Sir Hudibras: Samuel Butler's poem Hudibras narrates the exploits of a knight and focuses on spiritual praise of Sir Hudibras to criticize Puritans, Presbyterians, and hypocrisy in general. Butler published Hudibras in three volumes between 1662 and 1678. Its popularity stretched well into the eighteenth century and it influenced a variety of authors. Hudibras's language suggests the eponymous Sir Hudibras's courage and valor while his actions illustrate his stupidity, greed, and dishonesty. Thomas D'Urfey satirized Hudibras in the late seventeenth century by making the widow he attempts to woo a Tory, and by having Hudibras arrange a dinner with Whig leaders. D'Urfey's pro-Tory pamphlet criticized the Whig party by having its powerful members ravage the widow and engage in other unseemly behavior.
In part one, a bear baiter's "unchristian" behavior inspires Sir Hudibras to capture him. However, the baiter's friends quickly rescue him and capture Hudibras and his squire Ralpho who argue religion amongst themselves while in the stocks. A widow Hudibras intends to woo hears the story of Hudibras's capture. She comes to visit him and complains in front of a crowd that he does not love her. Hudibras argues this claim and announces his intent to flagellate himself if the widow frees him. However, he immediately regrets this promise and seeks the advice of Ralpho who favorably compares the breaking of oaths to saintliness. After failing to convince Ralpho to take the beating in his place, Hudibras embarks on another series of misadventures culminating in Hudibras and Ralpho believing they have killed a man. Written fourteen years later, part three of the poem differs greatly from the earlier parts. In this part, Hudibras lies to the widow about his promised beating when a group hired by the widow enters her home and beats Sir Hudibras. Assuming the group consists of spirits come to punish him, he confesses his sins and the sins of the Puritans to them. Following these events, Butler includes a lengthy digression mocking the events following Oliver Cromwell's death. The story once again returns to Hudibras who meets with a lawyer who convinces him to write a letter to the widow who rebuff's Hudibras's arguments and advances.
In Hudibras, Sir Hudibras answers every question with another question. Like readers who search for absolute truth through poetry and philosophy, everything Sir Hudibras sees must have a "Why" and "Wherefore." The great mysteries of life — religion, for example — rarely allow people to answer questions fully. Instead, we keep asking questions like Sir Hudibras. Carlyle criticizes this behavior by referring to a famous satirical character whose constant questioning provides only unhappiness for himself. Carlyle's reference to a Hudibras, a satire characterized by anti-Whig political leanings, in the Edinburgh Review adds extra power because it associates readers with political ideas they generally disagree with.
Broich, Ulrich. The Eighteenth-Century Mock-Heroic Poem. Cambridge University Press, 1990.
Richards, Edward Ames. Hudibras in the Burlesque Tradition. New York: Columbia University Press, 1937.
"Hudibras." Encyclopædia Britannica. 2009. Encyclopædia Britannica Online. 27 Mar. 2009 <>.
"Hudibras." Ex-Classics. 30 Mar 2009.
Last modified 1 April 2009