27 pages 54 minutes read

John Dryden

Mac Flecknoe

Fiction | Poem | Adult | Published in 1682

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Cultural Context

When “Mac Flecknoe” was written, there were two parallel literary scenes in London. The first, the public literary scene, consisted of works intended for general consumption. Generally, in the era, the most prominent vehicle for public literature was the theaters, where Shadwell and his contemporaries made most of their income.

The second, the court scene, was a closed-off, largely homosocial group of writers and aristocrats centered around Charles II’s court. The court scene sustained itself on poetry, primarily satirical and bawdy verse, that circulated in hand-written manuscripts. Works from this scene were copied and openly shared with other members, but they were rarely published for a wider audience. Occasionally, as in the case of “Mac Flecknoe,” works from this scene would leak (sometimes intentionally and sometimes not) to a publisher.

Dryden styled himself as opposed to Charles II’s courtiers and directly attacked them in poems such as “An Essay upon Satire.” However, Dryden was, as Poet Laureate, intimately connected with the court. “Mac Flecknoe” shares many of the elitist, aristocratic concerns with other works from the court scene, and Dryden is careful, in the poem, to distance himself from working poets. Ironically, when Dryden’s laureateship was given to Shadwell, Dryden turned to writing plays for public consumption to earn a living.