Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Satirizing the Thin-Skinned Orange One with Dryden's "Mac Flecknoe" #SOL16

Image via Google search, labeled for non-commercial reuse.
Having spent the last two weeks mourning the election results, I find solace and laughter in humor, especially satire and parody. 

One of the first poems from the 17th Century I loved in college and often taught in the early years of my career is John Dryden's "Mac Flecknoe." Typically, anthologies excerpt the poem as I've done here. 

The T.S. referenced in the poem's epithet is Thomas Shadwell. The poem mocks Shadwell and helped create the mock heroic epic. 

Notably, Dryden announces his intent to poke fun at Shadwell in the poem's epithet. Dryden proceeds to skewer Flecknoe and Shadwell by referring to his "epic" subject as adept at "Non-sense, absolute" (ln 6), as being "of a large increase" (ln 8), and as one "at war with wit" (ln 12).

Even as a child, the speaker announces, Shadwell was dull and "confirmed in full stupidity" (lns 16, 18). And while others may occasionally meander into illogic, Shadwell "never deviates into sense" (ln 20).

The poem continues mercilessly in this vein for many more lines, and we must work to recover some of it's more archaic references. Still, the poem offers a timely reminder that as writers did  hundreds of years ago, we live in an age of satire, and at no other time is satire more relevant than when commenting on politics and politicians. 

From The Onion, to The Borowitz Report, to Saturday Night Live, to political cartoons, satire speaks truth to power through humor. I find Mac Flecknoe an apt description of Donald Trump, whom I view as rarely deviating into sense, whose rhetoric and shifting policy positions one can describe as "rising fogs" that "prevail upon the day." 

As does Mac Flecknoe in Dryden's poem, Trump seems to have proclaimed his children heirs to the executive branch: 

Cry'd, 'tis resolv'd; for nature pleads that he 

Should only rule, who most resembles me: 


Social and political critics alike argue that Trump's twitter wars intentionally divert attention  away from the pressing issues of the day, but I'm not convinced. Trump bears the marks of a  social media addict, particularly in his inability to understand SNL's satire and parody. 

True, "Mac Flecknoe" criticizes Shadwell's bad writing, but I suspect the ghost of Dryden will forgive me for taking a few liberties with his tightly-woven masterpiece given I'm applying it to one whose tangled syntax has given us bigly and the overuse of very in 140 characters. 

"Mac Flecknoe" by John Dryden 
A Satire upon the True-blue Protestant Poet T.S.
All human things are subject to decay, 
And, when Fate summons, monarchs must obey: 
This Flecknoe found, who, like Augustus, young 
Was call'd to empire, and had govern'd long: 
In prose and verse, was own'd, without dispute 
Through all the realms of Non-sense, absolute. 
This aged prince now flourishing in peace, 
And blest with issue of a large increase, 
Worn out with business, did at length debate 
To settle the succession of the State: 
And pond'ring which of all his sons was fit 
To reign, and wage immortal war with wit; 
Cry'd, 'tis resolv'd; for nature pleads that he 
Should only rule, who most resembles me: 
Shadwell alone my perfect image bears, 
Mature in dullness from his tender years. 
Shadwell alone, of all my sons, is he 
Who stands confirm'd in full stupidity. 
The rest to some faint meaning make pretence, 
But Shadwell never deviates into sense. 
Some beams of wit on other souls may fall, 
Strike through and make a lucid interval; 
But Shadwell's genuine night admits no ray, 
His rising fogs prevail upon the day: 
Besides his goodly fabric fills the eye, 
And seems design'd for thoughtless majesty: 
Thoughtless as monarch oaks, that shade the plain, 
And, spread in solemn state, supinely reign. 
Heywood and Shirley were but types of thee, 
Thou last great prophet of tautology:

Each Tuesday the team at Two Writing Teachers sponsors the Slice of LifeStory Challenge. I'm grateful to these ladies for their unwavering commitment tothe power of narrative. Thank you. Head over to TWT for more slices.