The Rape Of The Lock

– Satire Essay, Research Paper

Pope skillfully uses the mock epic genre to satirize the triviality of his society through exaggeration, parody, and juxtaposition in rhyming couplets.

The epic form inherently makes subject matter larger than life and Pope cleverly uses this characteristic to reveal the absurdity of the society he lives in. In his epic, he mocks misplaced importance by placing an event as inconsequential as the snipping off of some hair at the root of his action. In Canto III, Pope turns a simple card game into a complex ?combat on [a] velvet plain? through description that exaggerates the little action that actually takes place. In this glorified game of Ombre, hands are not merely hands; they are armies, just as face cards are ?four kings in majesty revered, with hoary whiskers and a forky beard?, ?four fair queens whose hands sustain a flower, the expressive emblem of their softer power?, and ?four knaves in garb succinct, a trusty band, caps on their heads, and halberts in their hand.? By placing great importance on insignificant matters, Pope reveals his society?s tendency to do the same thing.

Pope also parodies the epic form in order to expose questionable values in his time. The feast, a scene common in great epics, is mirrored by the coffee scene in Pope?s mock epic. ?The board with cups and spoons is crowned? in an elaborate display to illustrate the great worth placed on china and utensils. Instead of vessels to hold their beverages, Pope describes them as ?China?s earth [receiving] the smoking tide… on shining alters of Japan.? Coffee is given almost supernatural powers in its ability to ?[make] the politician wise, and see through all things with is half-shut eyes.? It is this ?fuming liquor? that ?[sends] up vapours in the baron?s brain?, inspiring him with the plan to cut off a lock of Belinda?s hair. This scene parodies great epics with the purpose of satirizing the importance placed on coffee.

Pope?s most skillful weapon his perhaps his talented juxtaposition in rhyming couplets. He places together the mundane with the uncommon with ease to suggest the frivolity of the values at the time. Canto III opens with a description of Hampton Court, where Queen Anna resides, ?whom three realms obey, dost sometimes counsel take – and sometimes tea.? In this beautifully constructed and succinct couplet, Pope sets the tone for events to follow in the court. He establishes that these people place as much importance on their government matters and they do on their afternoon tea. The conversation of the ladies and gentlemen in the court reinforces what he suggests: ?One speaks the glory of the British Queen, and one describes and charming Indian screen; a third interprets motions, looks, eyes; at every word a reputation dies.? In the same conversation, the glory of the queen is discussed as well as petty gossip. Society?s distorted value system is described in a single couplet.

Pope uses every aspect of the mock epic to satirize the frivolity of his society. On a general level, he uses the epic?s exaggeration to mock misplaced importance. He takes specific scenes and uses parody to illustrate the insignificance of rituals such as coffee drinking. He even uses the structure of rhyming couplets to juxtapose the ordinary with the extraordinary to reveal how important things are considered. Pope successfully uses the mock epic as a satirical device.


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