Dramatic Elements in The Rape of The Lock

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      Watching a scene through the wrong end of a telescope has its own peculiar charm. One sees everything with the clarity and delicacy or the fineness of texture of a miniature painting. And the picture of society, the ethos of the pretty if ridiculous world of fashion that Pope captures in his The Rape of the Lock has this kind of charm. The trivialities are given such minute attention that they assume a brilliance and artistic finesse often absent in more serious works.

      The subject of the poem is, on the face of it, insignificant and absurd. Whoever heard of a lock of hair being "raped"! But the trivial quarrel over the snipping off a society belle's lock of hair by a lord is given a serious and eloquent treatment to make the poem one of the best mock-heroic works in English literature.

      The Colouring of Fancy and what Hazlitt called the exquisite filigree work give to the description of what would otherwise be mundane an artistic brilliance. The insignificant event of Belinda's toilet, the ordinary game of Ombre, the common social pastime of coffee-drinking, the usual boat trip down the Thames, and ultimately the snipping and quarrel over the lock of hair-all these are part of the pretty world of fashion which Pope presents; but they are given a minute, delicate and fanciful treatment. We have the sylphs in their own universe as well as intervening in the affairs of human beings; altars of Love are made of a glove and three garters, a French romance and old love letters; an elaborate history is given for a silver bodkin, and all is over in a pinch of snuff. Fops and flirts are glorified, though with satiric intentions. Hazlitt is correct in observing that it is "the triumph of the insignificant, the apotheosis of foppery and folly."

      The Rape of The Lock is certainly brilliant, but not all play; however. The intention is to laugh the society ladies out of folly and ill-humor. An obviously satiric purpose is behind the poem. There is a moral lesson implicit as well as explicit in the poem. The very elevation of triviality calls attention to the need of moderation and good sense. If the insignificant is made significant and the trivial is exalted while the important is reduced to unimportance, it speaks of the confusion of values; and it implies the need to correct such a confusion.

      Conclusion. The Rape of the Lock certainly gives a clearly drawn picture of the London "high" society of Pope's day. With delicate art the miniature comes alive where lap-dogs and husbands have equal status, Bibles lie among love letters and French romances, and a coffee stain on a brocade dress is a greater disaster than the loss of honor. But while it presents this pretty; if absurd picture of the fashionable world with artistic skill, the poem also has a moral value behind its brilliance.

University Questions

In what sense does The Rape of the Lock represent "the triumph of the insignificant"? Discuss.
It has been said that in The Rape of the Lock "Pope's vision of the pretty, if absurd, world of fashion has all the delicacy of a landscape seen through the wrong end of a telescope." Elucidate.
"The Rape of the Lock" is brilliant but it is only a play." Discuss.

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