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The Rape of the Lock. Alexander Pope. Mock epic. “The Rape of the Lock” is one of the most well-known mock epics in the English language.

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the rape of the lock

The Rape of the Lock

Alexander Pope

mock epic
Mock epic
  • “The Rape of the Lock” is one of the most well-known mock epics in the English language.
  • Mock epic: a long, humorous narrative poem that treats a trivial subject in the grand style of a true epic like Homer’s Iliador Milton’s Paradise Lost.
epic conventions
  • In The Rape of the Lock, Pope applies to the narrative of a theft of a lady’s lock of hair such common epic occurrences as these:
  • Boasting speeches of heroes and heroines (remember the long speeches from Satan in Paradise Lost)
  • Elaborate descriptions of warriors and their weapons
  • Involvement of gods or goddesses in the action
  • Epic similes, or elaborate comparisons in the style of Homer (use like, as, or so).
alexander pope
Alexander Pope
  • Like Milton, he wanted to be a great poet since he was a child.
  • Lived 1688-1733; developed an excellent satiric style in his verse from his long study and practice.
  • Was born a Catholic,and after the expulsion of King James II in 1688 (the year of his birth), English Catholics were denied basic rights and could not live in London, so Pope spent much of his life in rural Twickenham (twittenam), a village on the Thames River.
alexander pope1
Alexander pope
  • In addition to facing religious prejudice, Pope also had physical problems: tuberculosis stunted his growth, so he was only four and a half feet tall, and he suffered from migraines most of his life.
  • This did not stop him from hanging out with literary luminaries of the time. He was in an informal club, the Scriblerians, with Jonathan Swift (“A Modest Proposal”…what else did he write?) and the famous playwright John Gay (The Beggar’s Opera).
the rape of the lock1
The Rape of the Lock
  • From the textbook: based on an actual incident. Two families, the Petres and the Fermors, became involved in a dispute when Robert Petre flirtatiously cut a lock of hair from the head of lovely ArabellaFermor.
  • The first of the poem’s five cantos opens with a statement of theme and an invocation to the Muse for poetic inspiration. Then, Belinda, the poem’s heroine, receives warning from the sylph Ariel that a dreadful event will take place in the immediate future.

In Canto II, during a boat ride on the Thames, an adventurous baron admires Belinda’s hair and is determined to cut two locks from her head and keep them as a prize. Aware of the baron’s desires, Ariel urges the spirits to protect Belinda.

from canto i
From Canto I
  • Say what strange motive, Goddess! could compel
  • A well-bred lord t' assault a gentle belle?
  • O say what stranger cause, yet unexplor'd,
  • Could make a gentle belle reject a lord?
  • In tasks so bold, can little men engage,
  • And in soft bosoms dwells such mighty rage?
  • A salonis a gathering of people under the roof of an inspiring host, held partly to amuse one another and partly to refine the taste and increase the knowledge of the participants through conversation.

Then flashed the living lightning from her eyes,

  • And screams of horror rend th’affrighted skies.
  • Not louder shrieks to pitying heaven are cast,
  • When husbands, or when lap dogs breathe their last;
  • Or when rich China vessels fallen from high
  • In glittering dust , and painted fragments lie.

In various talk th’instructive hours they passed,

  • Who gave the ball, or paid the visit last;
  • One speaks the glory of the British Queen,
  • And one describes a charming Indian screen;
  • A third interprets motions, looks, and eyes;
  • At ever word a reputation dies.