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British Poetry And Drama Unit 4 Neoclassical/Augustan Mock Epic
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Neoclassical/Augustan Mock Epic
BRITISH POETRY AND DRAMA:17TH AND 18TH CENTURIES
Alexander Pope: The Rape of the Lock
Alexander Pope :The Rape of the Lock
The Rape of the Lock was written by Pope to chide gently the Fermor family when Lord Petre (referred to in the poem as “Baron”) cut off a lock of Arabella Fermor’s hair on a certain fateful day and such dire results followed. Pope started something that resulted in a piece of literature that has remained to this day a leading example of the mock epic satire. John Caryll, a good friend to Pope, asked him to write a little poem about the affair in order to help heal the wounds of the two families. The poem became a trivial story of the stolen lock of hair as a vehicle for making some thoroughly mature and sophisticated comments on society and humankind. Pope draws on his own experience in the classics in combining epic literary conventions with his own wit and sense of values. The entire poem is written in five cantos, making use of the popular rhymed iambic pentameter verse, along with balance, antithesis, bathos, and paronomasia.
The story is relatively simple. In canto 1, the reader finds Belinda (representing Miss Fermor) asleep but awakened about noon by her lapdog Shock. Before she awakens, she dreams about Ariel, a Rosicrucian sylph, who whispers praises in her ear and warns her to beware of jealousy, pride, and especially men. When she does awaken, she finds a love letter on her bed and, after reading it, quickly forgets all the advice that Mel has given her. She has been invited to sail up the Thames with friends to Hampton Court palace and have fun and games.with her host. She devotes much time to her cosmetics and hair in preparation for the trip.
The Baron, a suitor, is seen admiring a lock of her hair and vowing that he would have it by any means. The modern reader must remember that, until the 1920’s, few women of character would cut their hair, an act symbolising the loss of virtue, even chastity. The reader next sees the crew sailing up the Thames, with everyone but Ariel apparently pleased with the state of affairs. Worried, Mel summons his helper sylphs and reminds them of their duty in helping to protect Belinda, one especially to guard her fan, one her watch, another her lock, and Ariel himself her dog. A host of sylphs are assigned to guard her petticoat, a literal device of armor in older times, protecting the female’s sexual chastity.
After the cruise on the Thames, canto. 3 sees Belinda, the Baron and the rest of the party arriving at the palace. There Belinda decides to play a Spanish card game called Ombre with two of her suitors. During the game, coffee, recently introduced into England by Queen Anne in order to help with the alcohol problem, is served, and fumes from the hot liquid open the rational mind of the Baron, providing him with new stratagems. With the help of a female crony named Clarissa, he manages to cut off the lock of Belinda’s hair during the card game. At this rape, Belinda cries out in horror, and the Baron cries out in triumph. Ariel weeps bitterly because he was not able to prevent the deed.
In canto 4, a bad sylph named Umbriel takes advantage of the chaos and chooses to increase the woes by flying down to the Cave of Spleen to get more woes to dump onto Belinda. With his trusty key, “Spleenwort,” in his hand, he enters and secures from the queen of Spleen a.bag of horrible noises and a vial of tears, sorrows, and griefs. One of Belinda’s friends, Thalestris, demonstrates “fair weather friendship” when she announces that everyone is talking about the rape of the lock and that she is afraid that she, too, will be branded as “loose.” Thalestris attempts to get her brother Sir Plume to demand that the lock be returned. Sir Plume is unsuccessful.
Canto 5 shows Umbriel casting the vial of woes upon Belinda so that she is almost drowned in tears. She longs for simple, country life. Clarissa, the one who helped the Baron earlier in his successful venture, gives an interesting moral sermonette about vanity and age and the need of women to use good sense in the battle of the sexes. Soon a battle of teacups ensues, disturbed by the Baron’s.sneezing from the snuff that he is using; this causes the lock to fly high into the air, never to be rescued. Some think that the lock has gone to the moon, where love letters and other love tokens find themselves eventually, but others think that the lock became a star.
The poem is a wonderful example of burlesque, a form that takes trivial subjects and treats them seriously, with the effect being comic. Many epic conventions are used here: the epic question is asked; Belinda’s toilet becomes the epic putting on armour; there is the conference of protective gods; there are the games and the banquet; there is the descent into the underworld; and there are heroic encounters and apotheosis. The poem deals with an actual event and thus pokes fun at the two families, but more than that it shows the vanities of humankind. In doing so, much social satire of the fads of the day are presented. The conclusion shows that eighteenth century reason is strongly advocated; whatever one thinks of Clarissa’s early actions in the poem, it is difficult to ignore her advice near the end, advice that advocates the use of reason in all matters of life.
The Rape of the Lock, generally considered the most popular of Alexander Pope’s writings and the finest satirical poem in the English language, was written at the suggestion of John Caryll, Pope’s friend, ostensibly to heal a family quarrel that resulted when an acquaintance of Pope, Lord Petre, playfully clipped a lock of hair from the head of Miss Arabella Fermor. Pope’s larger purpose in writing the poem, however, was to ridicule the social vanity of his day and the importance attached to trifles.
When Robert Lord Petre cut off a lock of Arabella Fermor’s hair one fateful day early in the eighteenth century, he did not know that the deed would gain fame, attracting attention over several centuries. What began as a trivial event in history turned, under the masterly guidance of Pope’s literary hand, into one of the most famous poems in the English language and perhaps the most perfect example of burlesque in English. The Rape of the Lock was begun at ‘Caryll’s behest (“This verse, to Caryll, Muse! is due”) in 1711; Pope spent about two weeks on it and produced a much shorter version than the one he wrote two years later; more additions were made in 1717, when Pope developed the fmal draft of the poem as it now stands.
The poem uses the essentially trivial story of the stolen lock of hair as a vehicle for making some thoroughly mature and sophisticated comments on society and on women and men. Pope drew on his own classical background—he had translated Homer’s Iliad (c. 750 b.c.e.; first English translation, 1611; Pope’s trans-lation, 1715-1720) and Odyssey (c. 725 b.c.e.; first English translation, 1614; Pope’s translation, 1725-1726)–to combine epic literary conventions with his own keen, ironic sense of the values and societal structures shaping his age. The entire poem, divided into five cantos, is written in heroic couplets (pairs of rhymed iambic pentameter lines). Pope makes the most of this popular eighteenth century verse form, filling each line with balance, antithesis, bathos, allusions to serious epic poetry, and puns.
The literary genre of burlesque typically takes trivial subjects and elevates them to seemingly great importance; the effect is comic, and Pope manages an unbroken sense of amusement as he relates “What dire offence from amorous causes springs) What mighty contests rise from trivial things.”
From the opening lines of the poem, suggestions of the epic tradition are clear. Pope knew well not only the Iliad and the Odyssey but also John Milton’s Paradise Lost (1667, 1674). The narrator of The Rape of the Lock speaks like Homer, raising the epic question early in the poem: “Say what strange motive, goddess ! could compel/ A well-bred lord t’ assault a gentle belle ?” Pope’s elaborate description of Belinda’s grooming rituals in canto 1 furthers comparison with the epic; it parodies the traditional epic passage describing a warrior’s shield. Belinda’s makeup routine is compared to the putting on of armour: “From each she nicely culls with curious toil,/ And decks the goddess with the glittering spoil.”
The effect of Pope’s use of epic conventions is humorous, but it also helps establish a double set of values in the poem, making the world of Belinda and Sir Plume at the same time trivial and significant. The poem rewards a reading that focuses on the seriousness of Belinda’s activities and experience. The truth is, for a woman of her place and time, the unwanted cutting of a lock of hair was a serious matter. Epic conventions contribute to this double sense in each canto. The first canto is the epic dedication and invocation. The second is the conference of protective gods. The third details the games and the banquet. The fourth tells of the descent into the underworld. The fifth tells of heroic encounters and apotheosis. The overall result is that, although readers are presented with a basically silly situation, the poem has characters, such as Clarissa, who utter the always sensible virtues of the eighteenth century’ :
Oh ! if to dance all night, and dress all day,Charmed the smallpox, or chased old age away;Who would not scorn what housewife’s cares produce,Or who would learn one earthly thing of use ? . . .But since, alas, frail beauty must decay. . . .And she who scorns a man, must die a maid;What then remains but well our power to use,And keep good humour still what’er we lose ?
Clarissa, in these lines from canto 5, expresses the norm of Pope’s satire: the intelligent use of reason to control one’s temperamental passions.
The heroic couplet merges perfectly with the epic devices in.the poem, for as a verse from the heroic couplet naturally seems to express larger-than-life situations. It is, therefore, profoundly to Pope’s credit that he successfully applies such a verse form to a subject that is anything but larger than life. Perhaps more than anyone else writing poetry in the eighteenth century, Pope demonstrates the flexibility of the heroic couplet, Shaped by his pen, it contains pithy aphorisms, social commentary, challenging puns, and delightful bathos (that is, the juxtaposition of the serious with the small, as in the line “wrapped in a gown for sickness and for show”). The key, if there is a key, to the classic popularity of The Rape of the Lock is the use of the heroic couplet to include—sometimes in great cataloged lists—those little, precise, andmost revealing details about the age and the characters that peopled it. The opening lines of canto 3 illustrate Pope’s expert use of detail. The passage describes court life at Hampton Court, outside London, and is a shrewd comment on the superficiality of the people there :
Hither the heroes and the nymph’s resort, To taste a while the pleasures of a court; In various talks th’ instructive hours they passed,Who gave the ball, or paid the visit last; One speaks the glory of the British queen, And one describes a charming Indian screen; A third interprets motions, looks, and eyes; At every word a reputation dies.Snuff, or the fan, supply each pause of chat, With singing, laughing, ogling, and all that.
The poet’s criticism of such life is clear by the swift juxtaposition of Hampton Court life with a less pretty reality in the following lines :
Meanwhile, declining from the noon of day,The sun obliquely shoots his burning ray; The hungry judges soon the sentence sign, And wretches hang that jurymen may dine.
Pope had a keen interest in the life of London’s aristocracy, though he was always a critic of that life. A Catholic by birth, he was not always in favour with the Crown, but before the death of Queen Anne in 1714, he enjoyed meeting with a group of influential Tories. Sir Richard Steele and Joseph Addison, England’s first newspaper editors, courted him on behalf of the Whig Party, but he refused to become its advocate.
Forbidden by law from living within several miles of London, Pope lived much of his adult life at Twickenham, a village on the Thames not too far from London but far enough. He transformed his dwelling there into an eighteenth century symbol with gardening and landscaping; he included vineyards, and the house had a temple and an obelisk to his mother’s memory. During the 1720’s he built his grotto, an underpass connecting the parts of his property under a dividing road. The grotto was a conversation piece; according to one contemporary, it had bits of mirror on the walls that reflected “all objects of the river, hills, woods, and boats, forming a moving picture in their visible radiations.” For Pope, four feet, six inches tall and sick all his life, it was a symbol of the philosophical life and mind. Although he never married, his biographers have written that he felt a warm, if not always happy, affection for Martha and Teresa Blount, neighbours during his youth. Pope enjoyed great literary fame during his lifetime, and near the end of his life, when he entered a room, whispers of “Mr. Pope, Mr. Pope” would buzz among the occupants.
Question And Answer
1. Explain the first canto of Alexander Pope’s “The Rape of the Lock.”
Ans: Canto 1 begins with a traditional invoking of the muses as well as setting up the subject matter of the poem, “The Rape of the Lock.” This does not concern a sexual rape but rather, in the parlance of the time, refers to a lock of hair being unwillingly cut and taken. The poem is a mock heroic that concerns a lock of Belinda’s hair being taken. The poem is meant to juxtapose such an inconsequential occurrence with an epic tone to highlight the pettiness of feuding over such an occurrence.
In the first canto, Belinda awakens from a dream in which she has bees: told that the Sylphs watch over her. Ariel, who seems to be the leader of the Sylphs, warns Belinda that a terrible event will come to pass that day and to beware of all men. Belinda awakens and, upon reading a love letter, forgets her dream. She then begins to dress in an elaborate fashion, the Sylphs assisting her unseen.
2. In what ways is Alexander Pope’s “The Rape of the Lock” a mock epic?
Ans: Pope’s “The Rape of the Lock” (1712; 1714) is based on an actual incident in.which Lord Petre took some scissors and snipped a bit of hair from Miss Arabella Fermor, an action which caused a considerable about of outrage among the aristocratic society in London, particularly the Roman Catholic aristocrats. A friend of Pope’s, John Caryll, suggested that he calm the waters by creating a poem. Pope answered the challenge with the greatest mock-epic in English literature.
The mock epic essentially treats a trivial matter, in this case, the snipping of a lock of hair, and the inconsequential participants (two minor aristocrats) in the heroic style of a classical epic. Pope was particularly suited for this because he had translated both The Odyssey and The Aeneid, and was completely familiar with all the elements of classical epics.
The title of the poem itself gives away the mock epic : the snipping of a lock of hair is transmuted into a “rape” of the lock. The diction Pope uses is meant to elevate the ridiculous to epic proportions. In another nod to classical epic, Pope divides the poem into Cantos, sections usually reserved for significant and culturally important poetic efforts. In this case, of course, the Cantos only serve to remind the reader how inconsequential the subject of this “epic” really is.
Pope surrounds the heroine, Belinda, with supernatural creatures called “sylphs,” whose duties are to take care of Belinda and keep her safe. Most true epics also include these classical supernatural beings, and their job is to watch over the hero or heroine and, if the time comes, to sacrifice themselves for the hero or heroine. In Canto II, for example, the leading sylph. Ariel, warns the others that something seems amiss, and orders them to be watchful.
After the hair is snipped off, in Canto IV, one of the characters incites Belinda into a rage, and there is very satiric scene based on, a epic battle, a very foppish character, Sir Plume, demands that Lord Petre return the lock–this scene is a clever parody of a typical epic battle, but in this case, the weapons are words, and the stakes are a lock of hair, not the fate of empires.
In Canto V, we have another parody–this time, the battle of the sexes–and Belinda demands the return of the lock with a hair pin, but true to the epic, the hair has been taken by the sylphs to become part of the heavens as if the lock were important enough to become yet another constellation.
3. Please explain Alexander Pope’s The Rape of the Lock, Canto I, in detail.
Ans: Pope describes The Rape of the Lock as a “heroi-comical” poem—heroic because he uses the Homeric epic to frame the poem and comical because he is attempting to defuse a serious argument between two wealthy families, created when Lord Petre (the Baron) snipped a lock of Arabella Fermor’s (Belinda) hair without permission.
One of the most important aspects of Homeric epics—such as the Iliad and the Odyssey—is the interference of the gods in the affairs of mankind. Canto I of Pope’s comic epic introduces us to the world of Belinda, a world of luxury and refinement, and, most importantly, the “gods”—primarily, the Sylphs, Nymphs, and Gnomes who watch over Belinda (and all women). While Belinda is sleeping, for example, a Sylph prolongs her sleep :
19 Belinda still her downy pillow press’d,
20 Her guardian sylph prolonged the balmy rest :
21 ‘Twas he had summon’d to her silent bed
22 The morning dream that hovered o’er her head;
23 A youth more glittering than a birthnight beau.
Pope establishes the unseen, but protective, presence of the supernatural beings who will later fight (and temporarily die) for Belinda. Their sole purpose is to make Belinda’s life more pleasant; she is caused to dream of a young man “more glittering” than a man who is dressed to attend a royal birthday celebration.
Aside from, and perhaps more important than, the Sylphs providing comfort, they have far-ranging duties that include preventing women from making poor romantic choices and protecting them from gossip :
71 What guards the purity of melting maids,
72 In courtly balls, and midnight masquerades,
73 Safe from the treacherous friend, the daring spark, …
77 ‘Tis but their sylph, the wise celestials know,
78 Though honour is the word with men below.
Like the gods of Homer, the Sylphs interfere in the lives of women to guide their behavior, to influence their choices, and—as we see later in the poem—to fight on Belinda’s behalf. Pope’s reference to “the treacherous friend, the daring spark” is most likely an allusion to Lord Petre who, because he is a family friend and an aristocrat, should have been trustworthy.
Canto I also introduces the most important of the Sylphs—Ariel—who serves as the narrator and as the being whose supernatural powers allow him to see that something terrible is in Belinda’s future :
109 I saw, alas! some dread event impend,
110 Ere to the main this morning sun descend,
111 But Heav’n reveals not what, or how, or where :
Ariel’s omniscience is limited, unfortunately for Belinda, but the premonition of disaster is enough to inject some suspense into what has been so far a stroll through fairyland. The poem is no longer a set piece depicting a world of idleness and luxury and now has the promise of action.
Canto I ends not in action but in a long depiction of Belinda’s preparations for the party at which she will lose a lock of hair. Pope dwells on each container of ointment, perfume, oil, and powder that the Sylphs help Belinda with; the first Canto ends with Belinda’s being carefully arranged by the Sylphs. Disaster is around the corner, however.
4. Could you explain the epic conventions of Alexander Pope’s The Rape of the Lock?
Ans: A typical epic is a long, narrative poem, usually broken into “books” or “cantos.” First, the narrator invokes a muse for inspiration. The plot will then focus on ahem or heroine, following his or her amazing exploits. The hero character is also somebody of elevated status. He or she is not a “common man.” Finally, a typical epic will include supernatural figures, some kind of voyage (often at sea), and a descent into the underworld.
Pope’s The Rape of the Lock includes all of the above elements. It is a lengthy poem of nearly 6Q0 lines that is divided into 5 cantos. The language is elevated in style with many figures of speech spread throughout. The coffee service in Canto 3 is a good example.
For lo ! the Board with Cups and Spoons is crown’d,
The Berries crackle, and the Mill turns round.
On shining Altars of Japan they raise
The silver Lamp; the fiery Spirits blaze.
From silver Spouts the grateful Liquors glide,
And China’s Earth receives the smoking Tyde.
At once they gratify their Scent and Taste,
While frequent Cups prolong the rich Repast.
Strait hover round the Fair her Airy Band;
Some, as she sipped, the fuming Liquor fann’d,
Some o’er her Lap their careful Plumes display’d,
Trembling, and conscious of the rich Brocade.
The heroine of the poem is Belinda, and the narrator invokes his muse moments before introducing her. Readers know that she is a hero type and is preparing herself for battle because we read about her “arming” herself with “puffs,” “powders,” and “patches.” Her heroic battle might not be a life and death battle with swords, but the description of her card game against the Baron is no less epic in its description.
Now move to War her Sable Matadores,
In Show like Leaders of the swarthy Moors.
Spadillio first, unconquerable Lord !
Led off two captive Trumps, and swept the Board.
As many more Manillio forc’d to yield,
And march’d a Victor from the verdant Field.
As for Belinda’s sea voyage, she travels on the Thames river. Finally, Pope’s mock epic does indeed include a supernatural presence and a descent into the underworld. Sylphs are present throughout and Umbriel descends to the Cave of Spleen.
For, that sad moment, when the Sylphs with-drew,
And Ariel weeping from Belinda flew,
Umbriel, a dusky melancholy Spright,
As ever sullied the fair face of Light,
Down to the Central Earth, his proper Scene,
Repairs to search the gloomy Cave of Spleen.
5. What is the role of the supernatural machinery in Alexander Pope’s “The Rape of the Lock”?
Ans: In his address of the poem to the heroine, Miss Arabella Fermor, Pope tells why there is supernatural machinery in the poem :
The Machinery, Madam, is a Term invented by the Criticks, to signify that Part which the Deities, Angels, or Daemons, are made to act in a poem. . . .
Because Pope is writing a paradoy of a classical Greek epic poem, which always features the greater and lesser gods in the ancient Greek belief system, Pope has to populate “The Rape of the Lock” with similar gods and divine helpers to that the parody.mirrors its source, the epic.
At the beginning of Canto 1, in fact, the poet assures the heroine, Belinda, that she is surrounded and constantly watched :
Know then, unnumbered Spirits round thee fly,/the light Militia of the lower Sky;/These, tho’ unseen, are ever on the Wing,/Hang o’er the Box, and hover round the Ring.
Pope establishes here that Belinda, like any Greek epic hero or heroine, is protected at all times by minor gods, in this case, he calls them “Sylphs,” whose job is to make sure nothing befalls Belinda or her belongings. The humour (and irony) is that this supernatural machinery is operating only to protect a lock of hair rather than to protect an epic hero fighting for his own and his country’s survival.
Belinda’s chief protector is a Sylph named Ariel :
This Nymph, to the. Destruction of Mankind,/ Nourish’d two Locks, which gracefully hung behind/In equal Curls. . . .
One of Pope’s purposes for the poem is to gently remind the warring aristocrats that issue of the stolen lock of hair is, in relative terms, ridiculous, and so he carefully weaves this epic structure around the locks of hair–in the quote above, we have a supernatural being whose only job is to look after the locks of hair.
When, in Canto III, the poem reaches a critical point—the rape of the lock–Pope describes again how the supernatural machinery operates to try to save Belinda’s hair. Just as Lord Petre is about to cut Belinda’s lock, we read
Ev’n then, before the fatal Engine clos’d,/A wretched Sylph too fondly interposed;/ Fate urg’d the Shears, and cut the Sylph in twain. . . .
The sacrifice of a minor supernatural being has close parallels in Greek epics, and we also must note that, because this is a mock epic, the action has to be at least partially the result of fate, not human action–“Fate urg’d the Shears” is simply another aspect of the supernatural machinery at work.
Pope’s inclusion and use of the supernatural machinery is critical to the overall effect of this mock-epic poem : while deflating a few egos, and putting into perspective the loss of a lock of hair, the poem must reflect the conventions of classical Greek epics, and the supernatural elements are an indispensable conventional element.
6. What are the major themes in Alexander Pope’s “The Rape of the Lock”? themes in poem the rape of the lock
Ans: Pope’s “The Rape of the Lock,” generally considered to be the finest mock-heroic poem in English literature, was written as a favor to Pope’s friend, John Caryll, to help smooth over a dispute between two upper-class young people and their families. The genesis of the dispute was the cutting of a lock of Arabella’s hair by Robert, Lord Petre, and Pope’s answer was this poem, two of whose major themes are the battle of the sexes and the confusion of important values.
Pope parodies the heroic poem better than anyone has done since by including such staples as surrounding Arabella with mythological beings who help her dress and one that actually interposes herself between the scissors and hair and is cut in two, a heroic sacrifice. In addition, there is single combat (between Arabella and Lord Petre) on the Ombre (card game) table; intervention by the gods; and what’s known as apotheosis of the lock, that is, glorification by placing it in the heavens.
The battle of the sexes, of course, is supposed to be an elaborate and controlled game–the woman entices, the males closes in, and the woman backs away, and the cycle repeats itself. Lord Petre, however, in cutting Arabella’s hair, has encroached upon her person, a move that would be considered wrong under any circumstances because physicality is not supposed to be part of the courtship process.
A more important theme is the confusion of what is trivial with what really matters in the world. For example, when Lord Petre cuts the hair, Arabella’s response includes “living Lightning from her Eyes,/And Screams of Horror rend th’ affrighted Skies.” Her reaction, completely consistent in a heroic poem, is in this context well over the top. Pope makes a fairly devastating comment on this society in the next line where he writes, “Not louder Shrieks to pitying Heav’n are cast,/ When Husbands or when Lap-dogs breathe their last.” Pope’s verse here is a fairly damning verdict on the shallowness of this society—when there is no difference between the grief experienced at the death of a husband or a lap-dog, we are looking at a society in which priorities have been flipped on their side.
Pope’s use of the mock-heroic allows him to conflate the sublime (the heroic form) with the ridiculous (the rape of the lock) and gently remind the readers of what is actually important in life.
7. What elements of the epic have been parodied in Canto 3 of Alexander Pope’s The Rape of the Lock?
Ans: The elements of the epic that have been paro-died in Canto 3 of Alexander Pope’s “The Rape of the Lock” include:
A heightened writing style:
“Epic” literature employs a heightened or elevated writing style. This style is flowery, not plain and unadorned. A heightened writing style is morE formal and stately. It is not what one would typically encounter in everyday speech. An example from the “Rape of the Lock” is:
From silver spouts the grateful liquors glide,
While China’s earth receives the smoking tide.
This writing style infuses the poem with a sense of majesty and importance. The atmosphere of the poem is more than “matter-of-fact.” It is an enhanced drama because of the way the writer carefully employs words and phrases. In addition, a heightened writing style can have hyperbole (overstatement or exaggeration) as one of its elements as well.
A formal poetic style:
Many great epic works have an underlying structure to them and in this case (this parody of epics) it is the convention of iambic pentameter. Rhymed iambic pentameter is used in “The Rape of the Lock” as opposed to blank verse, which is unrhymed iambic pentameter. This underlying structure of iambic pentameter achieves the same result as the aforementioned heightened writing style. It gives the poem a regal quality because of the strict metre and the rhyme scheme.
The poem does not read as regular daily conversation or speech. Iambic pentameter, which consists of a line ten syllables long with unaccented and accented syllables, makes the poem sound almost ceremonial and distinguished. It is parodied here because this noble structure is being employed in a poem that is mocking true epic poetry. The subject matter of the poem is not what one would typically see in serious epic poetry.
The epic often has grand settings of a worldly and/ ,or other worldly kind. In the “Rape of the. Lock” the setting includes the Thames River and a majestic palace, as well as the underworld “Cave of Spleen.” Therefore, the reader experiences a waterway, a grandiose abode, and the dark netherworld all in one mock-epic poem that lampoons the more serious epics.
8. Analyze the style Alexander Pope used in “The Rape of the Lock” as he criticized the world around him.
Ans: The style used in “The Rape of the Lock” is mock epic or, as Pope calls it in a subtitle, “An HeroiComical Poem.” Pope treats these relatively trivial events as if they were wars and journeys characteristic of those in The Iliad and The Odyssey.
Pope explains at the beginning of Canto 1 that this will be an impressive description of a minor event :
What dire offence from amorous causes springs,
What mighty contests rise from trivial things,
I sing–This verse to Caryll, Muse ! is due:
This, even Belinda may vouchsafe to view:
Slight is the subject, but not so the praise, (1.1- 5)
Pope was asked to write this to settle a quarrel between two families but it became more of a satire on the vanity of aristocrats and the upper class. This poem is somewhat in the style of “burlesque,” which is when trivial subjects are elevated to levels of supreme significance. The tragic “event” in the poem is when Lord Pete clips a lock of Belinda’s hair. Note the epic language which describes this trivial event:
Steel could the labour of the Gods destroy,
And strike to dust the imperial powers of Troy;
Steel could the woks of mortal pride confound,
And hew triumphal arches to the ground.
What wonder then, fair nymph! thy hairs should feel,
The conquering force of unresisted steel? (3.173- 178)
Also in epic style, there are supernatural forces involved. Just as Odysseus is helped and hurt by different gods such as Athena, Belinda is surrounded by sprites and sylphs. Ariel, a sprite, tries to warn Belinda about pride and to be wary of men. Sylphs are brought to help guard Belinda. She ignores both warnings and does not see the attack (cutting of the lock) coming. In epic poems, gods become involved because these poems are about wars and journeys which will affect history. The satire here makes it seem ridiculous that gods would trouble themselves with a vain woman who may or may not lose a lock of hair at a tea party.
“The Rape of the Lock” is written in heroic couplets. In keeping with the lofty and epic style, it has all the appearances of a serious epic but the subject matter is about the trivial lives of these superficial people.
9. What are some differences between Alexander Pope’s “The Rape of the Lock” and Thomas Gray’s “Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard”?
Ans: “The Rape of the Lock” and “Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard” are both long poems written in the eighteenth century. Aside from this basic description, almost everything about them is different. “The Rape of the Lock” is a satire and a mock epic. It uses the grandiose language of Homer and Virgil, with extended similes and metaphors, to emphasise the trivial nature of the incident it describes, the theft of a lock of hair. “Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard ” states in its title that it is an elegy, though in form it more closely resembles a mid eighteenth-century ode. It is a meditation on death, much more somber and philosophical in tone than “The Rape of the Lock.”
One might say that the subjects of both poems are compared to their disadvantages with heroes. In “The Rape of the Lock,” however, aristocrats and courtiers in contemporary England are contrasted with the great heroes of the Iliad and the Odyssey. These courtiers are from noble, if not quite royal, backgrounds and they differ from the homeric heroes principally in being idle and trivial. Gray’s “mute, inglorious Milton ” and “village Hampden,” by contrast, might have heroic qualities and abilities but have been prevented by an accident of birth from achieving heroic stature in the world.
10. Compare and contrast John Bunyan’s style in The Pilgrim’s Progress and Alexander Pope’s style in The Rape of the Lock.
Ans: Stylistically, the main similarity between these pieces is that both Pope and Bunyan are giving a nod to the epic tradition. Bunyan’s work centres on the character Christian’s epic journey to get to the Celestial City and the obstacles he faces on the way; the work is a religious allegory of a Christian life and being saved. The Rape of the Lock employs features of the epic, such as the epic catalogue (in describing Belinda’s toilet) and climaxes with a great battle (a card game) and a trip to the underworld (Belinda’s swoon/sickness).
A major difference, however, is the tone underlying each work. Bunyan intended his work, as obvious and even hackneyed it might seem to us, to be taken as didactic and completely serious. Readers of The Pilgrim’s Progress were supposed to come away from the tale with an idea of how to live a Christian life and subsequently follow its model. The Rape of the Lock, however, was written for a different purpose: to satirize the petty affairs of the upper classes. As a result, readers of the Rape were not supposed to actually believe that the card game between the noblemen is seriously comparable to a battle in war; rather, the extreme exaggeration brings out the frivolity and unimportance of aristocratic intrigue.
11. What is the theme of The Rape of the Lock by Alexander Pope?
Ans: As mentioned by a previous educator, one of the main themes of The Rape of the Lock is vanity, specifically the vanity of upper-class English society during the early eighteenth century. Belinda, the glamorous society lady, is an epitome of this. Each day upon rising, she enters the inner sanctum of her boudoir where she proceeds to get dressed, taking great pains to ensure that she is as beautiful and as ravishing as any woman could possibly be. The enormous effort she expends during this elaborate ritual proves well worth it, as admiring heads turn in her direction as she embarks upon her stately journey up the Thames toward Hampton Court Palace.
Yet Belinda’s whole world is rocked when the Baron forcibly removes a lock of her beautiful hair. We have already witnessed just how obsessed Belinda is about her personal appearance, so we can imagine just how infuriated she is by this flagrant attack upon her beauty. Belinda moves in a world that is incorrigibly vacuous and shallow, where personal appearance is everything. Her reaction to the Baron’s theft of a relatively small piece of her hair may seem a trifle excessive, but her implacable wrath is a satirical reflection on just how vain Belinda and the society she inhabits really is.
The theme of vanity spills over into how the rarefied social elite treats religion. The upper classes of early eighteenth-century England clearly pay nothing more than lip-service to prevailing religious beliefs. Faith, like everything else, is something to be shown off, paraded in front of others as a means of securing their approval and admiration. The juxtaposition of faith and vanity is epitomised by Belinda. She keeps a copy of the Bible on her dressing table, which squats uncomfortably next to all her various accoutrements of vanity: hairbrushes, powders, and—appropriately enough—vanity cream.
The Baron also has nothing more than a superficial attachment to religious faith. He wakes up at the crack of dawn to pray for the success of his forthcoming plan to steal a lock of Belinda’s hair. But it is all just a sham; he is no more religious than Belinda. His prayers are simply a rather cynical attempt to put a pious gloss upon an act of common thievery. Once again, the motivation for action is vanity; the Baron wants to steal some of Belinda’s hair so he can boast of its possession, making him an object of admiration among the smart set.
12. How does The Rape of the Lock by Alexander Pope reflect the society of its time?
Ans: Although The Rape of the Lock by Alexander Pope is a satire and at times exaggerates for comic effect, it also gives its readers insight into many elements of the culture of its period. It should be noted, though, that it deals with a small subculture of the aristocracy, particularly those who spend their time at court. It does not portray the rural gentry, tradespeople, merchants, peasants, and urban and rural poor who formed the majority of the population in the period.
The first element portrayed in some detail is gender relationships. Chastity is valued for females, while men strive to seduce women, and in an obvious double standard are not condemned for lack of chastity. Men are expected to overtly pursue women for purposes of sex and marriage and women to accept or reject their advances. Chastity before marriage is a key element in making a woman an acceptable prospective wife and young women must be careful to maintain a reputation for chastity.
Women (and men, to a lesser degree) in the aristocracy are shown as extremely concerned with their appearance, wearing ornate and expensive clothing, and in the case of women, spending hours every day on personal grooming. It is a society devoted to what Veblen calls “conspicuous consumption,” overt use of material possessions as displays of wealth and status.
The aristocratic society with its habits of leisure and conspicuous consumption relies on economic inequality, in which the wealthy can afford to have numerous servants to make their extravagant lifestyles and devotion to frivolous activities possible.
13. Both Alexander Pope and Jonathan Swift satirised society. Compare and contrast the styles of Pope in The Rape of the Lock with the styles of Swift in Gulliver’s Travels.
Ans: Alexander Pope’s satire in “The Rape of the Lock” differs from Jonathan Swift’s satire in Gulliver’s Travels mainly in the scope of its ferocity. While Pope teases the upper class, chiding them for their foibles, Swift clearly hates the political structure he satirises.
In “The Rape of the Lock,” Pope satirizes the upper class of England with the quintessential mock-epic, which treats silly events with the seriousness of epics like The Odyssey or The Iliad. In this instance, Pope pokes fun at the upper classes, displaying the utter uselessness of their habits by treating them with excessive seriousness. However, he is doing so with a tongue-in-cheek atti-tude, and you’d be hard-pressed to find any truly nasty sentiments in the poem.
Swift’s prose, however, positively drips with hatred. He doesn’t merely poke fun at the upper classes; he compares all of humanity to savage, witless apes, and he suggests that common beasts (talking horses, to be more specific) are more intelligent than the human race. Indeed, at the end of the novel, Swift’s Gulliver decides to completely remove himself from human society, citing it as coarse, vulgar, and useless. It’s here that the real difference between Swift and Pope’s satires lies. While Pope reveals the absurdity of humanity, he certainly doesn’t utterly reject society; Swift, on the other hand, suggests that it would be better to live among beasts than humans.