Mock-epic poetry, also known as mock-heroic poetry, is a type of satire that juxtaposes trivial subject matter with grandiose epic style. In essence, mock-epic is a form of burlesque used to lampoon and subvert the classical epic genre. Batrachomyomachia – an anonymous parody attributed to Homer – is likely the earliest example of this genre.
John Milton’s Paradise Lost is a great example of this. The Rape of the Lock by Alexander Pope, is probably the most successful and well-known mock-heroic poem in English literature. The Rape of the Lock parodies the archaic style and subject matter of epic poetry, using the form to satirize the petty vanities of 18th century high society. In doing so, Pope not only pokes fun at the aristocratic elite, but also at the grandiose style of epic poetry itself.
Alexander Pope was a prominent figure during the Augustan Age, largely due to his mock-heroic poem The Rape of the Lock. This work was based on a real scandal of the time and satirized the journey from an inconsequential event (a woman having her hair lock cut) to a grandiose event (the Trojan War).
It is a satire of Homer’s Iliad, in which the serious and heroic events are presented in a humorous way. The Rape of the Lock is considered as one of the most popular poems in English literature.
The Rape of the Lock satirizes many of the conventions of epic poetry. In particular, it mocks the notion that petty quarrels can be elevated to the level of grand warfare. Pope also pokes fun at the inflated language often used in epic poetry, with lines like “What dire offence from amorous causes springs” and “What mighty contests rise from trivial things.”
Pope’s poem also employs various devices common in mock-heroic poetry, such as an exaggerated focus on physical details and an abundance of catalogues. These devices work to create a tone of absurdity, which is essential to the mock-heroic genre.
Ultimately, Pope’s “The Rape of the Lock” succeeds in its satiric goals by expertly mocking the epic genre. Through its use of parody and exaggeration, the poem provides a humorous take on the serious events that it describes.
The Rape of the Lock, published in 1712 (revised edition in 1714 with five cantos), is a multi-dimensional flow of events like a literary heterogeneous architecture. This poem coddles all emotions. The poem was simply written to reveal a major rivalry between two Catholic landowner families: the Petres and the Fermors, which stems from a “dire” violation by Lord Petre.
Lord Petre has cut a lock of hair from Arabella Fermour’s head while she was sleeping. The author(Alexander Pope) addresses this issue in light of the epic genre, more specifically in light of Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey. In order to make his point about the insignificance of the event, Pope adopts a mock-heroic style throughout his poem.
Mock-heroic, or satiric epic, is an epithet often used to characterize Pope’s Rape of the Lock. As Northrop Frye points out in his Anatomy of Criticism, most readers would think first not of Homer but rather of Virgil when encountering a work with such heroic features as an invocation to the muse, an epic journey, and an account of a supernatural intervention.
However, the rape of Arabella’s lock is in no way analogous to either the fall of Troy or Aeneas’ descent into the underworld, and Pope himself designates his poem as a “heroi-comical” work. In other words, The Rape of the Lock is at once both a heroic and a comic poem.
The Rape of the Lock contains all of the features one would expect to find in an epic poem: an invocation to the muse, catalogues, apostrophes, similes, and even an instance of epic conventions such as hexameter verse. However, Pope’s use of these devices serves not to elevate his subject matter but rather to ridicule it.
In particular, Pope’s invocation to the muse is a send-up of the traditional epic opening, in which the poet asks for the muses’ help in singing of great and heroic deeds. Instead, Pope asks for assistance in relating “what dire Offence from Am’rous Causes springs,” making fun of both the seriousness of traditional epic poetry and the petty nature of his own subject matter.
Lord Fermor, in order to avenge himself on Arabella Fermor, the daughter of his enemy, cuts her hair as part of his amorous offer that was rebuffed firmly. The poem is completed with supernatural characters such as sylphs, gnomes, and their magical activities. Pope established an acid tone from the start with the opulence and leisurely existence of noble houses.
He also criticizes the young ladies’ foppishness and their preoccupation in following the latest trends.
The Rape of the Lock is a classic example of a mock-heroic poem. In a mock-heroic poem, the poet satirizes a petty event by using the elevated language and grandiose images usually reserved for treating more serious subjects. By doing so, the poet highlights the foolishness or lack of seriousness of his subject matter.
Some specific features of Pope’s The Rape of the Lock that contribute to its mock-heroic tone are its epic structure, use of classical allusions, and cataclysmic language.
The Rape of the Lock has an epic structure, which is one typical feature of mock-heroic poetry. Pope based The Rape of the Lock on Homer’s Odyssey and Iliad, two of the most famous epic poems in Western literature. Like those poems, The Rape of the Lock is divided into five cantos, each containing a specific number of lines ( Pope imitates Homer’s dactylic hexameter verse form).
Furthermore, like an epic poem, The Rape of the Lock has an invocation (in Canto I), a journey (Belinda’s journey to Hampton Court in Canto II), and a battle (thelock-cutting incident in Canto V). However, while an epic poem often features a great hero who goes on a quest to accomplish some grand feat, The Rape of the Lock’s hero is a young man named Baron whose only quest is to cut a lock of hair from the head of a young woman.
Another feature that contributes to The Rape of the Lock’s mock-heroic tone is Pope’s use of classical allusions. Throughout the poem, Pope references Greek and Roman gods and goddesses, as well as classical works like Homer’s Iliad. By referencing these classical works, Pope elevates the trivial subject matter of his own poem. Furthermore, by making these allusions, Pope implies that his readers are educated and sophisticated enough to understand them.
Finally, Pope’s use of cataclysmic language also helps to create a mock-heroic tone. In Canto V, for example, Pope describes the cutting of the lock of hair in grandiose, melodramatic terms: “And now, unsteady as a passing flame,/Her trembling hand just grasps the shining sword.” By using language usually reserved for describing much more serious events, Pope again elevates his trivial subject matter.
In conclusion, Pope’s The Rape of the Lock is a mock-heroic poem because of its epic structure, use of classical allusions, and cataclysmic language. These features work together to satirize the petty event of a young man cutting a lock of hair from a young woman’s head.