The Rape of the Lock is a Perfect Triumph of Artifice

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      The term "artifice" means ingenuity; the skill of construction, design, and clever invention. Dr. Johnson had praised Pope's The Rape of the Lock for being an ingenious work. The critical acclaim is deserved. It is, indeed, remarkable to note how an insignificant event and trivial matters are given a significance through skillful artistic treatment. The panoramic picture of the world of fashion-its glossy veneer and the banality underneath-is brilliantly recreated. With ingenuity, Pope introduces the supernatural element, as a result of which the ironical effect is heightened. The magic of Pope poetic style makes a topical theme soar above the limits of the merely ephemeral.

      The casting of the story in a mock-heroic mold has a touch of genius. The use of the heroic couplet to brilliant effect-bringing out the confusion of values inherent in that society - is part of Pope's artifice.

      The praise of the poem as "filigree work" is a tribute to Pope's artifice. Pope has expanded the slender episode of the cutting of a lock into an epic form; each invention and each exaggeration is a proof of his fancy and craftsmanship. The toilet table, the game of Ombre, the war with the silver bodkin are all ingenious filigree work. So, indeed, are the sylphs and their intervention in Belinda's tale. Pope's eye for the selected details, his minute touches to the subtle complexity of design, are wonderful. But the artifice is not merely superficial: each detail has an important function to perform in the total pattern of meaning of the poem. The filigree enriches and not merely embellishes. The poem's complex design and rich texture, built up by careful use of the word and phrase and imaginative touch, makes the poem a triumph of artifice.

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