The Rape of The Lock: A Poetry of Wit and Humour

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      Introduction. When the first version of The Rape of the Lock appeared, Addison with his usual geniality, frankly commended the poem as 'merum sal' or 'a bit of pure wit.' That version, of course, has undergone immense changes and enlargement, but the original quality of wit of the poem has, in no way been, adversely affected.

      The Rape of the Lock belongs to a literary age of wit and satire. It reflects the spirits of its time and remains a distinct piece of heroic-comical poetry of the age. This class of poetry is essentially witty in substance and its success depends on the flash of wit and the roar of laughter. In theme and treatment, heroic-comical poetry parodies a wittily the sublime or serious element to establish its superiority as a mere travesty.

      The Theme of the Poem upon Witticism of Its Age. The Rape of the Lock bears fully the witticism of its age. In his conception of the theme and selection of the title, Pope displays his unsurpassable wit. The theme of the poem is the rape of the lock of a fashionable belle by one of her hungry admirers. This is quite a trivial affair but Pope makes his amusing epic out of it. The whole course of the poem-from the dream of Belinda to the mysterious disappearance of her lock-is ingeniously contrived and speaks of Pope's wonderful sense of wit. The very little of the poem is wittily conceived as a parody on such well-known incidents like the rape of Helen and the rape of Lucrece in literature. The title of Pope, is comically associated with a mere lock of hair and echoes wittily the epical episodes of Homer and Shakespeare.

      Humour and Wit caused by Belinda's Toilet. The element of the wit is marked all through the poem. Belinda's toilet is conceived in quite a entertaining and humorous manner. The description of the belles as the priestess of the sacred rite of pride is truly witty and the details of the object of toilet are drawn with a rape sense of the comic. Equally witty in conception is the alter built by the Baron with 'twelve vast French romances, neatly gilt.' The game of Ombre, which is patterned after some epic battle is too a gift of pure wit. The servance of the lock from Belinda's head by the 'glittering forfex wide' shows the same gift of wit.

      Wit and Humour caused by Belinda's Ravished Hair. Perhaps, Pope’s wit reaches its apex in the account given by him, about the shock of Belinda after the rape of her lock-

Then flash'd the living lightning from her eyes,
And screams of horror rend the affrighted skies,
No louder shrieks to pitying Heav'ns are cast
When husbands, or when lap dogs, breathe their last;
Or when rich China vessels fallen from high,
In litt'ring dust, and painted fragments lie.

      Belinda's frustration at the tragedy of her ravished hair is described with some witty analogies. The Baron's resolve to retain the lock for ever is also surcharged with witty mock-seriousness.

      That while my nostrils drew the vital air,
This hand which won it, shall for ever wear.
Witty Remarks of Sir Plume. The amusing portrait of Sir Plume, with ambre snuff box and 'clouded cane' is a fine piece of wit, arid equally witty is Pope's presentation of his utterance of absolute nonsense-

"My lord, why what the devil
Zounds damn the lock for god, you must be civil
Plague on't, 'tis Past is Jest-nay, prithee pox
Give her the hair'-he spoke, and rapp'd his box."

      But the triumph of Pope's wit is, perhaps evident in his depiction of the strange battle, fought between the fashionable belles and the vain beaux. The fall of the Dapperwit and Sir Fopling is particularly couched in a witty vein -

A beau and witting perished in the throng,
One died in metaphor, and one in song.

      Belinda's triumph over the Baron with a pinch of snuff is contrivance, hardly outmatched in wit anywhere else.

      Lastly, the explanation given for the cause of the disappearance of Belinda's lock, in the same way, bears out Pope's wit that triumphs all through the poem.

      From the technical standpoint, The Rape of the Lock is essentially witty in character. The poem, in fact, is not simply a satire on the fashionable and frivolous English society of the eighteenth century. It is a witty parody of the heroic or epic style in poetry. The form of verse is quite comical with the diverting fall from the lofty thought to the mean. The rhetorical from known as anti-climax, is fully exploited by the poet here to produce a truly comical and witty effect, as evident in lines below -

Here thou, great Anna whom three realms obey,
Dost sometimes counsel take and sometime tea.

      Conclusion. Of course, Pope's wit is not sufficiently refined and imaginative. Some marks of grossness and vulgarity are unmistakably perceptible in the poem. Like Swift's, Pope's wit has the trenchant shafts of satire that disturbs much of the pure fun and fancy.

      This defect of Pope's wit, however, belongs to his own age. It is not his own fault. He is there, fully dominated by the literary trend of his age.

      Nevertheless, Pope's wit, as glaringly displayed in The Rape of the Lock, remains in the ultimate analysis, quite engaging and impressive. The poem in the words of Hazlitt, 'is a double-refined essence of wit and fancy.'


Discuss Pope's The Rape of the Lock as a fine example of the 'poetry of wit and allusion.'
Write a critical comment on the quality of Pope's wit and humor as revealed in the poem The Rape of the Lock.

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