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A satire in three parts, each containing three cantos, by Samuel Butler (1613–80). Part I, dated 1663, appeared in Dec. 1662, Part II, dated 1664, was published in 1663, and a revised version of both parts appeared in 1674. Part III was published 1680.

Its narrative form is that of a mock romance, derived from Don Quixote, in which a grotesque Presbyterian knight, Sir Hudibras, and his sectarian squire Ralpho set out on horse‐back and encounter a bear‐baiting mob who, after a comic skirmish, imprison them in the stocks. In Pt II a widow, whom Hudibras hopes to marry for the sake of her jointure, agrees to release them on condition that the knight undergoes a whipping for her sake. They visit Sidrophel, a charlatan posing as an astrologer, whom Hudibras assaults and leaves for dead. In Pt III Hudibras returns to the widow and claims that he has fulfilled his promise to whip himself, but is interrupted by a gang which he mistakes for Sidrophel's supernatural agents. They cudgel him and force him to confess to his iniquities. He consults a lawyer, who advises him to write love‐letters to the widow in order to inveigle her in her replies.

The digressions from the loose narrative framework of the poem deal with academic pedantry, the theological differences between the Presbyterians and independent sectarians, Aristotelian logic, the hermetic philosophy, the politics of the civil war period, the ethics of oathbreaking, witchcraft, alchemy, astrology, and the nature of marriage. Hudibras is the most learnedly allusive poem in English; Butler's most powerful satirical weapon is his style, the deliberately cumbersome octosyllabic metre and comic rhymes of which render absurd every subject to which they are applied.

Subjects: Literature.

Reference entries

Samuel Butler (1612—1680) poet

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