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ENL 3230
British Literature 1616-1780

Class 16

Oct. 25: Alexander Pope, Rape of the Lock

Reading Assignment:

Pope's Rape of the Lock NAEL pp. 2525-2544
    Due: Post #8 Group A

With The Rape of the Lock we return to mode of mock-epic, but we introduce the poetry of Alexander Pope for the first time. His couplets set the standard of versification in the century. Please take the time to understand what each one says. We also enter the world of high-society and courtship. As you read, consider what the poem has to say of the behavior of men and women. If Dryden's mock-epic aimed to correct the bad taste of his audience, then what does Pope's satire aim for?

Because we will probably spend part of the class finishing our discussion of Gulliver's Travels, I will only expect you to be ready to discuss the first two cantos of Pope's poem. It is a good idea, however, to read all the way through at least once, and then return to the earlier cantos to read closely.

Reading Notes and Discussion Questions:


The Rape of the Lock (1712, 1714, final form 1717)

The story goes... Lord Petre cut off a lock of Arabella Fermor's hair, causing a feud between two of society's leading Catholic families. John Caryll solicits his friend, Alexander Pope, to write a poem that attempts to bring the families back into good humor with one another. This effort results in a pleasant two-canto poem, first published in 1712. Pope decides to expand the narrative and add the machinery (which he explains in his letter to Fermor) for the larger 1714 version. Finally, in 1717 he adds Clarissa's speech to Canto five in order, as he said, to clarify the moral.

Some ideas to clarify Pope's style:

The mock-epic style (or mock-heroic) is that which treats the low, mean or absurd in the grand language, lofty style and solemn tone of epic poetry. The obvious disparity between the subject and the style makes the satiric point. Such a gap between style and subject, however, has a dual effect: to ridicule the trivial by overstating its importance and to undercut the heroic by humanizing or deflating the stature of heroic figures.

What features of heroic style does Pope borrow from the epic? How does his use of epic convention differ from Milton's?

A Parody is a composition imitating another, generally more serious work. The craft of parody is minimal change from the original. Often it is used to ridicule, but in many cases it can be seen as a flattering tribute. The effect of ridicule or tribute depends on the context.

The subject of a parody should be apparent; for instance, Pope parodies the arming of the epic hero with Belinda and the "cosmetic powers" in Canto 1; an epic battle takes place on the card table in Canto 3; the visit to the underworld takes us to the Cave of Spleen of Canto 4; the epic battle of glances and snuff in Canto 5.

What is the effect of Pope's parodies of Homer and Virgil?

The Couplet:

couplet form -- two lines, generally iambic pentameter, with end rhymes; given to a structural balance or antithesis of ideas and sounds

caesura -- or the pause in a line of poetry

balance -- an effect of evenness or a structure of parts which offset one another on each side of a pause in a line of poetry

antithesis -- an effect of contrast between balanced parts of speech or ideas -- balancing one term against another.

"true antithetical structure demands not only that there be an opposition of idea, but that the oppostion in different parts be manifested through similar grammatical structure" (Holman and Harmon)

Zeugma (yoking); a version of which is syllepsis -- taking counsel or tea; transitive verb or preposition takes more than one object

Metonymy -- substitution of the name of an object closely related to the object itself: mask for woman at the theatre, "Garters, Stars and Coronets" for members of the nobility (continuous association from whole to part)

Synecdoche -- a trope that substitutes a part for whole; arms for soldiers


The dedicatory letter:

This letter serves several functions, social and literary. What does the letter accomplish?

What is Pope's tone in the letter? Examine the diminution of Arabella and the "sex's little unguarded follies." How does this compare with Pope's strategies of characterization in the poem?

Canto 1

Lines 1-12 -- what is the object of parody? what do the lines establish?

Compare Pope's object -- "what mighty contests rise from trivial things" -- with Milton's.

First major development in the poem is Belinda's dream, inspired by her guardian sylph, Ariel. Like Eve's dream, this serves as a warning: ll 107-115 -- to warn her of impending doom. A premonition of the fall to come. How successful is this warning? How successful is the comparison to Eve?

Pope takes the opportunity in this canto to introduce his epic machinery -- the spirits of women passed into eternity in four groups -- Salamanders (59-60); Nymphs (61-62); Gnomes (63-4); and Sylphs (65-66) -- what are their characters?

The sylphs have the main role in the early cantos: ll 67-78 -- to protect chastity. Explain social satire of lines:

"'Tis but their Sylph, the wise celestials know,
Though honour is the word with men below."

We might understand Pope's strategy in the poem as a change in epic scale -- how does Pope change the scope and scale of the epic by depicting Belinda invoking the "cosmetic powers" to serve her in battle with the beaus of Hampton Court.

Note also the details of Belinda's table spread with treasures from around the empire. What is the significance of this description?

Canto 2 introduces our "villain/hero" -- the Baron. Compare the introduction of the Baron with the arming of Belinda. What are the dominant characteristics of our hero and our heroine? How does Pope convey these to us? What moral dimensions are implied in their characterization?

Examine the boat-scene on the Thames, where Ariel is informing his troops of their charges. Note the poetry of Pope's description: ll 56-70; what do the lines sound like? what is the effect? the significance of the effect?

Ariel's speech to the sylphs ll 74-136 is like the address to the Angels in Book V of Paradise Lost . Again Pope proposes an implicit and explicit comparison of great things to small: Ariel admits their region of authority is of a different scale: ll 91-92; Pope suggest in these lines that the action of "dire offense" will be in the province of make-up, perfume, flowers, hair and clothing. How serious is this?

Look closely at ll 105-110 for classic examples of antithesis:

* identify sense of the lines
* identify the caesura
* how is the information divided by the pause
* Is there balance? Where? In what way?
* Is there antithesis? What things oppose each other?

What is the effect of mentioning two objects in each line?

What is the effect of scale in Ariel's speech? To what extent do we identify with Pope's machinery?

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