The Rape of The Lock as a Heroic-Comical Poem

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      Introduction. The age of Pope was obsessed with the "classical" forms of writing; every writer desired to write an epic, and Pope was no exception. Milton's Paradise Lost was fresh enough to provide extra inspiration. However, Pope was not able to carry out his desire of writing an epic. One of the foremost reasons for this was the spirit of the age itself-its superficiality, pettiness and confusion of moral values. Furthermore, Pope's own genius was not congenial to the epic mode which demanded a comprehensive and absorbing mind. And when he read Dryden, Pope discovered what his genius was most fitted for, namely, the mock-epic genre. The mock-heroic mode suited his witty, ironic perception and his light-hearted fancy. Indeed, we may consider ourselves lucky that Pope turned to this genre, for The Rape of the Lock is a unique creation for its brilliance, comedy and satire. The poem may be the product of the poet frustration in his attempt to write a serious epic, but the result is entirely fortunate; it does not show any signs of "frustration," but is a masterpiece in the mock-heroic vein.

      Mock-Epic Form. The mock epic, as its name implies adopts the features of the serious epic structure, tone, and even diction and conventions but applies it to an essentially trivial subject matter. The contrast between the trivial subject and heightened style gives an ironic point to the satire involved and gives rise to laughter. And as J.J. Cunningham remarks, the mock-epic allows a yoking together, by implication, of the ideal past and the trivial and corrupt present.

      The Rape of the Lock as a Heroic-Comical. In Pope's poem, we find several Heroic-Comical characteristics, the absurd parallelisms to the serious epic conventions. We see the influence of Paradise Lost in the invocation and statement of the central problem of the poem at the beginning. If Eve dreams of Satan's instigation, Belinda dreams of Ariel's advice. Belinda's toilet scene has epic allusions-firstly to Eve in Paradise Lost admiring her own beauty as reflected in a pool in Eden, and secondly, to Hector arming himself for battle with Achilles in Homer's Iliad.

      Love and War: The Chief Concerns Parodied. The Rape of the Lock is a title which beautifully juxtaposes the serious violence implied in "rape" with the ridiculous triviality of a "lock" of hair. The poem is concerned with love and war-two major concerns of classical epics. But the love here is more of flirtation and mockery and the war a grotesque battle of the sexes with hair-pins and snuff over the cutting of a lock of hair.

      Heightened Diction Deliberately Discrepant with Trivial Subject. Pope's excellent achievement lies in the apt use of grandiose words, elevated and heavy rhythm in connection with the most trivial subject. As a result the subject matter appears in an even more ridiculous aspect than it really is. Thus, the trivial occupations of toiletry, card game, coffee parties, cutting off the lock, a fight with hairpins, appear in a satiric light. The Miltonic grand style is superbly imitated (or mocked) with all its elaborate similes and allusions in the context of an absurd subject matter. The result is what Pope called "heroic-comical" - the heroic style used for comical effect. The emphasis is more on comedy than on satire. "The use of the grand style on little subjects is not only ludicrous but a sort of transgression against the rules of proportion and mechanics,’' said Pope. It is "using a vast force to lift a feather."

      Conclusion. The Rape of the Lock successfully mocks the maximum of epic conventions. Epic generality and grandeur slip back into the prosaic or the specific to heighten comic contrast. The slaughter of the fops is a highlight of the poem and is in true mock-epic traditions.

University Questions

Define a mock-heroic poem: Illustrate fully the mock-heroic quality of The Rape of the Lock.
According to Pope, The Rape of the Lock is a heroic-comical poem. What did Pope mean and how far was he correct in describing it thus?
"The Rape of the Lock is the perfection of the mock-heroic," said Hazlitt. Elucidate.
Would you agree with the view that The Rape of the Lock is the product of a poet frustrated in his attempt to write an epic of the serious type? Give reasons for your answer.

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