indeed, his talk is a piebald dialect, so heavily is it larded with Greek and Latin words and tags. He is learned in rhetoric, logic, and mathematics, and he frequently speaks in a manner demonstrating his learning. His notions fit things so well that he is often puzzled to decide what his notions are and what reality is.

In figure he is thick and stout, both before and behind, and he always carries extra victuals in his hose. He rides a mealy mouthed, walleyed, skinny old nag whose tail drags in the dust, and he encourages his horse with a single old spur. Sir Hudibras has a squire named Ralpho, who is an Independent in religion—a fact that accounts for his partisanship and his dogmatic approach to the many discussions and arguments that he has with his master on matters of faith. Ralpho is a tailor by trade, but his belief in the efficacy of divine revelation to the individual makes him something of a religious oracle, at least in his own opinion.

Sir Hudibras and Ralpho ride forth from the knight’s home to reform what they call sins and what the rest of the world regards as mild amusement. After they go a few miles on their journey, they come to a town where the people dance to a fiddle and, even worse in Sir Hudibras’s eyes, indulge themselves in the sport of bearbaiting. To the knight’s resolve to end these activities Ralpho adds his agreement that they are certainly un-Christian. When the knight advances, however, he is met by an unsympathetic crowd. Among the rabble are several leaders. One is Crowdero, a fiddler with a wooden leg, who plays his instrument for the mob in the absence of more martial fifes and drums. Another leader is Orsin, the bear keeper, who leads his charge at the end of a rope fastened to the creature’s nose. Talgol, a butcher, is also in the van, as is a woman named Trulla, an amazon of a damsel. When Sir Hudibras calls upon the people to disperse and return quietly to their homes, leaving Crowdero a prisoner, a fight begins.

Ralpho is soon bucked off his horse when someone puts a burr under the animal’s tail. Sir Hudibras, pulled from his steed, falls on the bear, who becomes enraged and escapes from his keeper. The bear’s escape scatters the crowd and Crowdero is left behind, the prisoner of Sir Hudibras and Ralpho, because the fiddler’s wooden leg is broken in the melee. Swooning from fear, Sir Hudibras lies helpless for a time, but...

(The entire section is 1126 words.)


(Great Characters in Literature)

Bond, Richmond P. English Burlesque Poetry, 1700-1750. New York: Russell & Russell, 1964. This classic study places Hudibras in the burlesque tradition. Argues that the poem is not, on the other hand, a travesty.

Butler, Samuel. Hudibras. Edited by John Wilders. Oxford, England: Clarendon Press, 1967. This edition provides much useful information. Copious notes.

Jack, Ian. Augustan Satire: Intention and Idiom in English Poetry, 1660-1750. Oxford, England: Clarendon Press, 1957. Calls Hudibras a “low satire” and places the poem in the context of other major satiric poems through most of a century.

Richards, Edward Ames. Hudibras in the Burlesque Tradition. New York: Columbia University Press, 1937. Gives an account of the influence of Butler’s poem in colonial America. Places the poem in the context of the burlesque tradition.

Wasserman, George. Samuel “Hudibras” Butler. Rev. ed. Boston: Twayne, 1989. A chapter on Butler’s thought is followed by two chapters on Hudibras. Bibliography.