British Literature 1616-1780
Nov. 1: Alexander Pope, Rape of the Lock
Pope's Rape of the Lock NAEL pp. 2525-2544
ALSO explore the illustrations from the first and fourth editions on
the website provided by the University of
Florida Rare Books: Pope.
In today's class we will finish our discussion of Pope's mock-epic. 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?
Continue to practice the close reading and paraphrasing of this compressed couplets. Bring any questions to class.
Reading Notes and Discussion Questions:
The Rape of the Lock (1712, 1714, final form 1717)
Note the instances of political satire Pope
includes in this mock-epic:
ll. 5-8 Here Britain's statesmen oft the fall foredoom
Of Foreign tyrants, and of nymphs at home;
Here thou, great Anne! whom three realms obey,
Dost sometimes counsel take - sometimes tea.
What is he satirizing? How does he do it?
Note the antithesis of his comparisons. What other
device is used in the last line quoted?
The satire in ll 21-22 is legendary: "The hungry
judges soon the sentence sign/ And wretches hang
that jurymen may dine." Analyze.
The main events of this canto are the game of Ombre
and the cutting of the lock, both described in
epic parody. Observe and comment on the effect.
To summarize the game: Belinda, with a sylph on
each card "wondrous fond of place," takes the first
four tricks, because she calls trumps; the Baron,
the very same who sacrificed his trophy's of love,
takes the next four. There are nine to give, and
there is some doubt as to who will take the final one.
Belinda triumphs in the end, because her King of
hearts beats the Ace.
Belinda's triumph is extreme: ll 99-100: "The
nymph exulting fill with shouts the sky / the wall
, the woods, and long canals reply" (echo).
What happens in this moment of hubris? What is
Why don't the sylphs interfere? Why can't the sylphs
protect Belinda? ll 139-147.
How does the Baron respond ll. 161- 170?
Examine the Cave of Spleen as a parody of the
epic trip to the underworld: supernatural,
mythological event. Also analyze the allegorical
significance of the cave of Spleen, the goddess of
this peculiarly feminine disease. How does Pope
depict the event? What does this suggest about
the nature of the spleen, the disease? And what
happens as a result to Belinda?
* Canto closes with Belinda's lament, based
on Achille's lament for his friend Patroclus, who
has died on the field in honor. She projects a
contrite heart from ll. 147 through the end, beginning:
"For ever cursed be this detested day, / Which
snatched my best, my favorite curl away! . . ."
How does the literary parallel add to the meaning of
Read the closing lines of the canto: ll 176-177; what
do the lines suggest about Belinda's contrition?
Recall that Pope adds Clarissa's speech here to
clarify the moral of the poem. Examine the speech
carefully. What is the moral? How effective is
What social commentary does Pope make through the mock
battle that ensues?
How is the conflict resolved? To what extent is this
an example of deus ex machina.
How does Belinda achieve the immortal status that
the poet claims?
Note also the poet's role in the ending of the poem.
What effect does this reflection on the poet have?
2. Further Discussion Questions
What is the object of satire in this poem? What is
Pope's attitude toward Belinda? Toward the Baron?
Toward his society?
Some critics believe that
The Rape of the Lock has an irresistable
aesthetic attraction akin to that which Belinda
appears to have. To what extent is this poem about
beauty? What does it ultimately say about beauty?
What types of beauty are represented?
Examine the meaning of the title. "Rape" has the
now obsolete meaning of "the act of taking anything
by force" as in the epic rape of Helen of Troy.
In the Oxford English Dictionary, Pope's
The Rape of the Lock is the last dated example
of this usage. The word also had and continues to
have the meaning of taking away and /or violating a
woman sexually. What does the play on words suggest
in the title?
To what extent is this a poem about proper sexual
behavior? What is the symbolism of the lock and
the cutting of the lock?
What virtue(s) is/are recommended in the poem?
How does the satiric mode affect the representation
of truth? Do you ultimately think that Johnson's
understanding of the usefulness of satire -- that
it "rectifies error and improves judgment" -- applies
to this poem? To what extent is that important for
its literary value?
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