Instructor: Kent Lewis
February 3, 2014
Connotations of marriage and social mores in Alexander’s Pope poem
“The Rape of the Lock”
In the early eighteenth century England witnessed the peak of the tumultuous changes that is presently known as the Age of Enlightenment. Trapped deep within the chaotic changes of politics, religion, art and social mores, Alexander Pope proved a master at exploiting these changes circumstances in order to become an admired poet. (page 558, Wilson)
Visible affected by the superficiality of the humankind, Alexander Pope made fun of the real life situations, and commented on the vanity and trivialness of high society during his time. According to Butt John, “Pope suggests that society has no concept of priority, in that they treat the trivial with the same amount of severity as the serious.” (Butt)
One of the most brilliant courtship poems wrote by Pope to satirise the social mores and the triviality of his “époque” is “The Rape of the Lock”. The poem presents a real life situation when a young lord stole one of the locks of the one with who he wanted to establish a more intimate relationship. The poem folds neatly on the real life situation and successfully grasps on Pope’s message that people are focusing on insignificant things and they are unable to find their true identities.
Say what strange Motive, Goddess! cou'd compel
A well-bred Lord t'assault a gentle Belle?
Oh say what stranger Cause, yet unexplor'd,
Cou'd make a gentle Belle reject a Lord?
“The rape of the lock” is a satiric poem which treats a trivial subject, with the sophisticated language and heroic style of the classical epic. Pope addresses a variety of ideas which tend to condemn and in the same time to empathize the importance with which people are treating the insignificant matters.
According to Weinbrot, Pope wrote “The Rape of the Lock” poem during his “young manhood”. The poem was written in the fervent hopes that two neighboring Catholic families of Arrabella Fermor and Robert Lord Petre, would reconciled , and they would learn from their trivialities to be able to separate that which matters, from that which does not.
Although Pope wrote “The Rape of the Lock” with the aim to reconcile the two families, he does not hesitate to stress the idea that people should not focus on trivial things and they rather should contemplate to the important matters. To convey its message Pope intentionally used the heroic epic ton which itself takes a trivial incident too seriously, and uses disproportionately impressive language to describe a pathetic subject.
But since, alas! frail beauty must decay,
Curled or uncurled, since locks will turn to grey,
Since painted or unpainted, all shall fade,
And she who scorns a man must die a maid;
What then remains, but well our pow'r to use,
And keep good humor still whate'er we lose?