The Rape of the Lock: A Great Epic Story

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      The Rape of the Lock is a mock-heroic narrative Epic poem written by Alexander Pope. The Rape of the Lock is perhaps one of the most hilarious poetic satires in English literature. Pope, however, uses the many of the aforementioned devices of Epic poetry to inflate the pointless uproar caused by an actual quarrel between two London families in this tale about a cut lock of hair. Considering the breadth of his cataloging, the extravagant descriptions of card-playing, as well as the ridiculous journey into the Cave of Spleen” (his own underworld), it is difficult to argue that it does not belong to the more ‘serious’ works mentioned in this list.

      Rape of the Lock opens with a brief letter from Pope to the poems real-life subject, Arabella (‘Belle’) Fermor. In the letter, he explains why he wrote the poem in the first place, the circumstances that led him publish it, and why he dedicates it to Arabella. With Canto I, the office story begins. Here we meet Belinda, the poem’s beautiful, rich. Your society heroine, cuddled up with her dog in her sumptuous bedroom, just barely awakes in the late morning/early afternoon. She has been having a sexy dream in which a handsome, well-dressed young man whispers sweet nothings into her ear.

      We learn that the dream has come from the sylph, Ariel, the airy spirit who watches over her. In the dream, Ariel explains the entire spirit-world of the poem, and introduces the sylphs and gnomes who will play important roles in the action later on. Belinda wakes up fully and rings for her maid, who helps her get dressed and put on her makeup for the day. Invisible to the humans, Belinda’s army of attendant sylphs help with her face, hair, and outfit. As Canto II opens, a resplendent Belinda is in a barge, sailing down the River Thames on her way to a fancy party at Hampton Court, one of the country residences of the royal family. We learn here that her hairstyle features two curling locks that hang down the back of her neck. Ariel the sylph makes a speech to all of the other sylphs, telling them he has had a premonition that something terrible is about to happen, and that they should all be on their guard during the party.

      The ‘something terrible’ happens in Canto III, which finds Belinda at the party with all of her friends, sipping coffee (a novelty refreshment in the early 1700s) and playing a card game called Ombre, which is very similar to Hearts. The card game itself is described as a metaphorical battle between Belinda and her opponent, the Baron, who unbeknownst to Belinda is also scheming to steal one of her two locks of hair. After Belinda wins the game, the Baron borrows a pair of scissors from Clarissa He sneaks up behind her and, despite all of the efforts of Ariel and the Sylphs, snips off the lock.

      Canto IV opens with Belinda having a complete hysterical fit about the theft. Pope gives her rage a supernatural source, telling us that Umbriel, a resentful gnome, goes down to the underworld to pick up a bag full of tears, sobs, and anger, which he then empties over Belinda’s head. After this, there is no way that Belinda will laugh off the Baron’s prank, even though Canto V begins with Clarissa trying to tell her to be a good sport about it. Belinda ignores this advice, and starts a fight between herself and her friends, and the Baron and his friends. It’s more of a battle of insults and mean looks than a physical throw down, but a ton of social damage gets done all the same.

      Just when it looks like Belinda’s side is winning, we discover that the lock of hair itself has gone missing. Has all of the drama been for nothing? Nope. The poem concludes with the poet himself claiming the overall victory, as he has written this beautiful poem commemorating the loss of the lock - and his own poetry chops — for all eternity. Poetry and Alexander Pope, rather than vanity and petty quarreling, win in the end.

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