Heroic Couplet in The Rape of The Lock

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      Introduction. The heroic-couplet is a poetical unit of two lines, rhyming at the end and written in iambic pentameters. Dryden made it a vigorous poetic medium, for the evenly balanced lines were most suitable for deadly satire. Pope adapted the heroic-couplet and in his hands it became smooth and resonant, the most natural, condensed and felicitous vehicle for his satirical and philosophical themes.

      The heroic couplet was most suitable for Pope's purposes. The antithetical lines or halves of a line suited his theme of contraries, the contrasting values of the grand epic world and Belinda's fashionable, trivial world. In Pope's hands, the form became "an echo to the sense," a device to heighten the sense in a mocking manner. This is amply evident in The Rape of the Lock. The clutter and confusion of Belinda's emotional life is suggested with compression as well as clarity in:

Where Wigs with Wigs Sword-knots Sword-knots strive,
Beaus banish Beaus, and Coaches Coaches drive
(Canto 1, 101-102)

      The heroic-couplet expresses the mock-epic contrasts. The heroic-couplet is most suitable for the delightful use of anti-climax, an important mock-heroic and satiric device. The very opening couplet of The Rape of the Lock exemplifies how the serious grandeur of the epic is

What dire offence from amorous causes springs,
What mighty contests rise from trivial things

      The "tail" of the couplet contains the "sting", most effective in puncturing the pompous self-importance one may build up by reading the first line. The same effect is produced by:

Say what strange motive, Goddess! could compel
A well-bred lord to assault a gentle belle?

      The Goddess, we learn later, degenerates into the goddess of toilet.

      The antithetical variation within each line adds to the satiric point. In the heroic-couplet, it was possible for Pope, in some passages, to use antithesis in each line to enhance the ironic, mocking effect:

In tasks so bold, can little men engage,
And in soft bosoms dwell such mighty rage?

      The ironic contrast between "little men" and "tasks so bold", and "soft bosoms" and "mighty rage" effectively serves the satiric purpose.

      Flexible use of the heroic-couplet. The Rape of the Lock shows Pope’s skill in adapting the heroic-couplet to express a variety of moods, character, atmospheres and situations, not merely didacticism. The purely comic and humorous is expressed in the portrayal of Sir Plume. The same heroic-couplet is equally suitable to express delicately, with gossamer-like charm, Belinda's beauty or the nature and function of the sylphs. In Clarissa's speech, the heroic couplet has a sharp-edged precision. It is a perfect vehicle for expressing with pointed irony; the confusion of moral values which heaped together Bibles and billet-doux, husbands and lap-dogs.

      Conclusion. It has been remarked that Pope did to the heroic couplet what Shakespeare did to blank-verse. Far from becoming monotonous, in The Rape of the Lock, the heroic couplet achieves a flexibility and charm, a range extending from the sublime to the ludicrous. There is brilliance in every turn, a living dynamism in every rhythm. Pope has so fashioned the medium as to make it equally adequate for a variety of occasions and mood. His admirable dexterity with the heroic couplet makes it almost an ''invention" of a new metrical measure.

University Questions

How is the use of the rhyming couplet bound up with didacticism in Pope's The Rape of the Lock?
How far does Pope's handling of the heroic couplet contribute to his success in social satire? Discuss with reference to The Rape of the Lock.

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