The Rape of The Lock: Specimen of Filigree Work

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      Introduction. The dictionary meaning of the term "filigree" is an ornamental work or embroidery with threads of gold and silver. In other words, the insignificant thing is as bright, brilliant, and beautiful as a work decorated with gold and silver. William Hazlitt has used "Filigree” for appreciating The Rape of the Lock. While commenting on The Rape of the Lock, he has stated: "The Rape of the Lock is the most exquisite specimen of filigree work ever invented. It is made of gauze and silver spangles. The most glittering appearance is given to everything: to paste, pomatum, billet-doux and patches. Airs, languid airs, breathe around; the atmosphere is perfumed with affectation. A toilet is described with solemnity, an altar raised to the goddess of vanity, and the history of a silver bodkin is given with all the pomp of heraldry. No pains are spared, no profusion of ornament, no splendor of poetic diction to set off the meanest thing. It is the triumph of insignificance, the apotheosis of foppery and folly."

      Various other critics evaluated the greatness of The Rape of the Lock. Lowell writes: "As truly as Shakespeare is the poet of man as God made him, dealing with great passions and innate motives, so truly is Pope the poet of society, the delineator of manners, the exposer of those motives which may be called acquired, whose spring is in institutions and habits of purely worldly origin." And The Rape of the Lock is consummate illustration of this quality of Pope's genius. It is one of those performances which strike us with wonder by their very perfection into which the matter and the form have been skilfully welded. There are greater poems, profound in scope, and significance, but not a more perfect poem in the English language. Shakespeare's Hamlet, Milton's Paradise Lost, Goethe's Faust, Hardy's Dynasts are majestic works of art-moving on the high plane which is far too above the political genius of Pope. There are, however, imperfect poems abounding in feeble touches of construction and expression. But The Rape of the Lock is an exquisite and flawless piece of workmanship, breathing the very spirit of the time, in the small scope and on its lower ideals, the manners and literary taste of the epoch. All things here are of piece and harmonized into a single whole. The poet's genius has here found its true direction and shines at its best.

      Leslie Stephen aptly remarks: "No more brilliant, sparkling vivacious trifle is to be found in our literature." Edmond Gosse remarks that it is "an exquisite butterfly of fashion" like its powdered and rouged heroine. He further adds: "Poetic wit was never more bright, or verse never more brilliantly polished than in this little masterpiece of Dresden China."

      The following are some aspects of the poem which proves that The Rape of the Lock is the most exquisite specimen of "filigree work" ever invented:

      "Filigree Work" In Respect of Construction of The Poem. The poem is not only a masterpiece of art; it is also a masterpiece of construction. In spite of all the wealth of ornament and detail, the main subject of the poem is never lost sight of. The main topic of the poem is hinted in the very beginning, when Ariel warns Belinda in her dream of a great misfortune going to befall her. All the time— through her journey to Hampton Court and through the game of cards— —we are eagerly expecting this catastrophe to happen at any moment. All through the mock battle also we are expecting the restoration of the lock to the heroine who remains the central figure throughout the poem. And then comes the wonderful ending which is as surprising as it is satisfactory. The lock rises to the sky and becomes a star!

      Thus The Rape of the Lock, in the opinion of Hazlitt, is the perfection of the mock-heroic. The poem has a trivial theme, but the treatment of the poem is in the epical manner. An epic is made here out of practically nothing, and yet the whole work remains quite thrilling and impressive all through.

      "Filigree Work" because of Dazzling Poetic Fancy. Indeed, the poem is an admirable instance of the mighty effect of a dazzling poetic fancy, and reveals how a great work of art can be wrought out of little and insignificant facts. Hazlitt describes it appropriately "as the most exquisite specimen of filigree work ever invented." The entire poem sparkles with the poet's ingenious power to invest every common and slight element with the most attractive appearance.

      The theme of the poem is slight, but it sparkles with the dream and the delicacy of a romantic realm. The very subject-manner of the poem is insignificant. It is all about the rape of the lock of a lovely belle. But this amusing subject is given a most glittering appearance by the poet's wit, delicacy and fancy.

      "Filigree Work" because of Grace of Fancy. The trivial theme of the poem is a travesty of the sublime subject of an epic. The poet has recourse to every possible measure to endow his work with grace and fancy. Indeed, the poem seems to have been made of, to quote Hazlitt again, "gauze and silver spangles." Pope's fancy alights on every common element and makes everything for which a fashionable society cares, a serious and shining shape. To paste, pomatum, billet-doux, and patches is conferred an epic air. A toilette is described with the solemnity of a sacred rile, and the fashionable lady at her dressing table is elevated to the dignity of a goddess. Again, the light passion of a proud beau is enriched with the sacredness of a religious devotion. The history of a silver bodkin is also stated with all the pomp of heraldry, found in epic poetry. In short, a quite comical elevation is given to ordinary and familiar things.

      The "Filigree" Character of The Poem because of The Machinery. The "filigree" character of the poem is, to a very great extent, dependent on the machinery, introduced by the poet. The subplot of the sylphs, so finely harmonized with the mock-heroic theme of the poem, is mainly responsible for the dream-like, fanciful and delicate atmosphere of the poem. The world of Ariel and his followers, their shapes and colors, their history and conduct are all led to the creation of a mystic fairyland, where everything seems to be woven of charms and dreams. Pope's sylphs transport truly the theme of the poem to the fairy realm of Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream.

      The "Filigree" Character of The Poem because of Depicting the Gay and Polished London Society. The "filigree" work of Pope is also evident in his picture of the gay and polished London society. Here are presented lovely belles and gallant beaux, who keep themselves idly busy in their toilette and dressing, in their game of Ombre and the box of snuff, in their idle gossip and naughty ogling. The way of life of a fashionable society is generally frivolous and silly but the poet makes a poetical and splendid treatment of such trivial affairs of his time. Pope's epic is not of the serious problems of human life. It is the epic of the frivolous. "It is the triumph of insignificance, the apotheosis of foppery and folly."

      Conclusion. The term 'filigree work' refers to any delicate or ornamental work. It indicates the decoration that beautifies a gross and ordinary thing. Pope in a masterly manner, bestows on his light theme the rich ornaments of a superb imagination. Indeed, as Hazlitt so admirably observes: "No pains are spared, no profusion of ornament, no splendor of poetic diction, to set off the meanest things." Indeed, The Rape of the Lock is the most exquisite specimen of filigree work ever created in the world of letters. It is resonant with the genius of Pope to trim his petty theme with rich rimes. Miss Edith Sitwell brings out suggestively this elfin, elusive character of the poem: "The Rape of the Lock, this miraculous poem, which has been most foolishly described as a work in silver filigree, is light variable and enchanting as a little summer wind blowing down the golden spangles of the dew from the great faunal trees—the whole poem, might have been woven by the air-thin golden figures of Pope's sylphs."


Pope, aims at beauty, and The Rape of the Lock, a poem with no substance at all, is nothing but grace.' Do you agree with this statement? Give illustrations in support of your, answer.
Dr. Samuel Johnson has remarked that Pope is read with "perpetual delight.' Explain what features of The Rape of the Lock produce this delight.
What is the secret of the enduring of The Rape of the Lock?

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