Hudibras

Hudibras is a mock heroic narrative poem from the 17th century written by Samuel Butler.

Purpose

The work is a satirical polemic upon Roundheads, Puritans, Presbyterians and many of the other factions involved in the English Civil War. The work was written in three parts in 1663, 1664 and 1678 although an unauthorised edition came out in 1662.

Published only four years after Charles II had been restored to the throne and the Protectorate of Oliver Cromwell being completely over the poem found an appreciative audience. The satire is not balanced as Butler was fiercely royalist and only the parliamentarian side are singled out for ridicule. Butler also uses the work to parody some of the dreadful poetry of the time.

The epic tells the story of Sir Hudibras, a knight errant who is described dramatically and with laudatory praise that is so thickly applied as to be absurd, and the conceited and arrogant person is visible beneath. He is praised for his knowledge of logic despite appearing stupid throughout, but it is his religious fervour which is mainly attacked:

For his Religion, it was fit
To match his learning and his wit;
'Twas Presbyterian true blue;
For he was of that stubborn crew
Of errant saints, whom all men grant
To be the true Church Militant;
Such as do build their faith upon
The holy text of pike and gun;
Decide all controversies by
Infallible artillery;
And prove their doctrine orthodox
By apostolic blows and knocks;
Call fire and sword and desolation,
A godly thorough reformation,
Which always must be carried on,
And still be doing, never done;
As if religion were intended
For nothing else but to be mended.


His squire, Ralpho, is of a similar stamp but makes no claim to great learning, knowing all there is to know from his religion or “new-light”, as he calls it. Butler satirises the competing factions at the time of the protectorship by the constant bickering of these two principal characters whose religious opinions should unite them.

These are fawning but barbed portraits and are thought to represent personalities of the times but the actual analogues are, now as then, debatable. "A Key to Hudibras" printed with one of the work's editions (1709) and ascribed to Roger L'Estrange names Sir Samuel Luke as the model for Hudibras. Certainly, the mention of Mamaluke in the poem makes this possible although Butler suggests Hudibras is from the West Country making Henry Rosewell a candidate. The witchfinder, Matthew Hopkins, John Desborough, parliamentarian general, and William Prynne, lawyer, all make appearances, and the character of Sidrophel is variously seen as either William Lilly or Paul Neale.

Structure

Butler is clearly influenced by Rabelais and particularly Cervantes' Don Quixote. But whereas in Cervantes, although being mocked, the reader's sympathies are obviously supposed to be with the noble knight, Hudibras is offered nothing but derision.

The title comes from the name of a knight in Edmund Spencer's Faerie Queene who is described as "not so good of deeds as great of name" and "more huge in strength then wise in work". Spencer in turn probably got the name from the legendary English king Rud Hud Hudibras.

Hudibras was written in an iambic tetrameter in closed couplets, with surprising feminine rhymes. The dramatic meter portends tales of dramatic deeds, but the subject matter and the unusual rhymes undercut its importance. This verse form is now referred to as Hudibrastic. Consider the following from the opening of the poem, where the English Civil War is described thus:

"When civil dudgeon first grew high,
And men fell out they knew not why?
When hard words, jealousies, and fears,
Set folks together by the ears,
And made them fight, like mad or drunk,
For Dame Religion, as for punk;
Whose honesty they all durst swear for,
Though not a man of them knew wherefore...."


The work was published in three parts, each divided into three cantos with some additional heroic epistles. It is possible that a fourth part was planned, which would have given the work twelve parts in imitation of Virgil's Aeneid.

Plot

Enlarge picture
Hudibras Sallies Forth by William Hogarth
The knight and his squire sally forth and come upon some people bear-baiting. After deciding that this is anti-Christian they attack the baiters and capture one after defeating the bear. The defeated group of bear-baiters then rallies and renews the attack, capturing the knight and his squire. While in the stock the pair argue on religion.

Part two describes how the knight's imprisoned condition is reported by Fame to a widow Hudibras has been wooing and she comes to see him. With a captive audience, she complains that he does not really love her and he ends up promising to flagellate himself if she frees him. Once free he regrets his promise and debates with Ralpho how to avoid his fate with Ralpho suggesting that oath breaking is next to saintliness:

For breaking of an oath, and lying,
Is but a kind of self-denying;
A Saint-like virtue: and from hence
Some have broke oaths by Providence
Some, to the glory of the Lord,
Perjur'd themselves, and broke their word;


Hudibras then tries to convince Rapho of the nobility of accepting the beating in his stead but he declines the offer. They are interrupted by a skimmington, a procession where women are celebrated and men made fools. After haranguing the crowd for their lewdness, the knight is pelted with rotten eggs and chased away.

He decides to visit an astrologer, Sidrophel, to ask him how he should woo the widow but they get into an argument and after a fight the knight and squire run off in different directions believing they have killed Sidrophel.

The third part was published 14 years after the first two and is considerably different from the first parts. It picks up from where the second left off with Hudibras going to the widow's house to explain the details of the whipping he had promised to give himself but Ralpho had got there first and told her what had actually happened. Suddenly a group rushes in and gives him a beating and supposing them to be spirits from Sidrophel, rather than hired by the widow, confesses his sins and by extension the sins of the Puritans. Hudibras then visits a lawyer—the profession Butler trained in and one he is well able to satirise—who convinces him to write a letter to the widow. The poem ends with their exchange of letters in which the knight's arguments are rebuffed by the widow.

Before the visit to the lawyer there is a digression of an entire canto in which much fun is had at the events after Oliver Cromwell's death. The succession of his son Richard Cromwell and the squabbles of factions such as the Fifth Monarchists are told with no veil of fiction and no mention of Sir Hudibras.

Significance

Hudibras was an extremely popular work with pirate copies and a spurious second part being issued before Butler could produce his genuine second part in 1664. It was highly praised with Voltaire in his Letters on the English saying "I never found so much wit in one single book". One reader though was distinctly unimpressed. On 26 December, 1662 Samuel Pepys recorded in his diary that he bought Hudibras, but, despite its being extremely popular at the time, he admitted finding no humour in it and selling it the same day. Two months later he bought it again to try to find what he was missing. He still found nothing funny about it, due to his finding its treatment of Puritans too vicious and being insensitive to the humor of the rhymes.

The mock heroic epic and its jaunty verse form known as Hudibrastic became the standard of satire for some time after that with at least twenty-seven direct imitations being produced. Of the most famous was Ned Ward and his Hudibras Redivivus with Samuel Wesley father of John Wesley emulating the work.

Fifty years after the last part was written a new edition was published, with illustrations by William Hogarth, one of the foremost artists of the day. The work remained popular for several centuries as a warning against the zealotry during the Civil War period of English history although it has lately gone out of fashion.

A curious fact is that Butler in his poem originated the phrase "Spare the rod and spoil the child," and although the phrase is often taken to be a Biblical injunction about child-rearing, (probably as a corruption of Book of Proverbs 13:24), it is in the context of Hudibras a bawdy metaphor suggesting the best way to curtail amorous passions or, through double entendre, to prevent conception:

If matrimony and hanging go
By dest'ny, why not whipping too?
What med'cine else can cure the fits
Of lovers when they lose their wits?
Love is a boy by poets stil'd
Then spare the rod and spoil the child (Part II, Canto I, ll. 839-44).

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Mock-heroic works are typically satires or parodies that mock common Romantic or modern stereotypes of heroes. These stereotypes include being unusually brave, mighty and great in all respects.
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Narrative poetry is poetry that tells a story. The poems may be short or long, and the story it relates to may be simple or complex. It is usually nondramatic, with objective verse and regular rhyme scheme and meter.
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Samuel Butler (4 December, 1612 – 18 June, 1680) was born in Strensham, Worcestershire and baptised 14 February, 1613. He is remembered now chiefly for a long satirical burlesque poem on Puritanism entitled Hudibras.
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Satire (from Latin satura, not from the Greek mythological figure satyr[1]) is a literary genre, chiefly literary and dramatic, in which human or individual vices, follies, abuses, or shortcomings are held up to censure by means of ridicule, derision,
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The English Civil War consisted of a series of armed conflicts and political machinations that took place between Parliamentarians (known as Roundheads) and Royalists (known as Cavaliers) between 1642 and 1651.
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monarchs of England. Traditionally, the first monarch of England is listed as Egbert, Bretwalda from 829, though the kingdom was not permanently unified until 927, under Athelstan. Union with Wales was enacted in 1536, and with Scotland in 1707 to form the Kingdom of Great Britain.
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In British history, the Protectorate was the period 1653–59 during which the Commonwealth of England, Scotland and Ireland was governed by a Lord Protector.

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"Witch trial" redirects here. For the Charmed episode, see Witch Trial (Charmed episode). For the Rush song, see Fear series. For the novel by Ian Rankin, see Witch Hunt (novel).

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John Desborough (or Disbrowe)(1608 – 1680), English soldier and politician, son of James Desborough of Eltisley, Cambridgeshire, and of Elizabeth Hatley of Over in the same county, was baptized on 13 November 1608. He was educated for the law.
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