Discuss The Rape of the Lock is a Mock Epic.
Generally, mock epic is a little different from an epic. According to Maynard Meck, Epic poems are the poems which deal with man in his lofty aspects. Their action is important, personages are dignified and style is elevated. The Rape of the Lock is one of the famous mock epics like the Odyssey, the Aeneid, and Paradise Lost.
Mostly, the mock-epic is a poetic form which uses the epic structure but on a miniature scale and has a subject that is cruel and minor. The purpose of the mock-epic or mock-heroic poem is humorous. The writer makes the subject look silly by placing it in a basis entirely unsuitable to its importance.
Pope’s description of the Rape of the Lock as a mock-heroic poem misled some readers into thinking that the comic attack was intended against heroic-poetry.
In fact, a mock-heroic poem is not a satire on poetry itself, but the target of the attack may be a person or persons, an institution or institutions or the whole society. Though, the subject of such a poem is unimportant, but the treatment of the subject is heroic or epic and such hyperbole of the minor naturally arouses laughter.
Pope was fully conscious of his intentions to make The Rape of the Lock. It becomes serious epics not only in its title but also in the overall structure. The poem is divided into five cantos like the five acts of a drama. At the beginning, there is a statement of purpose and invocation to the Muse as in a serious epic.
Pope knew that in true epics the activities of men were supported by the Heavenly Powers. So, he added the bodies of the supernatural beings – sylphs, gnomes, nymphs and salamanders – as agents in the story. The gods of the epic are heroic beings, but pope’s deities are tiny.
Belinda screams like the Homeric poems and dashed like the characters of the great epics, but she is a mere error of a girl. This is the ironic contrast. We find a battle drawn to combat like the Greek warriors. But it is only a game of cards on a dressing table. We find a supernatural being who threatens his inferiors with torture. But it is a Sylph, not Jove.
Pope describes a society-lady in terms that would suit the arming of a warrior like Achilles. The Rape of the Lock is a poem ridiculing the fashionable world of Pope’s day. But there are several occasions when we feel that the epic world of homer and Virgil has in this poem been scaled down, wittily and affectionately, to admit the coffee-table and the fashionable lady’s bed-chamber.
Supernatural Machinery: Like other epics Pope gives an artificial dignity to the action of the Rape of the Lock by the use of machinery of sylphs and gnomes. Unlike the goddesses of the epics, Belinda’s guardian sylph, Ariel is an ineffectual/airy being who deserts her at the most critical moment. The supernatural machinery of the poem thus provides a gentle mockery of the epic deities and increases the charm of the poem as a mock-heroic.
The Epic Style: The Rape of the Lock contains many references to Homer, Virgil, Milton and Shakespeare and the subject-matter of the Rape of the Lock is minor and silly, the style, language and versification are rarely so.
The heroic-couplets are carefully polished and chiseled and the classical device of circuitousness is frequently resorted to. The rhetoric style is the same that occurs in epic poetry.
In sum up it can be said, The Rape of the Lock is made highly subtle and complex mock-epic by dint of all the devices and satire is mixed with genuine charm which surrounds Belinda, the central figure who is sincerely charmed fascinating and remains so in the rest of the poem. The greatness of the poem is due to Pope’s genius as well as to the care and pains he took in a different form. The balance between the concealed irony and the assumed gravity is as nicely trimmed as the balance of power in Europe.