Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 614
Flecknoe, the monarch of dullness, who is prepared to abdicate and does so in the course of the action. His character is derived from that of Richard Flecknoe, an obscure seventeenth century English poet known for his insipid verses, for publishing his works at his own expense, and for his modest claims about them. His two dramas that were produced proved to be failures on stage. Like Shadwell, he was also a lute player. In the satire, Flecknoe fills the role of both monarch and prophet, the prophetic role being appropriate because the real Flecknoe was a Catholic priest. His speeches, which consist of more than 120 verses, show him to be good-humored and enthusiastic about his decision to abdicate and his hopes for Shadwell’s reign. His undisguised and energetic delight in praising inferior literary talent, low genres, and coarse humor lend an air of gaiety to the satire. Far from attacking superior dramatists such as Ben Jonson, he dismisses them as irrelevant to his purpose. As often happens to characters in Shadwell’s works, he becomes a victim of farce, falling through a trap door at the conclusion.
Shadwell, the successor to Flecknoe, designated “Mac” (son of) Flecknoe. He is modeled on Thomas Shadwell, a successful Restoration dramatist and rival of Dryden. Although his poetry generally was regarded as inferior, his comedies enjoyed a favorable reception in the theater. In the satire, he delivers no speeches, but he is described at length by Flecknoe. His action is limited to his arriving at the throne of dullness, taking his oath, and being crowned. The poem emphasizes his humble origins in Norwich, his stupidity, his obesity, and his numerous shortcomings as a writer. It describes his past experiences at public spectacles and his lute playing as indications of his lack of genuine creativity. Unlike Flecknoe, who is energetic despite his approaching death, Shadwell is portrayed as indolent and lethargic.
Herringman, a captain of the guard at the coronation. The reference is to Henry Herringman, a London publisher and bookseller who had published works by Dryden, Shadwell, and Flecknoe. His role is only ceremonial.
Sir Formal Trifle
Sir Formal Trifle, a fop known for his inflated oratory. The character is borrowed from Shadwell’s The Virtuoso (1676). In the poem, he is cited as a proper model for Shadwell’s style. The character suggests that when Shadwell abandons his usual dullness for serious portrayal of emotion, he achieves only pomposity and grandiloquence.
Johnson, a dramatist known for his standard of excellence. The character is a fictive representation of Ben Jonson, the Elizabethan and Jacobean master of comedy, whom Shadwell admired and emulated. Although Jonson wrote comedies of humor similar to those of Shadwell, Jonson represents the ideal of wit, the antithesis of Shadwell’s dullness. Shadwell is warned not to link himself with Jonson on the basis that both men were obese. Despite Shadwell’s claims of being a successor to Jonson, the poem depicts Jonson as hostile to him and insists that the true lineage is from Flecknoe.
Fletcher, a reference to John Fletcher, the dramatist. With Jonson, Fletcher serves to establish the implied standard for playwriting. In Dryden’s day, Fletcher was perceived as a master of tragedy because of his ability to portray strong emotion.
Ancient Dekker, a minor prophet. The allusion is to Thomas Dekker, an Elizabethan dramatist and author of domestic comedies about middle-class life. Because he wrote about middle-class manners and morals, he is placed among the host of inferior poets. Dryden gives him one of the brief prophetic roles in the poem, as one who predicted Shadwell’s rise to monarch of dullness.
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