Rape of Lock as a mock - heroic poem

    The Rape of the Lock , a mock Epic par excellence is the result of John carols request to to pope to write a poem that would help to laugh away a tiff (quarrel)between the Peters and Fermores. But in doing so Pope has increased the range of his vision and has given, as Dr. Johnson says, 'the whole detail of a  female day. This documentation, however is wholly subjective since it also encapsulates Pope's attitude towards 18 th century aristocratic women in general and Belinda in particular.

Rape of Lock as a mock - heroic poem
Rape of Lock as a mock - heroic poem

"Rape of Lock" as a mock - heroic poem

    A mock - epic or a mock heroic poem imitates the elaborate form and ceremonious style of the epic - genre and applies it to a commonplace or trivial subject matter.  

    The mock - heroic epic came to have much vogue in English Literature towards the close of the 17th century. The age in which Pope wrote was specially suited to the burlesque or parody.   

    As Cazamian puts it "The classical period is the golden age of parody. The rational attitude of the writer tend to make him critical and of a modern turn of mind. While on the other hand doctrinal principles force upon him and the imitation of ancient models, the gravity of an aesthetic cult, this forced respect, this obsession of the past imply a constraint and the spirit of the age finds a subterfuge in imitating antiquity in a vein of mockery." 

    In other words a compromise was left necessary between the admiration for old models and modern subjects  . The compromise is actually the parent of burlesque. 

    Alexander Pope was the prince among many writers of this age . In his mock heroic masterpiece "The Rape Of The Lock", Pope views that through the grandiose epic perspective a quarrel between the belles and the elegants of his day over the theft of a lady 's curl

    The opening of the poem is in the approved epic manner, it is in imitation of the classical invocation to the Muse,

             "Say what strange motive Goddess..... ", 

    -  reminds us of Virgil 's "Aeneid". In an invocation in the epic the poet addresses to a God or Muse to assist and inspire him in his composition. In "Rape Of The Lock", Pope invokes the Muse to help him sing how a dreadful consequence arises from a love - affair and a fierce quarrel results from  a very trifling matter. 

    The action in an epic involves super- human deeds  in battle such as Achilles feats in the Trojan War. In fact the Epic poem is not complete without battles. Pope makes  perhaps the most daring and at the same time most delicate   imitation of the heroic  manner in his presentation of the battle. 

    In the great actions of an Epic, the gods and other super natural beings take an interest or an active part - such as Olympian Gods in Homer.  The "machinery" of Gods and Goddess is closely imitated by the Pope in the device of the sylphs who preside over the toillete of fashionable ladies. With fine discrimination, Pope adopts the Rosicrucian creed to supply himself with the most delicate spirits - suitable for his lighter subject of the affairs of ladies. 

    When Belinda was dressing in her toilet, -

            "the busy sylphs surrounded their darling -care 

            these set the head and those divide the hair 

            some fold the sleeve whilst other plait the crown"

   Besides the sylphs had other alloted posts of duty. One was to take charge of her fan, one her ear - drops, one her watch, one her favorite lock and one had to guard her lap - dog. The "machinery" Pope reminds us is an essential part of the epic and so he cannot do without one suitable to his mock - heroic poem.

     Thr hero in an epic, is a figure of great national or even cosmic importance. In the "Illiad" he is the Greek warrior "Achilles". Pope in his poem, makes his hero a woman and not simply any women but Bellinda herself. In the earlier epics the heroes were God like Hectors. Pope completes the mockery by widening the gulf between Hetor and Belinda. The mockeries directed against at Belinda are in the most felicitous vein. Belinda is a fashionable lady like any figuring in the unheroic pages of Addison. flashes from her eyes and screams but what was appropriate in epic heroes & heroines becomes cosmical and amusing in a mere of a girl. Instead of the rape of Helen of sparta by Paris, there is in Pope that of Belinda's lock of hair "raped" by Baron.

    The title itself is a burlesque on the subject matter of the epics. Ajax and Hetor had their great shields of the epic heroes. The epical heroes worship God for strength and equip themselves with various weapons.  

    In "The Rape of The Lock", we find an atter at which ardent prayers are half - granted and a goddess who is worshipped, but the atter is built of French Romances, and the Goddess is the image of Belinda in the mirror of her dressing table  . We also see how Belinda equips herself with various cosmetics and ornaments. These ornaments include gems from India, perfumes of Arabia etc. 

    The setting of an epic is ample in scale and may worldwide or even larger. 

    "Odysseus" in Book XI descends into the Underworld (as does vergil 's Aeneas ) . In consonance with the epic convention, Pope makes umbrid (who takes charge of Belinda after Ariel withdrws) go down to the underworld. The cave of spleen is a reminisence of the grotto of circa. Belinda's journey by boat to hampton court is a mock heroic counterpa of the classical legend of arion's voyage from corinth to lesbos.

    An epic poem is a ceremonical performance and is narrated in a ceremonial style which is deliberately distanced from ordinary speech & proportioned to the grandeur and formality of the heroic subject matter of epic architecture. Pope successfully implememts the grand style to produce the best mock - heroic effect in his poem.  

    "Rape of the lock" is infact "a mosaic of questions parodies and allusions derived from the masters of epic and narrative poetry" . Throughout the poem at numerous points there are subtle imitations of the classical epic manner and at many places lines from the epics of Homar and virgil are interested so artistically that they fit the contest perfectly. The heroic bombasts of the Baron are parodies of Hectorian orations. 

    Besides, there are other mock - heroic elements in the poem. We find a super natural being threatening his inferiors with torture but it is a sylph, not Jove and his tortures are not thunderbolts nor pains of Hades, but cruelties devised ingeniously from the requisite of a toilet table. Instead of epic meals the breakfast in Homer ...... We find in Pope, the silver ceremonies of coffe. 

    Thus Pope achieves his success as the greatest of the writers of the mock heroic poem chiefly by his wonderful capacity of exploiting such elements of epic protocol as supernatural machinary, a voyage on board ship a visit to the underworld, and a heroically scaled battle between the sexes - although with metaphors hatpins and snuff for weapons.