Discuss The Rape Of The Lock As a Mock Epic Poem

The Rape of the Lock is the most exquisite specimen of filigree work. The Rape of the Lock is a mock epic poem. First, every epic poem deals with one or the other passion which distinguishes it from the poems of the species. Just as anger and terror are the peculiar passions of the Iliad and soft and tender ones are seen in the Aeneid, similarly coquetry may well be regarded as the reigning passion of The Rape of the Lock.

Secondly, the epic opens with an invocation to some god or goddess. Pope, no doubt, following the epic convention invokes the Muse and proposes his themes but his is a very funny way:

What dire, offence from amorous causes springs,

What mighty contests rise from trivial things,

 Say what strange motive, goddess could compel

A well-bred lora to assault a gentle belle.

Thirdly, an epic contains many episodes. In The Rape of the Lock, Pope has also introduced several episodes. In Canto III he has dignified the game of Ombre, which is the prelude to the central action.

Fourthly, supernatural machinery is also introduced in an epic. We see the gods and the goddesses playing significant role in an epic. They figure prominently in the epics of Homer and Virgil, while the angles and the devils fill the epics of Dante and Milton. But Pope uses the gnomes and the sylphs of the Rosicrucian system and calls them ‘light militia of the lower sky’.

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Fifthly, Pope has also introduced the vows of the heroes in the epic style but this is the mock not the epic tone. Baron’s propitiating the spirit of love is in the real mock-epic fashion:

…to love an altar built,

Of twelve vast French romances neatly gilt,

There lay three garters, half a pair of gloves,

And all the trophies of his former loves,

With tender-doux he lights the pyre,

And breathes three amorous sights to raise the fire.

Baron’s vows ‘by this lock, this sacred lock, I swear’ remind us of the vows of Achilles in Homer’s Iliad.

Sixthly, combats and battles are also to be noted in an epic. Brave Heroes are seen in action. In Canto V Pope also engages his ladies and gentlemen in battle. The description of the battle is on the lines of the battles and combats in the epics of Homer and Virgil:

So when bold Homer makes the gods engage.

And heavenly breasts with human passions rage:

 ‘Gainst Palles, Mars, – Latona Hermes Arms!

And all Olympus rings with loud Alarms;

Jove’s Thunder roars, Heaven trembles all around;

Blue Neptune storms, the bellowing Deeps resound,

Earth shakes her nodding Towers, the Ground gives way.

And the pale Ghost start at the Flas of Day!

In a truly mock epic style Pope makes Belinda meet the Baron in a single combat and overwhelm him by throwing a charge’ of snuff’s just where the breath of life his nostrils drew.

Seventhly, the descriptions of the weapons also support the mock-epic but spirit. The petticoat of Belinda is the sevenfold fence. They fight

 No common weapons in their hand are found

Like gods they fight, nor dread a mortal wound.

Tapestries ‘scatters death around with both her eyes’. Chloe kills Sir Plume with a frown but as she smiles, he revives again. Finally, Belinda overcomes the bold Baron with ‘a charge of snuff and attacks him with ‘a deadly bodkin’.

To complete the mock-epic style, Pope avoids common place and outworn expressions in his poem, for he believed that ‘the use of pompous expression for low action is the perfection of the mock heroic. Accordingly. he has used pompous expressions in his poems. Thus he pompously describes a pair of scissors as ‘two edged weapon’, ‘little engine’, ‘glittering forfex’, ‘fatal engine’, and ‘meeting points’. When the Baron has snipped off the lock of Belinda’s hair, she cries.

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!

The oath sworn by Lord Petre is also in the mock-heroic fashion:

While fish in streams, or birds delight in air,

Or in a coach and six the British fair,

 As long as Atlantis shall be read,

Or the small pillow grace a lady’s bed.

While visits shall be paid on solemn days,

When numerous wax-lights in bright order blaze,

 While nymphs takes treats, or assignments give,

So long my honour, name, and praise shall live !

Pope has also used similes and images, common in epic style to heighten the mock-epic effect. In Canto V, when Belinda calls for the ravished lock.

The note of irony and affection in the poem completes the mock-epic style. There is a delicate irony in the use of stately epic phraseology. Trifling incidents are given a comical importance. For example, we have not a touch of irony in the line.

In various talk th’ instructive hours they past.

Here the word ‘instructive’ is used for the trifling talk of the idlers at Hampton Court and not for any feat of reason. Regarding the use of irony and affectation in the poem Hazlitt writes, “A toilette is described with the solemnity of an alter raised to the goddess of vanity, and the history of silver bodkin is given with all the pomp of heraldry. No pains are soared, no profusion of ornament, no splendour of poetic diction, to set off the meanest things. The little is made great, and the great little, you hardly know whether to laugh or weep. It is the triumph of significance, the apotheosis of foppery and folly. It is the perfection of the mock-epic.



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