“Rape of the Lock”, a mock-epic
Mock-epic, also known as mock-heroic poetry is a juxtaposition of trivial subject matter and grandeur epic style. From the fundamental point of view, mock-epic is nothing but the most popular neo-classical burlesque used as a double-edged satirical weapon. Batrachomyomachia, an anonymous parody, attributed to Homer, is most probably the earliest example of the mock-epic genre. Alexander Pope was the central figure of Augustan Age, for his best mock-heroic poetry The Rape of the Lock, written based on a contemporary scandal. It deals with the journey from an insignificant event of cutting hair lock of a belle, to a Trojan war.
Pope’s The Rape of the Lock, published in 1712(revised version in 1714 with five cantos), is like a literary heterogeneous architecture that offers a multi-dimensional flow of phenomena. This poem nurtures the every sphere of emotions. The poem is just to bring out a serious enmity between two Catholic landlord-families-the Petres and the Fermors derived from a ‘dire’ offense by the young lord Petre. He takes revenge by cutting the lock of hair of Arabella Fermor, a lady from Fermor family, as his amorous proposal was strongly shunted aside by the lady. The entire poem is decorated with supernatural characters like sylphs, gnomes and their magical activities. From the beginning, Pope created a sarcastic atmosphere with the luxurious, idle lifestyles of lord families. At last but not the least, this mock-heroic poetry, written in iambic pentameter, also leaves a great literary value with its enriched rhetoric and prosodic features.
The features of a mock-epic would be almost same as the epic, but it should be clearly distinguished by its dissimilarity between subject and style. The features of The Rape of the Lock as a mock-epic, are depicted below:
1. The Title: A mock-heroic poetry must be beautified with a grand title. Rape is a serious moral violation which means the seizure of a lady against his consent. In this case, Pope brought such very word to describe the possession of Belinda’s hair lock by Baron, just to produce a mock-heroic sensation.
2. Variation of Style and Subject: Mock epic is a good example of ‘high-burlesque’. This means, the rhyme-scheme of a mock-epic would be grand, but the subject would be ridiculous.
In this poem, Pope’s subject matter is insignificant but the style is very high like an epic saga. The rape of the lock is not so rich in content to fit with the epic rhythm.
3. Structural Form: Like an epic, this poem is also divided in several Cantos and episodes that filter The Rape of the Lock as a mock-heroic epic. Pope also began this poem with an invocation in the first stanza, that fits the style appropriately.
4. Supernatural Activities: Being an epic, The Rape of the Lock is presented with supernatural activities. As an epic feature, an explicit difference between heaven and hell is shown in this poem. Belinda plays the role of a divine ore from the celestial chastity of sylphs. In other hand, Baron is the spokesman of gnomes like Milton’s ‘Satan’.
Pope’s The Rape of the Lock, a tribute to friend Caryll, is a superlative piece of mock-epic that delivers charms at first glance with its inherent intellectual tricks at its fullest, as Pope describes in his own way-“Charms strike the sight, But merit wins the soul” (in “The Rape of the Lock”).