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The Rape Of The Lock, By Alexander Pope

2601 words - 10 pages

The Rape of the Lock, written by Alexander Pope, is a mock-epic with a serious purpose. This narrative was written to diffuse a real life quarrel between two high-class families in 18th century England; the Petres and the Fermors (Gurr, 5). The character’s names were changed but their characteristics hold true; simply put, Belinda, young and beautiful, had a lock of her hair cut off by the Baron and this thus causes a feud amongst the two families. Pope wrote this mock-epic by employing humor and light-hearted wit in order to diffuse the tensions, but also to mock the superficiality of that society. Pope’s The Rape of the Lock uses epic conventions such as, structure, the depiction of the epic hero embodying the culture’s values, and the usage of supernatural machinery to satirize and mock the superficiality of the 18th century high-class society.
The traditional style of an epic is conveyed in its tone and structure. Epic poems are structured in such a way that they include heroic rhyming schemes, heroic similes, and lengthy, formal speeches. The heroic-couplet, which rhymes the pairs in the form of iambic pentameters, is what makes up the heroic-rhyming scheme. This form of couplet produces a kind of melodious appreciation of the text. It was immensely popular amongst the different epics written throughout history to employ a serious tone to the poem through rhyming. However, it was utilized by Alexander Pope, in The Rape of the Lock, to create a lighthearted mock-epic, which pokes fun at the 18th century society in which he lived. The “trivial” is made apparent in the opening couplet of the poem: “What dire offence from am’rous causes springs, / What mighty contests rise from trivial things” (Canto I, 1-2). The first line is serious enough to fit the “passions roused by the rape of Helen” (Cunningham 11) in ancient Troy, or “Agamemnon’s seizure from Achilles” (Cunningham 11) at the beginning of the Iliad. Thus, Pope makes it as such that the lines are serious and grave enough to be considered as the beginning of an epic, however; the second line is a clear sign that Pope is mocking his society because, “am’rous causes” are seen as “trivial things”; it marks “the shift from a possibly epic tension to the full mock-epic discrepancy” (Cunningham 11). Additionally, the “contests” mentioned in these lines are referred to as “mighty”. This is ironic because the only contests amongst the people of this society were that of card games and frivolous flirtations and courting; trivial matters that do not compare to the “contests” of a real epic, which included epic battles that were matters of life and death.
The simile in which Belinda’s beauty is compared to the sun can also be seen as a mockery of the traditional epic form. An epic-simile can be described as “detailed and elaborate comparisons” in the form of a simile that is many lines in length (Cuddon, 241). Usually this type of simile is used in comparing a strong warrior to a strong beast...

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