Alexander Pope
The Rape of the Lock

 Satire - attack or critique of political, moral, economical systems; uses humor, irony to ridicule society. Mock Epic - Like the mock heroic "MacFlecknoe," the mock epic The Rape of the Lock satirizes by treating unimportant things as though they were larger than life.  Epic centers around heroic strife, quite often around great battles.  The great battle in this mock epic is - a card game called ombre.- The poem uses the heroic couplet (every 2 lines rhyme in iambic pentameter.)

Note how much of the literature of this period was satiric - we've read more satire during the enlightenment that in the the rest of the quarter put together.  Satire was a natural way of expressing the attitudes of the time.

Occasion - (Occasion is the incident that leads to the writing of a document.   For example, the occasion of a thank you note is receiving a gift.)

The occasion of this poem was a dispute between 2 Anglo-Catholic (English Catholic) families.  Lord Petre cut off a lock of hair from Arabella Fermor (pronounced "farmer").  She and her family became angry.  Pope, an Anglo-Catholic himself, wrote the poem to try to make peace between the families.  There were so few Catholics left in England that they needed to stick together.  The poem was a popular success, but Arabella was not too happy at being mocked.


Pope uses many of the great poets of the past as his model - Homer, Callimacus, Catulus, Virgil, Shakespeare, Milton, etc. There is not so much of the Germanic.  The Graeco-Roman tradition looms large in this poem, as befits a work from the neo-classical period, which looked to Rome & Greece for its models.

Epic conventions

The poem provides the traditional epic context dating back to Homer.

  1. the opening "proposition" or "invocation"
  2. parody of epic speeches
  3. epic similes
  4. a supernatural agent appearing in a dream
  5. other supernatural forces   In real epics, these are powerful forces, like Satan & his minions in Paradise Lost.  Here we get Sylphs, Nymphs, Salamanders & Gnomes.  They are little gods who deal with little things.  The Gnomes represent earth, the sylphs air (like Caliban & Ariel - there's an Ariel in this story also).
  6. allegorical figures
  7. the learned survey of a track of knowledge
  8. the visit to the underworld (Normally Hades or Hell, here the Cave of Spleen.)
  9. large battle scene
  10. epic ending of strategy in war
  11. the characteristic epic ending through deus ex machina (a term from ancient tragedy - the gods would sometimes come save the day by floating in in the "machinery," which was something like a cherry picker,  and restore order.)
       - epics were written about men/heroes

Canto 1

1-2 15  Nor were their little lap dogs.  Normal epic dogs were fierce, like the dog guarding the gates of hell in Paradise Lost.

60ff.  Women become spirits after their deaths.  The kind of spirit depends on the kind of woman she was, on her humor, and your characteristic humor arose from which of the four elements was dominant in you.

Type of woman Their souls become Elements
Shrews Salamanders fire
Soft yielding women Nymphs water
Grave prudes  Gnomes earth
Flirts  Sylphs air

68  The sylph protects a young woman from sex.  (Called honor by us below.)
80  Gnomes = pride.
92  Sylphs = flirtation.  They protect young women by keeping them shallow.

122-147 Her looks are her religion.
       - her armor is make-up

       - Ariel, head slyph who protects her; she has two curls who are her pride and joy

Canto 2

       - Zeugma - unequally yoking unlike terms.  Something that matters with something that doesn't. - spirits are guarding her petticoat so it won't come off

Canto 3

       - Britain's statesmen are preparing against foreign invasions, her sprits against "sexual invasions" (example of zeugma) .

       - Line 21 - judge is in a hurry for lunch so signs sentence without much thought

       - Line 98 - she'sexcited she wins caragans; only temporary victory; eventually loses

       - Line 127 - Clarissa gives the knight the scissors because he wins the game

       - her hair = conquering force of unresisted steel, Callimachus wrote in Italain, Catullus translated

       - she'll fight to the end to retain her lock, but it's stolen

Canto 4

10ff the underworld scene.  It reveals what's in her psyche.

83  Sighs, sobs, & passions from womens are like the winds Odysseus held in a bag.

96 Did I shave my legs for this?

       - "Lock of Bernice" An Egyptian princess cut off lock and gave to gods to protect her husband during a war, but it was stolen from the temple.  The astronomer Conon announced that the lock had been "translated" into a star.   The poet Callimachus wrote a poem about the event that gave  Pope the idea for this poem.

       - Partridge, astronomer, discovers lock of hair in the sky where it belongs.  He was an astrologer who always predicted the death of the Pope & various rich & famous.   Alexander Pope makes fun of him here & elsewhere. In 1708, Pope predicted that Partridge would die on a certain day.  When the day came, Pope announced that Partridge had indeed died.  Partridge objected that he wasn't dead.  Pope's response - "Yes he is, or at least should be."