"Steal My Thunder!"

(Magill's Quotations in Context)

Context: John Dennis, an English critic and dramatist, was famous for his ill nature. Although he was highly respected by many as a critic, he was unsuccessful as a dramatist. One of his nine tragedies, Appius and Virginia (1709), was harshly satirized by Alexander Pope for its bombast. In his Essay on Criticism Pope wrote: "But Appius reddens at each word you speak,/ And stares, tremendous, with a threat'ning eye,/ Like some fierce Tyrant in old tapestry. . . ." Pope's use of the word "tremendous" was probably intentional, for Dennis was often ridiculed for his use of the word. Open hostility developed between the two men, with the eccentric calling Pope "a stupid and impudent hunch-backed toad," an indignity for which Pope later punished him by comments private and public. For Appius and Virginia Dennis created a new technique for producing stage thunder. Although the play itself was unsuccessful and closed after but a few performances, the technique for producing thunder was adopted. Some time later, Dennis found his thunder-making technique used for a presentation of Macbeth. He jumped to his feet during the presentation and exclaimed:

See how these rascals use me; they will not let my play run, and yet they steal my thunder!