Dulness

Dulness

[duhl]
Dulness is the goddess who presides over Alexander Pope's The Dunciad. She is the daughter of Nox and Chaos, and her mission is to convert all the world to stupidity. Her triumph is part of the translatio stultitia (the inverse of the translatio studii). As "enlightenment" moves ever westward, darkness follows behind. In Pope's poem, she already has control of all political writing and seeks to extend her reign to drama. Hence, she chooses as a champion Lewis Theobald (Dunciad A) and Colley Cibber (Dunciad B).

Pope presents her power as inexorable and irresistible, and in Book IV of the Dunciad B he asks only that she pause a moment to let him write his poem before she takes "the singer and the song" into her oblivion. She is not motivated by any particular malice, and she even shows mercy at one point, if being reduced to insensibility is mercy, for, when a deflowered nun comes before her, she drops her cloak of shamelessness over the ruined woman. Instead, she has an essential antipathy toward learning and independent thinking, and, for Pope, loss of the ability to discern, to think, and to appreciate is a living death and the license of all evil.

For Pope, who was himself a Roman Catholic, the papacy's doctrine of infallibility, absolute monarchy, foreign language opera, flattery, the replacement of sound architecture for politically well placed hacks, the redesign of good (classically ordered) buildings, the money grubbing of what would now be called tabloid press are all signs of the triumph of Dulness over reason and light. Each of these things represents choosing the less thoughtful over the more rational choice, each requires credulity and acceptance over curiosity and independence, and therefore Pope blames, at least as much as any agent of Dulness, an indifferent and uneducated public.

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