Use Of The Mock Epic Style In The Rape Of The Lock

1014 words - 4 pages

Use of the Mock-epic Style in The Rape of the Lock

"The triumph of the Baron's rape is in exactly the same high language as it would be if he were Hector." In The Rape of the Lock, Pope uses the mock-epic style to satirise the seriousness with which a trivial misdemeanour (the theft of a few strands of hair) and the ways of gender polarised society can be blown beyond all sense of proportion.

Thus the male mentality, through the Baron, is portrayed as lacking depth or personality beyond that required to achieve its ends; men objectify and devise "strategems" (4,120) to conquer their female obsessions; they are "victor[s]" (4,162) who self-importantly congratulate themselves as meriting "wreaths of triumph" (4,161) when they have seized what they desire. The Baron claims that the "glorious prize" is his in perpetuity, whilst many conditions which will never be fulfilled ("while fish in streams, or birds delight in air" 4,163) remain unfulfilled. In this satirising of the epic mould such trivial occurrences are substituted in place of truly fantastic possibilities (mighty cities falling, for instance) for the purpose of putting the lock's severing into a more realistic perspective — this is made even more explicit in the following canto (4,8 "[no-one ever] felt such rage, resentment, and despair / as thou, sad virgin! for thy ravished hair" — meaning that perhaps Belinda over-reacts, in Pope's opinion, just ever-so slightly.) He also then reinforces his satire with a broadening of humour, and a stab in the direction of then-popular culture: specifically, "Atalantis" (4,165) was no great enduring writing but a cheap, scandalous work of fiction, "notorious for its thinly concealed allusions to contemporary scandals", perhaps analogous to Jeffrey Archer's novels today.

The interaction of the sexes is reduced to a mockery of warfare (conflict being a strong underpinning motif of epic literature) as evidenced by the Baron's feinting approach to Belinda (4,158 "thrice the foe drew near") — which recalls the drama of the card game earlier in the canto. There is a comparison of the resilience of Belinda's hair (in resisting the steel of the scissors) to the "imperial towers of Troy" (4,174), and also, the line "what time would spare" suggests that the hair possesses an unnatural vitality. Further related to this is Clarissa's aiding of the Baron. As in the epic mould, hers is a crime of passion: Scylla acted for love of Minos, Clarissa acts, as an older woman and one of the "ladies of romance" (rather than looks?), for jealousy of Belinda — and the epic imagery employed, being out of place, serves to make Pope's point all the more vividly. His use of satire here extends to women in society and their winning of a man at any cost, particularly to the detriment of their fellow women. When Pope says that Clarissa is the one to "present the spear" (4,130), he does not say...

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