What is Epic Machinery in The Rape Of The Lock?

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       Introduction: (What is Machinery?) The use of 'machinery' is a traditional and distinctive feature of epic poetry. The action of the heroic characters are represented as subject to the intervention of gods and controlled by destiny. This interposition may take different forms of varying significance. The immortal figures may remain only the watchers of the scenes from the clouds, or bestir themselves actively upon the earthly stage. At times it seems that the real plot is being enacted in the skies and the mortals are mere pawns with which these divinities play out their game. Thus, we find the gods taking part in the epics of Homer, Milton Virgil, and in the epics of the Hindus, the Ramayana and the Mahabharata. There are other poems in which destiny overhangs the plots. From the constructional point of view, its importance is well brought out in the bantering words of Pope himself: "The use of these machines is evident: since no epic poem can possibly subsist without them, the wisest way is to reserve them for your greater necessities: when you cannot extricate your hero by any human means, or yourself by your won wit, seek relief from heaven, and the gods will do your business very readily."

     In his letter to miss Arabella Fermor Alexander Pope explains 'epic machinery' is a term invented by critics to signify that part of a text which the angles, deities or demons perform. By the term 'machinery' Pope tries to mean that some vital rules shall be performed by the invisible angels and supernatural forces in the poem.

In his letter to miss Arabella Fermor Alexander Pope explains that 'machinery' is a term invented by critics to signify that part of a text which the angles, deities or demons perform.
Alexander Pope

      The philosophy which Alexander Pope has made use of is the Rosicrucian Doctrine of spirits. According to his philosophy the four elements are inhabited by various sorts of spirit, which are known by various names. The spirits of violent and scolding woman become salamander or fire spirits. The spirits of gentle and submissive women become nymphs of the water. The spirits of solemn ladies become gnomes or earth spirit and the spirits of light hearted girls become sylphs or air spirits.

      Alexander Pope has taken this concept of 'Epic Machinery' from the Rosicrucian Doctrine of spirits. At the same time The Rape Of The Lock is modelled after two foreign satire one is Boileau's Le Lutrin, a satire on French clergyman and the other one is La Secchia Raptia.

      Pope has brilliantly use his concept of 'supernatural machinery' in the mock epic. They are the real agents by which all the nonsense female vanities are revealed and they are thoroughly satirized. The spirit including Ariel and his comrades gard and safe the chastity of maidens, who are on the point of yielding to their male lovers. They save these helpless maidens from falling victims to the temptation of false treacherous friends. The spirits are found present at every crucial situation in the poem. Ariel remains the chief angel who always tries to protect the honest chastity of Belinda. When Belinda's precious two locks where just going to be cut down it was at that time those spirits who were hovering around the head of Belinda, tried their best to save and protect Belinda from the crucial clause of scissors.

      The supernatural spirits impart qualities of splendour and wonder to the actions in the story. Like Homer's God's, Pope's sylphs and gnomes move easily in and out to the lower world. They surprised without offending our sense of the probable and they give to the ordinary human impulses concrete form and shape. Thus the supernatural machinery as used by the Pope stands for feminine honour flirtation courtship the necessary rivalry of men and women.

      The original machine was a sort of crane used in the Greek theatre for the purpose of bringing down the gods as though descending from the sky to intervene and solve the insuperable difficulties. Hence, it came to mean a supernatural person or agency introduced into a poem, and the allied word ''machinery", the set of supernatural devices used for the development of the plot or denouement in a drama or poem.

      The first version of The Rape of the Lock was made up of only two cantos, containing the main incidents of the game of cards, cutting of the lock and the ensuing battle therewith. This humorous piece was meant to bring about a happy reconciliation between the two families of the Fermors and the Petres. This version, however, was never published and it had not yet taken the shape of a mock-epic. It was meant to be read by a selected number of people related to or close with the two families. Pope saw the possibility of expanding it into a mock-heroic poem and he expanded it into the mock epic form before he got it published. This was done by including into the body of the poem the supernatural creatures like the sylphs and gnomes who seem to be the guiding force behind the central action of the poem.

      Necessity of The Machinery of "The Rape of the Lock." Pope felt the need to introduce the machinery in his The Rape of the Lock after having read a book by French author, Abbe-de-Villiars, containing an account of the Rosicrucian doctrine of spirits. It struck him that he could incorporate this fairy-like mythology in his little poem. All his friends with the exception of Addison, approved of the idea and Pope adjusted to the poem the parts of the supernatural spirits. The complete poem was published in 1714 with the author's name.

      The poem was now fully complete as a mock-heroic. The machinery, an essential part of epic poetry, was now supplied to it. Whoever had heard of an epic poem without a machinery? In this letter to Miss Fermor, Pope himself explains the term. "The Machinery; Madam, is a term invented by the critics to signify that part which the Deities, Angels, or Demons are made to act in a poem." In the Iliad, this part is played by the gods and goddesses of Greek mythology, while in Paradise Lost, it is played by the angels. In The Rape of the Lock, this part is played by the spirits which are entirely in keeping with the trivial subject and the foppish characters of the poem.

      Besides supplying an essential requirement of epic poetry, the spirits in The Rape of the Lock serve another purpose also. In the dedication of the poem, Pope claims that 'Human persons in this poem are as fictitious as the Airy ones. Still, most people knew that Belinda was Arabella Fermor and the Baron was Lord Petre. By introducing this fictitious machinery, therefore, Pope made the poem more impersonal and thereby substantiated his claim.

      Sources of Pope's Machinery. Pope took the name of Ariel from Shakespeare's Tempest and the idea of the sylphs from a French book, Le Comte de Gabalis, which gives an account of the Rosicrucian mythology of spirits. According to this mythology, the four elements are inhabited by spirits, which are called sylphs (air), gnomes (earth) nymphs (water) and salamanders (fire). The gnomes or spirits of earth, delight in mischief, but the sylphs, which dwell in air, are the best conditioned creatures imaginable. Two of these kinds-sylphs and gnomes-are introduced by Pope in The Rape of the Lock.

      These aerial spirits of Rosicrucian mythology were tiny; light being which would exactly suit his mock-heroic poem. The gods and goddesses of Homer would not do for his flimsy poem, nor would the angels of Milton's Paradise Lost. The pigmy beings, like the sylphs and the gnomes, are suited to the theme and atmosphere of the poem and they are as artificial as the society depicted in The Rape of the Lock.

      The Fairies of Shakespeare's "The Midsummer Night's Dream" and The Spirits of "The Rape of the Lock." The fairies of The Midsummer Night's Dream are also tiny beings, but they are different in nature and spirit from the sylphs, and gnomes of The Rape of the Lock. The former are gay, delightful spirits, wandering about in moonlight; they embody all the beauty and freshness of nature, and in their limited sphere, they are endowed with supernatural power, and play pranks on human beings. Puck cries out: "What fools these mortals be." The light militia of the lower sky, represented in The Rape of the Lock, are of a very different character. They are artificial spirits and they have all the vanity and superficiality which they had when they were "one enclosed in woman's beauteous mold." They take delight in the game of Ombre and help Belinda in her game:

Soon as she spreads her Hand, th' Aerial Guard
Descend, and sit on each important Card
(L. 321-322)

      The artificial mythology of the sylphs harmonizes with the artificial story. It is full of the most fanciful wit. Indeed, "wit infused with fancy is Pope's particular merit."

      The Functions of The Machinery. What are the functions of the aerial spirits in The Rape of The Lock? Ariel has a premonition that some calamity is impending over Belinda. Therefore, Ariel who guards Belinda, assigns different functions to the spirits under his control. One was given the charge of Belinda's fan, another was to take care of her earrings, the third was to look after her watch, and fourth was to guard her favorite lock. Ariel was to take charge of the dog. The important duty of guarding the petticoat was given to fifty chosen sylphs. Ariel warned the pigmy band of spirits against negligence in their duties. Severe punishment was to be awarded to those who failed in the discharge of their duties, and the punishments were exactly adjusted to the size and nature of the spirits. The punishment with which the delinquents were threatened were: (i) to be shut up in small bottles, (ii) to be pierced through with pins (iii) to be held fast in the eye of the bodkin, (iv) or to be stuck up in gums and pomades.

      In spite of all the careful vigilance of Ariel and the sylphs, the lock of Belinda's hair is raped. The spirits do not in the least influence the action; they neither prevent the danger nor retard it, unless it is for one futile moment.

Even then, before the fatal Engines clos'd,
A wretch'd sylph fondly interpos'd;
Fate urg'd the Sheas, and cut the Sylph in twain
(But Airy Substance soon unites again).
(L. 439-442)

      The visit of Umbriel to the Cave of Spleen reminds one of the visits to the underworld described in the epics, and is introduced for the sake of mock-heroic effect. It is an episode, which gives an opportunity to the poet to satirize the evil nature and affectation of the ladies and gentlemen of his society. It also serves the action of the poem, for Belinda becomes alternatively angry and sad as Umbriel empties the bag of passions and the vial of sorrows over her head.

      Machinery Changes The Satirical and Fanciful Nature of The Poem. The most important function performed by these spirits in the poem is the enhancing of satirical and fanciful nature of the poem. It is through these spirits that Pope satirizes the vanity and fickleness of the ladies of the day.

'Tis these that early taint the Female Soul'
Instruct the Eyes of young Coquettes to roll,
Teach Infant-Cheeks a hidden Blush to know,
And little Hearts to lutter at a Beau.
(L. 87-90)

Again :

With varying Vanities, from ev'ry Part,
They shift the moving Toyshop of their Heart.
(L. 99-100)

      The toilet of the ladies is also satirized through these spirits. Ariel says:

Our humbler Province is to tend the Fair,
Not a less pleasing, tho' less glorious Care,
To save the Powder from too rude a Gale,
Nor let th' imprison'd Essences exhale,
(L. 239-242)

      The punishment with which Ariel threatens his followers, if they neglect their duties, is equally funny. The spirits are to be shut up in "vials", to be pierced with pins, to be made fast in the eyes of bodkins or to be stuck up in gum and pomades.

      When the card game begins and Belinda spreads her hand:

th' Arial Guard
Descend, and sit on each important Card;
First Ariel perch'd upon Matadore,
Then each, according to the Rank they bore;
For Sylphs, yet mindful of their ancient Race,
Are, as when Women, wondrous fond of Place. (L. 321-326)

      Through the use of Ariel and the other celestial beings Pope has managed to point out satirically woman's excessive fondness for rank and pomp. And if they could have their way, they would maintain it even after death.

      Machinery Compared with that of Homer and Milton. The introduction of the machinery of the sylphs and the gnomes heightens the mock-heroic effect of the poem. In place of the gods and goddesses of Homer, we have in The Rape of the Lock a band of tiny spirits, which:

In fields of purest ether play
And bask and whiten in the blaze of day.

      The difference between these pigmy spirits of Pope and the gods and goddesses of Homer and the angels of Milton is the measure of the difference in scale between Pope's tiny work and the great epics of Homer and Milton. But the choice of these sylphs and gnomes is very appropriate in The Rape of the Lock for through them the poet gets the full opportunity of showing up the follies and the vanities of the fashionable ladies of the time.

      Conclusion. In the ultimate analysis, Pope's machinery remains a sure proof of his artistic excellence. And what Pope himself once wrote to his friend is not all wrong. "The making of that (the machinery) and what was published before fit so well together, I think is one of the greatest proofs of judgment of anything I ever did."

      As G. Holden points out, "It is Pope's use of this machinery, moreover, which more than any other single feature made the poem the single success that it is." It is the machinery which enables him, in various ways, to create the mock epic effect. All the epic poets like Homer, Virgil, Tasso and Millon made use of the machinery, and it was in the fitness of things that Pope should also parody it in his mock-epic. In an epic the machines are strong and mighty, here they are tiny and weak. "In the sylphs," says Cunningham, "we witness a delightful down-scaling of the Epic Machines."

      As Wilson Knights points out, machinery increases dramatic suspense and therefore story-depth, since they fore-know and warn about the central disaster: help to universalize semi-humorously the whole action, forming indeed, the binding symbolism of the little drama; is related to certain paradisal and in Umbriel's journey-hellish colorings, touching Dante, Shakespeare, and Milton; and finally reflect the implied belief of poetic art-forms in general that humanity and its sensible world do not exhaust the total of the comprehensive psychic statement. They are of a race that lives in the pure upper light; that guides orbs in heaven like the child spirit in Shelley: or follows shooting stars by moonlight; and indeed variously associated with the rainbows, mists, tempests, and earth; and guardianship of the British throne. As unseen helpers, they recall the attendant spirit in "Comus.” They are explicitly related to traditional beliefs, both trivial and profound.


      John Dennis. But there is no such thing as a character in The Rape of the Lock. Belinda, appears most in it, is a Chimera, and not a character. Nay, the very favorite Lock, which is made the subject for so many Verses, is not shown so desirable for its native Beauty, as for the constant Artifice employ'd about it.

      Thomas Cambell, The adaptation of the Rosicrucian machinery in The Rape of the Lock is indeed inventive and happy creation....There is no finer gem than this poem in all the lighter treasures of English fancy. Compared with any other mock-heroic in our language, it shines in pure supremacy for elegance, completeness, point and playfulness. It is an epic poem in that delightful miniature which diverts us by its mimicry of greatness and yet astonishes by the beauty of its parts, and the fairy brightness of its ornaments. In its kind, it is matchless: but still, it is but mock-heroic and depends in some measure, for effect on a ludicrous reference in our own minds to the very heroic whose solemnity it so wittily affects. His aerial puppets of divinity-his sylphs and gnomes-and his puppet heroes and heroines-the beaux and belles of high life require rather a subtle than a strong hand to guide them through the mazes of poetry. Among inventive poets, single poem will place him high.

      G. Holden. It is Pope's use of this machinery, moreover, which more than any other single feature made the poem the signal success that it is.

      Cunnigham. In the sylphs, we witness a delightful down-scaling of the epic machinery.

      G. Wilson Knight. Pope's use of his supernatural 'machinery' is clever. These "light Militia of the lower sky" (L. 142 observe the skillful sounds) increase dramatic suspense, and therefore story-depth, since they foreknow and warn of the central disaster; help to universalize semi-humorously the whole action, used neatly as the binding symbolism of the little drama; are related to certain paradisal and, in Umbriefs journey, hellish colorings touching Dante, Shakespeare, and Milton; and finally reflect the implied belief of poetic art forms in general that humanity and its sensible world do not exhaust the total of the comprehensive statement. They are of a race that lives in the pure upper light, that guides 'orbs’ in heaven, like the child spirit in Shelley's Prometheus Unbound, and follows shooting stars by moonlight. They are variously associated with rainbows, mist, tempests, earth and the guardianship of the British throne (L. 77-90). They are explicitly related to traditional beliefs, both trivial and profound.


Describe the 'machinery' used by Pope in The Rape of the Lock and comment on it.
The machinery of The Rape of the Lock heightens the mock-heroic effect, and enables Pope to embroider his description of town life. Discuss
Describe the part played by supernatural machinery in The Rape of the Lock. How does it heighten the mock-heroic effect?
Describe the preparation made by the supernatural machinery to defend Belinda's honor and say why it could not succeed?
Give a short account of the nature and activities of the supernatural beings in The Rape of the Lock.
Comment on Pope's use of the supernatural machinery in The Rape of the Lock.

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