’s Rape Of The Lock Essay, Research Paper
Alexander Pope’s Rape of the Lock
In this poem, Pope pokes fun at female vanity. Pope wrote Rape of the Lock expressly at the request of his friend, John Caryll, in an effort to make peace between real-life lovers. The incident of the lock of hair was factual; Pope’s intention was to mix humor with the ill feelings aroused by the affair. He was, in fact, putting a minor incident into perspective, and to that end, chose a mock-heroic form, composing the poem as a parody of epic poetry, particularly the work of Milton (Paradise Lost). He is inviting the individuals involved to laugh at themselves, to see how emotion had inflated their response to what was really an event of no consequence. For the reader, the incident becomes a statement about human folly, a lesson on female vanity, and a humorous view of the rituals of courtship. The poem was published in 1712 and again in 1714; probably the sarcasm is more biting in the later version than in the one presented to Miss Fermor. Pope could hardly have hoped to soothe the lady’s wounded pride by pointing out her vanity.
In keeping with his choice of mock-heroic form, Pope employs a high toned poetic diction and the stately iambic pentameter of dignified epics like Milton’s Paradise Lost. Pope’s mastery of line rhyme and metering lend an even greater air of seriousness. To achieve this effect, he reverses the position of ordinary speech, as in these lines: “Her lively looks a spritely mind disclose”, “Favors to none, to all she smiles extends”, and “Bright as the sun her eyes the gazers strike”. The effect of this inversion is to add rhetoric weight to the end of the lines.
At the same time, the reader is always aware that the poem is a joke. Pope comes right out and says so. For example, one epic tradition is to open with a statement of purpose and an invocation to the Muse. Pope states his purpose as being to sing of the “dire offense” that springs from “amorous causes” and the “mighty contests” that rise from “trivial things”. This is hardly the lofty and weighty subjects of epic poetry and names his Muse “Caryll” which is obviously for his friend John Caryll, a relative to the young lord who stole the lock of hair from Miss Fermor, this is not the proper sort of Muse for epic poetry. By way of mythological spirits hovering over earthly concerns, Pope gives us sylphs that are really the spirits of young women like Belinda. Belinda has Ariel, one of the “light militia of the lower sky”. He jokingly raises Belinda to the illustrious status proper to epic heroines by addressing her as, “Fairest of Mortals, thou distinguish’d Care Of thousand bright Inhabitants of Air!” and exhorts her: “thy own importance know”. However, because Belinda is really only a “gentle belle”, a pampered and privileged young woman, capable of mere “infant thought”, the effect is humorous.
The stakes in this mock-heroic epic are Belinda’s maidenhood, and the epic of warning comes by way of Ariel’s reading of bad omens: “Late as I ranged the crystal wilds of air, In the clear mirror of thy ruling star I saw alas! Some dread event impend?Beware of all, but most beware of Man!”. Belinda’s performance of her toilette, assisted by Betty, her “inferior priestess”, is described as the arming of the epic hero: “Now awful Betty put on all its arms”, and the images evoked in Pope’s description of the various creams and perfumes on Belinda’s vanity invests them with a value and exoticism they don’t deserve: “Unnumbered treasures”, “glittering spoil”, “India’s glowing gems”, ” all Arabia breathes from yonder box”, and “The tortoise here and elephant unite”. By means of rhetorical exaggeration, Pope manages to reveal the true worthlessness of these substances. Pope applies Milton’s poetic style in the Rape of the Lock. This style is well suited to the Rape of the Lock because it strikes the reader as too much or too high for the subject matter:
Not with more Glories, in th’ Ethereal Plain,
The sun first rises o’er the purpled Main,%0