This post is written in haste, as I wanted to complete Hudibras before I’d leave for holidays. Hudibras is a master of philosophy and theology, and we get a long list of jokes on his useless knowledge and ability to argue. But then comes the main point of Butler’s satire – Hudibras is a Presbyterian, “true blue” and is a fine representative of this sect whose members like to beat others into submission through their military force, their religion consists mostly of disliking all other religions and are so perverse that they’d rather “keep the holiday/the wrong than others the right way” (some extreme Puritans fasted on Christmas). As you can see, Butler doesn’t like Presbyterians at all. And now, time to bed, as I have to catch an early plane. Adieu!
But Hudibras, contrary to what people might say, is not a fool, the proof of which is that he can speak Latin and Greek and even some Hebrew. The thing is, he does not want to use his wisdom too often not to wear it out, just like some people save their best clothes for Sundays. But he is never afraid to show off his linguistic knowledge. He is also an able logician and rhetorician, because he never speaks but by using some metaphors and colourful language.His English is “cut on Greek and Latin”, like some articles of dress which were in fashion at the time and had coarser, cheaper cloth on the outside, but were slashed to show off the more expensive satin lining. So is Sir Hudibras’ speech a mixture of three languages, and like many Dissenters, he also loves to use some English neologisms. These new words are so hard Demosthenes could have used them instead of the pebbles he allegedly put in in his mouth to cure his stammer. And he is also an able mathematician because he can always tell whether a grocer tries to cheat him on bread or butter or when the clock is going to strike.
This is a satirical poem against Puritans, published after the Restoration to much official acclaim (Charles II loved it). Of course nowadays we want our satirists to speak truth to the power and punch up, but it’s not so easy in the 17th century. Hudibras is a Puritan justice of peace who goes off on a mission (“a-coloneling”) a little bit like a knight errant. This happens during the Civil War, when men fight over Dame Religion like drunks over a prostitute, although they really don’t know why. People are whipped into frenzy by preachers banging their pulpits, “drum ecclesiastic”. The authorities still quarrel whether Hudibras was wiser or braver, but it’s difficult to decide, because his brain is only slightly bigger than his rage, which makes some people call him a fool. Montaigne’s cat (Montaigne famously wondered in his Essays whether he was playing with his cat, or his cat with him) might consider him a fool too. All that is written in a vigorous, rather irregular tetrameter, which came to be known as hudibrastic verse.