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Discuss Alexander Pope's 'the Rape Of The Lock' As A 'mock Heroic Poem'.

2447 words - 10 pages

One of the finest examples of mock heroic poetry in the English language was composed after John Caryll, a friend of Pope's, informed the poet of an incident regarding two land owning, Catholic families, the Petres & the Fermors. The young lord Petre had cut off a lock of hair from the fashionable society lady Arabella Fermor, and both she and her family had taken offence. Caryll suggested that Pope should 'write a poem to to make a jest of it, and laugh them together again'. The result was the publication of The Rape of the Lock, in May 1712. However due to a favourable reaction, Pope published an expanded version in 1714, containing the card battle, the Cave of Spleen and the major addition of the supernatural elements that pope refers to as the 'machinery'. In 1717 a new edition containing the speech of Clarissa was introduced and published in response to criticism that the poem lacked a moral. The harmonious & polished poem fulfils qualities associated with the cultural achievements of the renaissance period - working the values of the eighteenth century and serving the Horatian outlook to delight and teach.The Rape of the Lock is referred to, by Pope himself as An 'Heroi-Comical Poem' or a mock epic. In it the familiar social reality in which the poem is rooted undergoes a transformation through the comic use of the epic parallel so that what is created is a unique blend of fantasy (supernatural deities) and reality. Pope is a satirical poet of civilised life, defining its positives by exposing its negatives with great argumentative structure and verbal artistry. This is shown in The Rape of the Lock as it oscillates between comicality & mockery as Pope juxtaposes the seriousness of epic, with its battles of human suffering in which life and death are decided, against the triviality of the subject matter of the poem, a quarrel over the loss of a lock of hair - which is comically exalted, and the social brouhaha and fuss associated with it. There is a conscious disparity between content and form : 'Slight is the Subject, but not so is the praise' (canto 1 line5). Pope deliberately turns the eighteenth century concept of decorum upside down. He takes a trivial subject matter and describes it in grand style.Canto 1 opens in true epic mode with a proposition of the subject and an invocation to the muse 'This Verse to Caryll, Muse! Is due' (3). The serious opening later gives way to aristocratic mockery when Pope states that the 'sleepless lovers, just at twelve awake,' (16). The machinery or 'light militia of the lower sky' is then introduced in which the Gods of classical epic are beautifully miniaturised. By making them correspond to certain female types in their previous mortal existence, Pope integrates them into the social world. Here Belinda (Fermor) is warned by a Sylph named Ariel, of women's frailty and the danger presented by men: 'Beware of all, but most beware of man!' (14). At the end of the canto Belinda finally wakes...

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