Chrononhotonthologos - Political Satire

Political Satire

Henry Carey was a Tory, or an anti-Walpolean, and he identified with Alexander Pope, in particular, in his stance on the 18th century's cultural polemic (see Augustan poetry for the issues behind Ambrose Philips and Alexander Pope's poison pen battle). Pope had been a consistent enemy of Ambrose Philips's, and Philips was a stand-in for an entire slate of Whig political views. Attacking Philips was attacking what Philips stood for, and Carey achieved fame first by satirizing Philips's second set of odes (which had been dedicated to Robert Walpole) with his Namby Pamby. Namby Pamby had made Carey one of the darlings of the Tory opposition to Walpole.

In 1728, John Gay's The Beggar's Opera had satirized Robert Walpole and opera, both, and it had proven enormously successful. However, Walpole had Gay's follow up, Polly, suppressed. Walpole's direct intervention in the stage prompted a new round of satires, including Chrononhotonthologos. However, Chrononhotonthologos is a far more dangerously political satire than Gay's The Beggar's Opera or Henry Fielding's Tom Thumb had been. Tom Thumb (1732) had introduced a parody of operatic plots and Walpole by focusing on a mythical kingdom where the queen would fall in love with an absurd character, but Carey goes much further by having the Queen fall in love with an absurd character and then walk away with two unrelated and unmotivated characters while, at the same time, having the king die due to vanity.

The real life political events that are partially encoded in the play concern Caroline of Ansbach and George II. In the 1720s, George II, then Prince of Wales, had opposed his father bitterly and aligned himself with the Tory party, while his father fostered Robert Walpole (thanks to Walpole's playing up of suggestions that the Tories disapproved of the Hanoverian succession). Because of his fears of Jacobites, George I kept Walpole in power, while George II favored anyone else. George II's mistress, Mrs Howard, was a strong Tory and a woman who favored John Gay and others of the Tory wits. Toward the end of George I's life, Caroline of Ansbach attempted a reconciliation of father with son, and when George II came to the throne, she was the one who pushed for Robert Walpole. Mrs. Howard's influence was diminished to nothing, and George II, although still disliking his wife, did not involve himself in politics, leaving the field clear for her to continue to give power to Robert Walpole.

John Gay had been promised patronage by Mrs. Howard, and that doomed his chances of actual preferrment when George II became king, for it earned him the enmity of Queen Caroline. The friends and admirers of Gay (including Alexander Pope and Henry Carey) regarded this political game as a personal and moral betrayal. Chrononhotonthologos, therefore, is not innocent in its depiction of a queen who never makes love with her husband, a husband who has no idea about politics but only wishes to be flattered, and, most particularly, of a queen who falls in love with contrariness and takes two minor ministers as her competing gigolos.

These political and topical allusions are not necessary for contemporary readers and viewers of the play. The nonsense verse and the immediate parody of opera are entertaining, but the political satire hidden beneath the frivolty was one component of the play's success.

Read more about this topic:  Chrononhotonthologos

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