Dull Monkeys

 

Pope was, not surprisingly, mocked and criticized for his attack on “the dull”, as we can see in this satirical print of him (Image #2). Despite the mocking picture being directed against Pope, I believe it serves to further his satirical point within the Dunciad. What happens when the literature of power is classified by the dull and corrupt? Additionally, what happens when that literature is given mounts of time and thought? I believe the monkey-esque figure is collectively the dull scholar, the dull critic, and the dull reader engaging with Pope’s text. Pope mockingly pretends that the Dunciad is an ancient epic that needs scholarly investment. He is mocking those texts which indeed do demand such a privilege, not through the merits of their work, but through dullness. The appointment of Colley Cibber as Poet Laureate in 1730 is an example of this. He was not selected for the merits of his writing, but for his support of the Whig political party. He was appointed a position where his poems would receive attention at special events and such, a spotlight of dullness. Pope is criticizing a society that is disregarding merit for affiliation and consumability. Therefore when we see the monkey of a reader/critic/scholar engaging with a text that is a satirization of third-rate texts, they are made the fool. Pope’s head is representative of what this does to the consumers of these texts. Much like the case of Cibber, if these third-rate texts are held in this esteem and reach the ears of the masses, the dullness of the author can find a home in the reader and perpetuate the cycle. Monkey see, monkey do, as is said. We can see this same cycle within the Dunciad.

 

“As Fancy opens the quick springs of Sense,

We ply the Memory, we load the brain,

Bind rebel Wit, and double chain on chain,

Confine the thought, to exercise the breath;

And keep them in the pale of Words till death.

Whate’er the talents, or howe’er design’d,

We hang one jingling padlock on the mind:

A Poet the first day, he dips his quill;

And what the last? a very Poet still.

Pity! the charm works only in our wall,”

 

We can see in the first line how “Fancy” is dictating the sense of people in what they esteem as worthy literature. This is illustrating how the masses fancy literature through political or personal bias. Enough to engage with it and confine the counter thought that this literature is objectively unworthy. When this literature is exposed to many other dull ‘monkeys’ it is kept in the “pale” of words. I believe the use of “pale” is a pun of sorts. Actually meaning pail, it is replaced with pale as these works which are found in there pale in comparison to the great works of literature. Yet they have the potential to be put in the same pail of “Words”, or important literature. This is despite “the talents” of the author and “the design” of the work. Despite it all they are still a poet amongst the greats. This “charm” only works within the “wall” of the society which perpetuates it, and allows this dangerous cycle to continue. A collection of dull monkeys engaging with dull text.

-Daniel Rodriguez

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