Alexander Pope "The Dunciad"
Alexander Pope’s “The Dunciad” is an interesting poem that presents a number of ridiculous imaginary contests. According to the opening section of “Book the Second” in the “Argument” the contests takes place between poets, critics and their patrons, party-writers and also booksellers. Pope identifies a number of these literary individuals by name and places them in the contests where they must perform absurd tasks. For example, there is a contest that takes place at Bridewell in which Pope explains is a place “…where Fleet-ditch with disemboguing streams / Rolls the large tribute of dead dogs to Thames/” (Pope 271-272). “The Fleet Ditch was the sewer outlet for the city at the time, where all of the gutters of the city washed into the river. It was silted, muddy, and mixed with river and city waters”(http://www.worldhistory.com/wiki/T/The-Dunciad.htm). Using the disgusting nature of Bridewell, Pope has the party-writers running through, throwing bits of sewage and diving in this mess to win the contest. Pope sarcastically infers that these party-writers could do very well in this type of contest because of their writing. Another contest involves individuals such as Norton, an author and poet, Webster, a newspaper editor, Whitfield a preacher (Pope 238-258) who are required to make loud and silly noises: “There cat-calls be the bribe / Of him whose chattering shames the monkey tribe: / And his this drum whose hoarse heroic bass / Drowns the loud clarion of the braying ass’ (Pope 231-234). This indicates that Pope is making fun of their writings and how they use them to gain the attention of their audiences. The final contest involves reading out loud some works of Henley and Blackmore which causes everyone to fall asleep. “Through the long, heavy, painful page drawl on; / Soft creeping, words on words, the sense compose / At every line they stretch, they yawn, they doze” (Pope 388-390).This demonstrates the extent to which Pope is ridiculing the authors and their works.
In the poem, Pope’s use of numerous references of individuals makes this satire complex and difficult to follow without background information about the people and circumstances. However, it is quite clear that the purpose of this poem is to insult and criticize certain individuals in the literary world of Popes time.