The Rape Of The Lock as A Mock Heroic Epic

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      The Mock heroic epic is a poetic form which uses the Epic format, structurally based on miniature scale and as a subject that is mean or trivial.  The purpose of a mock heroic epic is always satirical. The poet of a Mock Epic makes the subject look ridiculous by placing it in a framework entirely inappropriate to its importance. A mock-heroic Epic poem is generally not a satire on any particular person, but the target of the attack may be a person or persons, on institutions or the whole of a society with the subject treated with trivial way.

The Mock heroic epic is a poetic form which uses the Epic format, structurally based on miniature scale and as a subject that is mean or trivial.
Mock Heroic Epic

      Alexander Pope's The Rape Of The Lock is considered one of the most successful mock epics ever written in English literary history. The central incident in the poem is nothing but the theft of a lock hair, and this trivial incident has been treated by Pope with a grand heroic dimension. Just like there are found meaning dignified grand heroic battles in all the grand heroic epics like Iliad by Homer, Aenied by Virgil and Paradise Lost by John Milton. So in the same way hope also incorporated heroic battles in his poem. But the battle which Pope describes is simply capital of cards and ombre which is strictly considered as an element of mock epic technique.

      The entire poem is constructed with the purpose of mocking satire on the contemporary fashionable society of 18th-century England. An outstanding mock-heroic feature in the poem appears in the comparison between the arming of an epic hero and Belinda's dressing and her use of cosmetics in order to kill the Lords and gentlemen. The entire atmosphere is changed with the magnanimity of a true epic, but each and every situation has been handled trivially. We have the description of heroic battles through the cards, Pope adds an invocation at the beginning then there are included the supernatural creatures like Sylphs, Gnomes and Nymphs etc. All these elements have made The Rape Of The Lock a true intense of mock Heroic Epic poem.

      The epic, whether of early or more modern times, is (i) a narrative poem, (ii) of supposed divine inspiration, (iii) treating a subject of great’ and momentous importance for mankind, (iv) the characters of the story being partly human and partly divine, and (v) the language and style in which the incidents are related being full of elevation and dignity.

      If a long narrative poem should satisfy all the tests of epic poetry; but the subject which is celebrated is of a trivial nature, like the cutting off lock of a woman's hair, which is the story that is related in Pope's The Rape of the Lock, then such a poem is called a mock-epic. A mock-epic poem is supposed to be the inspiration of a Muse, the characters are partly human and partly divine, and the language, is stilted and grandiose, but the subject is of very frivolous and commonplace nature.

      Mock-epic or mock-heroic or heroic-comical, terms virtually interchangeable, are applied to literary works in which the epic or heroic tradition is ridiculed or mocked. Sometimes the devices of Homer's epics are directly burlesque - as in Pope's The Rape of the Lock, the grave-yard battle of Molly Seagrim in Fielding's Tom Jones, and Byron's Don Juan. Ian Jack observes that a mock-heroic poem is a "Parody of the Epic.'' He adds: "In mock epic, a dignified genre is turned to witty use without being cheapened in any way. The poet has an opportunity of ridiculing through incongruity, and of affording his reader the sophisticated pleasure of recognizing ironical parallels to familiar passages in Homer and Virgil."


      Parody or Burlesque in this Mock-Epic Poem. Hazlitt has called the poem ’the perfection of the mock-epic. It belongs to the literary type, called burlesque or parody, on a large scale. In it, not a single poem, but the whole type or style of literature is travestied (parodied); the language and thought, proper to a serious theme are reproduced in describing something ridiculous or trivial. The eighteenth century with its passion for the ancients was familiar with the whole epic tradition and conventions. It was rich, particularly; in bad epics itself. Pope makes the framework of his poem a parody of the epic tradition. It contains, among others, parody of Homer (in the description of the battle), Virgil, Ariosto and Milton. The parallels to Paradise Lost of Milton and Pope's The Rape of The Lock are numerous. But the most crucial parallel is the scene which occurs just before the cutting of the lock, when Ariel discovers the secret longing of the beautiful Belinda. He finds an earthly lover lurking in Belinda's heart:

Sudden he view'd, in spite of all her Art,
An Earthly Lover lurking at her Heart.
Amaz'd, confus'd, he found his power expir'd,
Resigned to Fate, and with Sigh retir'd.
(L. 433-436)

      The situation is apparently an echo of the moment in Paradise Lost when, after the fall of Adam and Eve, the angles retire to their heavenly abode feeling sorry for them.

      The two battles depicted in the poem are inflated and treated ironically and echo the battle of Troy and Carthage. The card game is a mock-battle, a symbolical war between the sexes.

Belinda now, whom thirst of fame invites,
Bums to encounter two adventurous knights,
At ombre singly to decide their doom;
And swells her breast with conquest yet to come.

      The card-game is actually an unconscious amorous skirmish.
Belinda's conduct of the war begins with words which have an epic grandeur:

Let Spades be Trumps She said, and Triunps they were. (L. 336)

      In the same manner Belinda's voyage to Hampton Court suggests the voyage of Aeneas up the Tiber, described by Virgil. The coffee drinking is a parody of descriptions of meals of Homer. Belinda's petticoat is treated as the seven-fold shield of Ajax, and her lament for her severed hair suggests the lamentation of Virgil's Dido.

      Pope called The Rape of the Lock a "heroic-comical poem." It belongs to the class of literature called "burlesque." A burlesque is a parody on a large scale, in which not a single poem but a whole type of style of literature is parodied, the language and thought proper to a serious theme being reproduced in setting forth something ridiculous or trivial.

      The burlesque is partly a matter of treatment and partly a matter of language. By treating an insignificant subject in the manner of an epic the poem parodies that form of poetry. Instead of grand passions and great fights between heroes in which the immortals take part, we have as the theme of The Rape of the Lock a petty amorous quarrel assisted by the Spirits of the air. The epic portrays an age round the personality of a god or a semi-god, and its characters are heroes. The Rape of the Lock, on the other hand, gives us a picture of a fashionable society. The central figure in that picture is a pretty society girl, and the other characters are a rash youth, a foolish dandy and a few frivolous women. Instead of deep and genuine passions as are found in ancient epics, we come across a succession of mock passions in The Rape of the Lock.

      The Title Itself Indicates Mock-Heroic Effect The mock-heroic character of the poem is perceived in the very title. Rape is a serious moral offense which means the violation of a woman's chastity by force. It also refers to the seizure of a lady by some ruffians in a grossly inhuman manner. In any case, rape is a grave crime, affecting the social decency of a human being. Pope has used this term in an amusing way. The possession of the hair of Belinda by the Baron is described by him in a mock serious vein. The title evokes nothing but the mock sensation and well indicates the mock-heroic characters of Pope's work.

      The Action of The Theme. The action of The Rape of the Lock turns on a trivial incident—the cutting of a lock of hair from a lady's head. Such a thing had taken place. One Lord Petre cut off a lock of hair from the head of Lady Arabella Fermor. There was a quarrel between the two families, and Pope was requested to make a jest of the incident, and 'laugh them together.' This was the occasion of the composition of the poem. Pope did give to the world a fine work of wit - the best mock-heroic poem in the English language, but we do not know whether the families were reconciled.

      The theme of the poem is suggested in the invocation, as in an epic poem, but the theme is ridiculously trivial, in comparison with the great theme of an epic. The action opens in a mock-heroic manner with the awakening of Belinda, the heroine of the poem. Belinda is the very goddess of beauty, and the luster of her eyes surpasses that of the sun, who peeped timorously through the white curtains in Belinda's room:

Sol through white Curtains shot a tim'rous Ray,
And op'd those Eyes that must eclipse the day.
(L. 13-14)

      The Structure of The Poem. The whole structure of The Rape of the Lock is cast in the epic mold, but it could not be a serious epic, because the incident is trivial-so we have the mock-heroic or heroic- comical poem. The poem is divided into Cantos like an epic poem, and there are ironical parallels to the main incidents of the epic. The poem begins with an invocation in epic tradition:

Say, what strange motive, Goddess! cou'd compel
A well-bred Lord t' assault a gentle Belle?
(L. 7-8)

      As in epics, in The Rape of the Lock too, divine beings are portrayed. Belinda is in the divine care of the sylphs:

"Fairest of Mortals, thou distinguish'd Care,
Of thousand bright Inhabitants of Air !"
(L. 27-28)

      But then the sylphs are fragile, airy beings and they are helpless before the caprices of men. Despite all their concern for Belinda, her beautiful lock of hair is raped by the naughty Baron.

      There is the mischievous gnome who like Milton's Satan, is intent upon making Belinda miserable and thereby all her admirers. The gnome addresses the wayward Queen who rules the sex from fifteen to fifty, thus:

Hear me, and touch Belinda, with Chagrin;
That single Act gives half the World the Spleen."
(L. 545-546)

      And then he collects, "a wondrous bag", from the "wayward Queen" in which she has put "The force of female lungs, sighs, sobs and passions and the war of tongues" (L. 552) and a vial filled with "fainting fears, soft sorrows, melting griefs, and flowing tears." (L. 554).

      Influence of Classicism. The Rape of the Lock is a heroic-comical poem. A successful heroic-comical or mock-heroic poem meant much more in the days of Pope than it can possibly mean in our days. The men of letters of that age knew and reverted the classics much more than what we of modern times consider to be worthwhile to know or revere. Not only in the main frame-work but in numerous details there are so many points of similarly intentionally introduced between the old epics and the new satiric poems that to appreciate them fully is a difficult task today. The Rape of the Lock has been rightly called by Ryland "a mosaic of quotation, parodies and allusions derived from the masters of the epic and narrative poetry." "Homer and Virgil dip forth at almost every other line; Milton and Ovid are not less persistent." The very opening of the poem is in the approved classical manner; the turn of expressions used reminds us of the epic masters. The descriptions of the functions of the sylphs and nymphs takes us back to Homer, Virgil and Milton. 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. The Cave of Spleen is reminiscent of the grotto of Circe. The heroic bombast of the Baron are parodies of Hectorian orations. Then the battle between the beaux and the belles is a right royal Homeric battle; even the game of Ombre is a delicate parody of epical fights. "It would be almost true to say," observes Holden, "that in this heroic-comical poem, it is the comical part which makes most appeal to us, as the heroic part did do our ancestors."

      Function of the Machinery. The epic always uses the supernatural element. In the Iliad there are gods and goddesses; in The Rape of the Lock, there are the sylphs and gnomes. These aerial spirits are small and insignificant things, and are therefore, exactly in keeping with the triviality of the theme. They guard the personality of the heroine and when there is a fight between the followers of Belinda and those of the Baron; they take part in the fight, like the gods and goddesses in the Trojan War:

Propt on their Bodkin Spears, the Sprights survey
The growing Combat, or assist the Fray.
(L. 699-700)

      Episodes in The Mock-Epic. An epic poem must contain some episodes also. In keeping with this practice, Pope has introduced the episode of the game of Ombre which is described in great detail. There is also the hazardous journey of Umbriel to the Cave of Spleen. Then there is the battle between the lords and ladies just like the battles in epic poetry. But in the true mock-heroic style this battle is fought with fans and snuff instead of with swords and spears. There are single combats also between Belinda and the Baron and between Clarissa and Sir Plume.

      "Little is Made Great and The Great Little." The poem bears out amply how Pope has succeeded in realizing his mock-heroic design in which the little is made great and the great little. This epic frame-work contains a mock-heroic portrait, and the whole work is an entertaining travesty on epic poetry. Pope imitates the strain of the epic poem in his description even of the slight or trivial affairs. The dream which Ariel brings to the drowsy belle contains much that is humorously serious. The function of the sylphs, the effect of their work on the thoughtless brain of a young lady and the frail nature of a woman are all suggested with an affected gravity that evokes only laughter.

      Belinda's toilette is another engaging account in which Pope has attributed in a perfectly mock-heroic manner, the solemnity of a religious observance the luxurious toilette of a lady of fashion, and frivolity. Puffs, powders patches, Bibles, billet-doux are all brought on the same table and the slight and the serious are all strangely synthesized.

And now, unveil'd, the Toilet stands display'd,
Each Silver Vase in mystic Order laid.
First, rob'd in White, the Nymph intent adores,
With Head uncover'd and Cosmetic Pow'rs,
A heav'nly Image in the Glass appears,
To that she bends, to that her Eyes she rears.
(L. 121-126)

      The Rape of the Lock is a rare instance in which the slight theme is given an exalted treatment for satirical purposes. All through the poem, most importance is given to all that is thoroughly unimportant and insignificant and practically meaningless and farcical. The very conception of writing an epic on the rape of a lock of hair is funny and bears testimony to the poet's effort to make "the title great and the great little."

      Style of The Mock-Heroic Poem. The Rape of the Lock is a mock-heroic poem - that is to say a poem in which trivial things are mockingly treated in a heroic (or exalted) manner. A heroic or epic style is imitated. But a mock-heroic poem is not merely parody of the epic; in a mock-heroic poem trivial things and incidents, which are just the reverse of the heroic, are presented in a heroic manner, that while the heroic style is not degraded, the trivial things are shown by comic contrast in all their trivialities. The 'clouded cane' as compared with the Homer's 'spear' indicates the difference of scale-the lower of the mock-heroic style.

      Conclusion. Hazlitt observes: "No pains are spared, no profusion or ornament, splendor of poetic diction, to set off the meanest thing. The balance between the concealed irony and the assumed gravity is nicely trimmed, the little is made great and the great made little. It is the triumph of insignificance, the apotheosis of foppery and folly. It is the perfection of the mock-heroic." Thus, in The Rape of the Lock the poet has heightened the little, exalted the insignificant, in order to make the little and the insignificant look more ridiculous. He employs the mock-heroic form, not to mock the epic form, but to show the triviality of mean things by contrasting them with great things. This is the true mock-heroic style.


      J.C. Cunningham. The Rape of the Lock is the achievement of a spirited imaginative intelligence. To marshal a host of literary allusions, at varying levels of suppression, from the blatantly overt to the secretive; to carry the mimicry of epic structure down to niceties of heroic idiom and tone; to maintain a firm discrimination between the admirable and the trashy in contemporary society, unmasking hypocrisy and pretentiousness: such activities engage the intelligence, ours as well as Pope's.

      Tillotson. The Rape of the Lock is the masterpiece of the mock-heroic because it mocks at the maximum amount of the epic.

      Tillotson. The writer of burlesque should be thoroughly acquainted with the manner he intends to parody, and should have no genuine reverence, admiration or sympathy for it. Pope knew well the phraseology of the ancient epics. But, at the same time, he was incapable of a real and deep appreciation of Homer and Virgil, partly owing to his mental attitude, and partly because of his lack of imagination. He was, therefore, quite fit for the task of parodying the ancient epics.

      D. Holden. It would be almost true to say, that in this heroic-comical poem it is the comical part which makes most appeal to us, as the heroic part did to our ancestors.


The best imaginative achievement in The Rape of the Lock lies in the element of 'burlesque.' Explain the term 'burlesque' and show to what effect Pope handles it in the poem.
Write a concise essay on The Rape of the Lock as a mock epic.
Discuss the blend of comic and heroic in Pope's poetry with reference to The Rape of the Lock.
What do you understand by 'mock-heroic? Examine The Rape of the Lock as an example of this kind of poetry.
Discuss Alexander Pope's The Rape of the Lock as a mock-heroic poem.
How does the introduction of the sylphs add to the merit of The Rape of the Lock as a heroic-comical poem?
Discuss The Rape of the Lock as a mock-heroic poem.
Discuss Pope's The Rape of the Lock as a parody.
Pope has given an epic treatment to an extremely ludicrous subject in The Rape of the Lock. Discuss.
What exactly is meant by a mock-heroic poem? Discuss The Rape of the Lock as an example of it.
Write a note on The Rape of the Lock as a burlesque of classical epic devices.
The perfection of the mock-heroic according to Pope is 'the use of pompous expression for low actions.' Discuss this dictum with reference to the technique of The Rape of the Lock.
The Rape of the Lock ends in a mock combat between the beaus (fashionable young men) and the belles (beautiful young women). How has Pope prepared for this battle earlier in the poem?
Analyze some of the devices used by Pope in The Rape of the Lock to heighten the comic effect.
Show how The Rape of the Lock follows the conventions of an epic poem.

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