Sir Plume Demands the Restoration of the Lock from The Rape, Charles Robert Leslie, 1854
Heroic couplets (rhyming couplets of iambic pentameter)
About a real-life society scandal involving Arabella Fermor and Lord Petre
The Baron (the antagonist/villain) steals a lock of hair from Belinda (the epic hero).
Belinda, the heroine, a young debutante and a great beauty.
The Baron, the antagonist, a young aristocrat who plots to steal a lock of hair from Belinda.
Ariel, Belinda's chief guardian Sylph.
Clarissa, a more mature society woman who gives the Baron scissors.
Umbriel, Gnome who enters the cave of the Queen of Spleen to ask for potions to fuel Belinda's grief and anxiety.
Queen of Spleen, goddess who gives Umbriel potions.
Thalestris, Belinda's friend (also the name of a Greek Amazon) who urges her beau Sir Plume to defend Belinda's honor.
Sir Plume, beau of Thalestris who scolds the Baron.
Other minor characters and supernatural creatures
Canto I -- The Dream
Canto II -- The Barge
Canto III --The Rape of the Lock
Canto IV -- The Cave of Spleen
Canto V -- The Battle of the Belles and Beaux
Mimicry of Epic Conventions
The invocation of the Muse (in this case Pope's friend Caryl)
The division of the poem into "books"
Lengthy description of Belinda arming herself for "battle"; other women's "armament" described less extensively.
The supernatural elements: the Sylphs surrounding Belinda; the Gnome who seeks help from the Goddess of Spleen; the "underworld"; the Lock being turned into a star.
The card game as "a heroic and mighty battle"
Belinda's "voyage" up the Thames River to Hampton Palace
London's Aristocratic class (London Society)
social mores, specifically of the upper classes
vain women (and to a lesser degree vain men)
the war between the sexes
London Society's interest in the weird spiritualism of the day, namely Rosicrucianism which is the basis for the supernatural elements in the poem.
Discuss Pope's portrayal of masculinity and/or femininity in the poem. What is the role of a man and/or a woman in high society? What behaviors are expected or censored?
Analyze Pope's attitude toward his subject matter (choose specific characters or ideas). Why does the Rape of the Lock qualify as Horatian satire and not Juvenalian (see the distinction below)?
Identify people or elements from contemporary celebrity culture which are similar to those found in Pope's poem. List and explain their similarities.
Alexander Pope’s highly formal, learned style is representative of the neoclassical movement in eighteenth- century England. Neoclassicism is marked by the influence of ancient Greek and Roman models and its emphasis on order, logic, and decorum.
Neoclassicism, which began with the Restoration in 1660 and was predominant in England throughout the eighteenth century, was a response to the literature of Renaissance writers such as Shakespeare, John Donne, and Ben Jonson. Renaissance literature was emotional and experimental, and it was influenced by the belief that man contained an infinite capacity for intellectual and spiritual growth. Renaissance writers were influenced by classical models but frequently broke the classical rules of order and form, as in Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale, which mixes the classical genres of tragedy and comedy. Neoclassical writers saw man as limited and imperfect, and they emphasized order, reason, and restraint. They also emphasized the order of classical genres and closely followed classical models. They saw art as being primarily useful by providing models of reason and restraint.
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The Rape of the Lock is an example of a mock epic. Alexander Pope creates humor by using the inflated language and standard set pieces of the classical epics to describe the trivial event of the theft of the lock of Belinda’s hair.
Pope was incredibly well versed in all classical forms, including the epic, and he published incredibly popular English translations of Homer’s The Iliad and The Odyssey. The many formal elements of a classical epic first appear in Homer’s epics and were imitated by Virgil in The Aeneid. The mock- epic form, with its many conventional elements, such as the invocation of the muse, arming of the heroes, intervention of the gods, and visit to the underworld, highlights the triviality of the society Pope is satirizing. The upper- class society where the poem takes place is highly ritualized, but the rituals have largely been emptied of meaning, as they no longer govern the behavior of heroes on the battlefield but, instead, young socialites at parties.
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The Rape of the Lock is written entirely in heroic couplets. Alexander Pope’s use of the heroic couplet demonstrates his neoclassical focus on form and restraint and allows him to display his wit.
The heroic couplet is an extremely formal and confining form. It consists of units of two rhyming lines in iambic pentameter. Pope’s rhyming couplets compress language, which has a subversive effect on its meaning. Though Pope’s poetry seems clearer and more accessible than that of other poets, the surface clarity hides all of the things that have been left out by the compression of words. The rhyming couplets also bring together disparate ideas, such as in this famous couplet: “Know further yet; Whoever fair and chaste / Rejects Mankind, is by some Sylph embrac’d” (Canto I, lines 67– 68). By rhyming the opposing concepts of the words “chaste” and “embrac’d,” Pope highlights the dichotomy between human and celestial love.
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The Rape of the Lock is an example of Horatian satire, which gently pokes fun at a society’s excesses in order to bring about change.
Satire is a literary mode in which follies, abuses, and vices are held up to ridicule with the goal of bringing about change. There are two main types of satire, Horatian and Juvenalian, named after their classical inventor, Horace and Juvenal. Juvenalian satire is brutal and contemptuous and often takes on serious evils such as social in e quality and bigotry. Gulliver’s Travels is probably the best- known example of Juvenalian satire in English literature. Horatian satire is more gentle and lighthearted and usually tackles follies such as vanity and pomposity. Alexander Pope was a member of the upper- class Catholic society in which The Rape of the Lock takes place, therefore, the poem does not express complete disdain for the society and its people but instead mocks its excessive pretension and triviality.
Suggested Searches: Search the web for “Pope and satire” and “Juvenalian and Horatian satire.”
Alexander Pope’s comic juxtaposition of epic poetry and trivial plot also allows him to explore philosophical concepts such as the nature of beauty.
For both Renaissance and neoclassical writers, the nature of beauty was a vexing concept that highlighted the conflict between the Greco- Roman and Christian value systems. Christianity taught that physical beauty was a superficial distraction and that attempts to make oneself more beautiful, through clothing or makeup, for example, were deceptive and evil. However, classical writers praised beauty as an ideal that, like art, could lead the viewer to new spiritual heights.
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