the light fantastic

vague ramblings re: early british lit

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Dryden, "Mac Flecknoe"

If it isn't too presumptious to make a statement about the entire age of the poetic style, I think the heroic couple gained popularity with the English poets because it was reminscent of classic epic poetry. On one hand, the evocation of the classics lent a sense of grandeur to the newly reinstated monarchy and the start of an empire. Yet the simplicity of the style (as opposed to the more rigid sonnets for instance) yields a mocking tone to the hopeful poet who dares to compare the present situation with the mighty Greek/Roman empires.

Like Dryden's "Annus Mirabilis" invokes the image of a phoenix amidst the rubble and debris left after the Great Fire of London. While the patriotic intent is commendable, there is so much enthusiam in the hope for the bright future that it induces skeptism in the earnestness of the poet. The heroic couplet contributes to the grand feeling of rebirth, while the iambic pentameter and masculine rhymes make the reading sing-song, which in turns gives the view of the future childish and naive air.

In "Mac Flecknoe," Dryden uses the heroic couplet to satirize Shadwell by giving the poem an authentic, actual historic air. All the words seem to profess the succession of a worthy heir, "and when fate summons, manarchs must obey," that is all except the keyword in the sentence. Lines 15 and 16 show that the successor is most like the aged prince and mature in his tender years which is akin to historic precedence, but inserts "mature in dullness" to insult Shadwell. The heroic couplet works well for this because like the previous poem we read, the sing-song aspect of the poem was important in the oratory epics that reminds of empires and gods, and the tradition of passing history through poetry gives a somewhat similar authenticity to poem.
Then again, the vocabulary makes it very obvious that the heroic couplet is used more for its reminder of simplicity rather than the historic appeal.


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