A personal satire or lampoon is an attack on a particular rival and is usually not accompanied by any reformative zeal. Mac Flecknoe originated in personal malice. It is a retaliatory attack of Thomas Shadwell for having written The Medal of John Bays which in turn was a reply to Dryden’s The Medal. Thomas Shadwell’s satire was a personal attack on Dryden and an abusive one. Dryden could not pocket the insult meekly; so he wrote Mac Flecknoe as a stinging reply.
While we read Mac Flecknoe we realize that Dryden has no desire to reform Shadwell. As a satire, the poem contains much of personal slander, a great deal of which is undeserved by Shadwell. Though not a great writer, Shadwell was not an absolute dunce as made out by Dryden. A remarkable handling of the mock-heroic technique, however reduces Shadwell to a dullard. Throughout the poem, we come across words like ‘sense’, ‘art’, ‘tautology’ ‘nature’ and ‘nonsense’- words often used by Dryden in his prolonged critical warfare with Shadwell.
With consummate skill, Dryden dresses up Shadwell in a heroic armour only in order to reduce him to the size of a pigmy. Flecknoe’s part in the poem is simply representative and the main satire is directed against Shadwell ‘who stands confirmed in full stupidity’. Dryden calls him the dullest son of Flecknoe.
Shadwell was a born enemy of wit, sense and intelligence. As a dramatist too, Shadwell is a grand failure. His tragedies make one laugh and his comedies induce sleep. He is also ridiculed for his presumptuous imitation of Ben Jonson. All these things fully illustrate that Mac Flacknoe is a personal satire.
However, we are to remember that Dryden’s impulses were not merely personal but had a wider scope. He did ot merely intend to attack Shadwell, but through him, all the bad poets of his day. Thus certain impersonal impulses also enter the poem giving it a universal dimension. Tautology and bombast are not only to be attacked in Shadwell, but in all other poets who made use of them.
To sum up, in Mac Flecknoe, we have a great deal of personal satire, although much of it is unfair. In fact, much of its pungency, its personal attack is redeemed by its humour and we would like to look upon Shadwell as a great comic creation.