Places: Mac Flecknoe

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

First published: 1682; revised in Miscellany Poems, 1684

Type of work: Poetry

Type of plot: Mock-heroic

Time of work: Late 1670’s

Asterisk denotes entries on real places.

Places Discussed*River Thames

*River Mac FlecknoeThames (tehmz). River running through London where the fictional poet, Mac Flecknoe, first catches sight of Shadwell, his true heir in literary ineptitude. Flecknoe beholds the ample form of Shadwell rowing a small boat in the river that reflects his relative unimportance in the currents of literary history.


Augusta. Alternative name for London that stresses its connection to the cultural flowering of ancient Augustan Rome. A part of the inflated description of Shadwell’s surroundings that contrasts sharply with their vulgar reality.


*Barbican. Ancient watchtower, near the Roman wall surrounding the old City of London, that has deteriorated into nonexistence by the seventeenth century. Only the name remains to describe a neighborhood full of brothels and frequented by fledgling actors and prostitutes. Ironically, the vigilance and security symbolized by the tall fortification has lapsed into a world of lowlife. Flecknoe chooses this site for the coronation of his successor, Shadwell.


*Ireland. Island in the British Isles that fell under English rule several decades before Dryden wrote Mac Flecknoe. Dryden cites it as one of two places over which Shadwell might reign. Both Ireland and Barbados had reputations for savagery, which make them appropriate for Shadwell’s lack of civilized talent.


*Barbados. Island in the West Indies whose seventeenth century sugar industry was based on slave labor. The poet adds that Irish lawbreakers might be “barbadoe’d”–transported to the New World to serve as slave labor. Shadwell, the poem implies, has transgressed against the rules of writing and churns out his hack work like one condemned to a fate of drudgery.

BibliographyDryden, John. Poems 1681-1684. Edited by H. T. Swendenberg and Vinton A. Dearing. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1972. The standard edition of Dryden. Traces the background and origin of the poem, identifies allusions, references, and ambiguities with thoroughness and accuracy.Jack, Ian. Augustan Satire: Intention and Idiom in English Poetry, 1660-1750. Oxford, England: Clarendon Press, 1952. Devotes a chapter to Mac Flecknoe, analyzing the satire as a mock epic. Emphasizes the personal elements in the attack on Shadwell.Miner, Earl. Dryden’s Poetry. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1967. Explores theatrical elements in the poem and its fundamental metaphors. Identifies the monarchical, religious, and aesthetic metaphors as central to the meaning and poetic effect.Swedenberg, H. T., Jr., ed. Essential Articles for the Study of John Dryden. London: Frank Cass, 1966. Includes three articles on Mac Flecknoe. Two explore dating and authorship; one traces Dryden’s debt to Abraham Cowley’s Davideis.Winn, James Anderson. John Dryden and His World. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1987. In his critical biography of Dryden, Winn provides an extended account of Dryden’s controversy with Shadwell. Includes a brief analysis of the satire.
Categories: Places