The Rape of the Lock as a mock-heroic epic.

The Rape of the Lock

Answer: Mock epic is a narrative poem which aims at mockery and laughter by using almost all the characteristic features of an epic but for a trivial subject. Alexander Pope’s “The Rape of the Lock” is a famous mock-epic. In it, there is invocation to Muses, proposition of subject, battles, supernatural machinery, journey on water, underworld journey, long speeches, feasts (coffee house), Homeric similes and grand style but all for a simple family dispute instead of a national struggle. The grand treatment of a low subject produces hilarious laughter and makes the story more ridiculous.

Firstly, “Paradise Lost” is a long epic poem by John Milton begins with the proposition of justification of God’s way to man with nice invocation to the Muses. And another epic poem titled “The Faerie Queene” by Edmund Spenser follows the same manner. The subject matters in both of the epic poems are grand. Like the epic poems, the poem “The Rape of the Lock” opens with the proposition of the subject matter and Pope’s invocation to the Muses to help him compose the literary art. Such a grand treatment of a trivial subject matter like the clipping of the lock of Belinda provokes laughter when the poet says:

“I sing – this verse to Caryll, Muse! Is due:
This, ev’n Belinda may vouchsafe to view:”

 Secondly, in “The Iliad”, Homer describes in considerable detail the armor and weaponry of the great Achilles, as well as the battlefield trappings of other heroes. In the poem “The Rape of the Lock” Pope describes Belinda preparing herself with combs and pins – with “Puffs, Powders, Patches” – nothing that “Now awful Beauty puts on all its Arms.” This is nothing but funny.

Thirdly, the ritual sacrifices the Baron performs in the pre-dawn hours are another mock-heroic element of the poem, mimicking the epic tradition of sacrificing to the gods before an important battle or journey, and drapes his project with an absurdly grand import that actually only exposes its triviality. The fact that he discards all his other love tokens in these preparations reveals his capriciousness as a lover. Earnest prayer, in this parody scene, is replaced by the self-indulgent sighs of the lover.

“Then prostrate falls and begs with ardent eyes
Soon to obtain and long possess the prize:”

 Fourthly, an epic poem must contain episodes also. In keeping with this practice Pope has introduced the episodes of the game of Omber which suggests the mighty battle and the cards imply the soldiers described in great detail. Then there is the battle between the lords and ladies just like the battles in epic poetry. But in true mock-heroic style this battle is fought with fans and snuff instead of with swords and spears. There are single combats also between Belinda and the Baron and between Clarissa and Sir Plume. This symbolizes nothing but a battle of sexual perversion near Hampton Court just the opposite to the mighty battles that we find in “The Aneid” and in “The Faerie Queene” Red Cross Knight’s battle with the monster Error.

Fifthly, another vital element of an epic poem is the active participation of supernatural machinery just as Aphrodite, the goddess of beauty, who rescues Aeneas in “The Iliad” when he is attacked by Diomedes. In “The Rape of the lock”, there are the sylphs and gnomes. These aerial spirits are small and insignificant things, and are, therefore, exactly in keeping with the triviality of the theme. They guard the person of the heroine and when there is fight between the followers of Belinda and those of the Baron, they take part in fight, like gods and goddesses in the Trojan War. Pope has described the protecting sylphs under Ariel. In that the sylphs are the parodies of epic deities.

Sixthly, a long perilous journey on water is a must in an epic. But here in the poem Belinda takes a comfortable journey on water without any tension and peril. She travels up the Thames in a boat to join Hampton Court to play the game of Omber adorning her attractively.

Seventhly, it is another important event of epic to take an underworld journey. It is generally done in order to take some effective pieces of advice from the lower world, Hades.  Like supernatural beings in classical epics, a gnome named Umbriel descends to the Underworld on Belinda’s behalf and obtains a bag of sighs and a vial of tears from the Queen of Spleen. With these magical gifts, he means to comfort poor Belinda. First, he empties the bag on her instead. The reversal of the epic quality is nothing but mocking in tone.

“Repair’d to search the gloomy cave of Spleen.
Swift on his sooty pinions flits the gnome,”

 Eighthly, the mock-heroic character of the poem is perceived in the very title. Rape is a serious moral offence which means the violation of a woman’s chastity by force. It also refers to the seizure of a lady by some ruffians in grossly inhuman manner. In any case, rape is a grave crime, affecting the social decency of a human being. Pope has used this term in an amusing manner. The possession of the hair of Belinda by the Baron is described by him in a mock vein. The title evokes nothing but the mock heroic sensation and well indicates the mock-heroic character of Pope’s work.

Ninthly, Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey, and Virgil’s Aneid all end happily for their respective heroes, though perhaps at the expense of their enemies. Pope, wisely following his own advice, likewise concludes the poem with a mocking consolation to Belinda that:

“This lock, the Muse shall consecrate to fame,
And mid’st the stars inscribe Belinda’s name!”

 Pope’s ending is just one example of how he mocks society through epic form, as well as mocks earlier literary works. A lock of hair is a ridiculous object to eternally memorialize.

From above discussion, it becomes clear that Pope follows the epic conventions of Homer, Dante and Virgil very minutely but for trivial a matter and he has heightened the title, exalted the insignificant, in order to make the little and the insignificant look more ridiculous. He employs the mock-heroic form, not to mock the epic form, but to show the triviality of mean things by contrasting them with great things. This is the true mock-heroic style. So it can be undoubtedly said that the poem “The Rape of the Lock” is a successful mock-heroic epic.