Moods of Ironic Portraiture in The Rape of The Lock

Also Read

      The Rape of the Lock is a mock-heroic poem. As such the characters are to a large extent, mocking versions of epic characters. The portraits are not realistic; they are not meant to be so. The characters are ironic and satiric portraitures meant to mock at the follies and foibles of the aristocratic society of Pope's times. The objective being to expose human follies, especially the feminine characterization is naturally from the general rather than the individual point of view.

      Exaggeration is one mode through which a portrait assumes ironic or satiric light. The excessive praise bestowed on Belinda's charms, for instance, Belinda shedding her gaiety on all and sundry like the sun sheds its light, suggests flippancy and inconstancy in character.

      Ironic portraiture through comparison with legendary and epic characters. Another mode of ironic portraiture adopted by Pope is through describing these very ordinary human beings in epic terms, thus, achieving the desired comic effect through ironic juxtaposition. Comparison of Belinda's toilet ritual to "sacred rites" does not elevate her to the position of a goddess but satirizes her as a human being for the excessive vanity. The Baron is constantly spoken in terms of the knight-errant of the Middle Ages. All his actions-from his aspiration to "the prize," his ritual prayer at the altar of Love God, to his "heroic" gestures after cutting the lock and finally his defeat are a mockery of higher characters. In the process, his vacuity, superficiality; foppishness and vapidity are revealed-for the prize he aspires to is a lock of hair, his altar is made of ridiculous items, he is inspired by coffee, and is defeated by a pinch of snuff. The "heroism" is superbly punctured to reveal the conceited fop of the eighteenth century.

      Directly Ironic Portraits. Sir Plume is a minor figure but he is a directly ironic portrait of an ineffectual, ridiculously vapid fop. Pope builds up his picture with the aid of a few traits typical of the dandy of that age-the snuffbox, the cane, meaningless oaths. We are directly told of his "earnest eyes" and "round unthinking face." There is no subtlety here, but straightforward satire.

      Characters - a Means to Satirise Society. Pope does not indulge in satirizing particular individuals in The Rape of the Lock. Through the satiric portraits, he presents a satiric picture of the age. Belinda, Thalestris, the Baron and Sir Plume are typical of that society. The characteristics they are given are those common to the "high" society of eighteenth-century London.

      Conclusion. Pope's method of Ironic portraiture varies, not only from portrait to portrait but within the characterization of a single person itself. He uses the mode most fitting to the situation concerned. He appears to praise, but the result is quite the opposite-one is all the more clearly aware of the essential smallness and ridiculousness of the character involved. This is Pope's mastery of ironic portraiture.

University Questions

Write a brief critical essay on the modes of ironic portraiture in Pope's Rape of the Lock.
Outline some modes of satiric portraiture in Pope's poetry.

Previous Post Next Post