Use of the Mock-epic Style in The Rape of the Lock Essay
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Use of the Mock-epic Style in The Rape of the Lock
"The triumph of the Baron's rape is in exactly the same high language as it would be if he were Hector." In The Rape of the Lock, Pope uses the mock-epic style to satirise the seriousness with which a trivial misdemeanour (the theft of a few strands of hair) and the ways of gender polarised society can be blown beyond all sense of proportion.
Thus the male mentality, through the Baron, is portrayed as lacking depth or personality beyond that required to achieve its ends; men objectify and devise "strategems" (4,120) to conquer their female obsessions; they are "victor[s]" (4,162) who self-importantly congratulate themselves as meriting "wreaths of triumph" (4,161) when they…show more content…
There is a comparison of the resilience of Belinda's hair (in resisting the steel of the scissors) to the "imperial towers of Troy" (4,174), and also, the line "what time would spare" suggests that the hair possesses an unnatural vitality. Further related to this is Clarissa's aiding of the Baron. As in the epic mould, hers is a crime of passion: Scylla acted for love of Minos, Clarissa acts, as an older woman and one of the "ladies of romance" (rather than looks?), for jealousy of Belinda — and the epic imagery employed, being out of place, serves to make Pope's point all the more vividly. His use of satire here extends to women in society and their winning of a man at any cost, particularly to the detriment of their fellow women. When Pope says that Clarissa is the one to "present the spear" (4,130), he does not say that the Baron is armed for his fight, but that Clarissa's purpose is to "arm him for the fight" (4,130 — my italics), which suggests that she has as much of a stake in bringing down Belinda as does he.
When the Baron plots, Pope's reference to Greek classic (in which stolen hair saw the thief polymorphed into an animal) is used both as a personal commentary and to disguise that commentary — to state that he disapproves
Mock-epic, also called mock-heroic, form of satire that adapts the elevated heroic style of the classical epic poem to a trivial subject. The tradition, which originated in classical times with an anonymous burlesque of Homer, the Batrachomyomachia (Battle of the Frogs and the Mice), was honed to a fine art in the late 17th- and early 18th-century Neoclassical period. A double-edged satirical weapon, the mock-epic was sometimes used by the “moderns” of this period to ridicule contemporary “ancients” (classicists). More often it was used by “ancients” to point up the unheroic character of the modern age by subjecting thinly disguised contemporary events to a heroic treatment. The classic example of this is Nicolas Boileau’s Le Lutrin (1674–83; “The Lectern”), which begins with a quarrel between two ecclesiastical dignitaries about where to place a lectern in a chapel and ends with a battle in a bookstore in which champions of either side hurl their favourite “ancient” or “modern” authors at each other. Jonathan Swift’s “Battle of the Books” (1704) is a variation of this theme in mock-heroic prose. The outstanding English mock-epic is Alexander Pope’s brilliant tour de force The Rape of the Lock (1712–14), which concerns a society beau’s theft of a lock of hair from a society belle; Pope treated the incident as if it were comparable to events that sparked the Trojan War.
Most mock-epics begin with an invocation to the muse and use the familiar epic devices of set speeches, supernatural interventions, and descents to the underworld, as well as infinitely detailed descriptions of the protagonist’s activities. Thus, they provide much scope for display of the author’s ingenuity and inventiveness. An American mock-epic, Joel Barlow’s The Hasty Pudding (written 1793), celebrates in three 400-line cantos his favourite New England dish, cornmeal mush.