Notes You may find footnotes like these useful or distracting. If it’s the latter, feel free to skip right over them, but they’re here if you find them helpful. I’ll only include these for your early readings, as you’re getting the hang of figuring out what you should be circling to learn more about in your reading.
1. Richard Flecknoe was a minor poet (and Catholic priest). No one knows why Dryden decided to pick on him.
2. Augustus was Rome’s first emperor; his reign ushered in a golden age in Roman history, though it also represented the collapse of the Roman Republic.
3. Blessed with many children
4. Dryden originally wrote Sh—, a standard privacy protecting method of the time, but also a phrase that evokes a certain, um, scatological production.
1. This is a fancy way of calling Shadwell fat.
2. Thomas Heywood and James Shirley were 17th century playwrights—Dryden was not a fan.
4. Needlessly repeating the same idea, statement or word
5. This line draws the parallel between Shadwell and Jesus, with Flecknoe playing the role of John the Baptist. These lines and the following are pulled directly from the Bible.
6. Shadwell lived in Portugal for a time and dedicated some of his work to its king.
7. Shadwell was the author of a play called Epsom Wells, but the line “Such a fellow as he deserves to be tossed in a blanket” is actually in Shadwell’s Virtuoso.
8. In Greek mythology, Arion is a poet and musician who was carried across the ocean by dolphins—they liked his songs so much that they saved him when his shipmates threw him off their ship.
9. A real alley in 17th-century London. It ran from Water Street to Milford Lane, just south of the Strand.
11. St. André was a French dancing-master—an unreputable profession—and did the choreography for Shadwell’s Psyche.
1. John Singleton was a court musician.
2. Villerius is a character in The Siege of Rhodes, an opera by William Davenant. In case you haven’t figured it out, Dryden is taking this opportunity to name-drop every writer and work he thinks is terrible.
3. The anticipated phrase—familiar from royal coronations—would be “anointed majesty.”
4. London. Swift is writing at the height of what we call the Augustan Age, a time when England believed it had re-attained the literary excellence of ancient Rome.
5. London had just gone through “the Popish Plot,” in which a number of Catholics were falsely accused of planning the murder of the king.
7. The Barbican, a fortified wall, stood in Aldersgate Street in London. Hight is an archaic word for “was called.”
8. acting school
9. This means a prostitute or strumpet—not what we would think of as a “punk.”
10. Maximin was a character in Dryden’s Tyrannic Love. He was a bombastic hero.
11. John Fletcher and Ben Jonson, early 17th-century playwrights. Fletcher was best known for his tragedies, associated with the “buskin” (the kind of shoe worn in stage tragedies); Jonson was famous for his comedies, which actors wore “socks” to perform.
12. Like Panton below, a stock character in plays for a simpleton.
1. Thomas Decker, a writer targeted by Ben Jonson in his satirical The Poetaster.
2. The Miser, The Humorists, and The Hypocrite were plays by Shadwell. Raymond and Bruce are characters from them.
3. This “vast realm” was a real-life bit of particularly seamy London real estate that covered about half a mile, suggesting the limited range and quality of Shadwell’s real influence.
4. Paper was expensive. When books ceased to sell, their paper would be ripped out and used for other purposes—sometimes to line pie tins, sometimes as toilet paper.
5. Dryden thought his translations of Homer and Virgil were particularly bad.
6. Cheated booksellers 7. Henry Herringman was Shadwell’s and Dryden’s publisher.
8. The son of Aeneas
9. Hasdrubal famously made his son Hannibal, ruler of the Carthaginians, swear to hate Rome forever.
10. The application of sacramental oil at a coronation
1. Another one of Shadwell’s plays
2. During the coronation, a British monarch holds two symbols of the throne: a globe (also known as a ball) in the left hand, to represent the world, and a scepter in the right hand to symbolize the monarch’s power over the temporal world. Shadwell holds a mug of ale and a copy of Flecknoe’s worst play. His crown is of poppies, which symbolize dullness and also hint at Shadwell’s addiction to opium.
3. According to Plutarch (whom Dryden helped to translate), Romulus, the founder of Rome, predicted his reign from twelve vultures near the River Tiber.
4. his hair
5. This sounds impressive, but if you actually map it, Shadwell’s territory is nothing but ocean.
6. Sir George Etherege, a contemporary playwright. The characters mentioned in the next few lines come from his plays.
1. Sir Charles Sedley, a poet and playwright with a reputation for wit, contributed the prologue to Shadwell’s Epsom-Wells. Dryden is suggesting that perhaps he actually contributed much more than that.
2. Sir Formal Trifle, a character in Shadwell’s Virtuoso.
3. Shadwell dedicated some of his plays to the Duke and Duchess of Newcastle, in the north of England.
4. Shadwell admired Ben Jonson and tried to imitate his style. So did Dryden.
5. A character in Shadwell’s Psyche.
6. These are all nonsense phrases from Shadwell’s plays.
7. Low comedy that depends on situation rather than wit for its humor
8. Ben Jonson was famous for his “comedies of humors,” in which each character’s “temper of mind” was exaggerated; Shadwell tried to imitate his style.
9. Originally bias meant a spin you would give a ball to make it swerve in the particular direction you wanted it to go.
10. That is, to Ben Jonson, who was also fat. Dryden is suggesting that Shadwell’s strongest point of comparison to Jonson is his pant size.
11. a swelling caused by gas
1. big container
2. a very small container
3. In other words, your tragedies make people laugh, and your comedies put people to sleep.
4. Being Irish was an insult that suggested poverty, superstition, and barbarity.
5. Iambics means satires here, since Greek satirical poetry was written in iambic verse. Anagrams (rearranged letters), acrostics (poems in which the first letter of each verse spells out a word), and wings and altars (poems written in the form of pictures) were all examples of “false wit”—poetry that relies on gimmicks instead of actual quality.
6. Another Biblical reference, this time to the prophet Elisha taking up Elijah’s mantle in 2 Kings 2:9-13..