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ENL 3230
British Literature 1616-1780

Class 16

Nov. 1: Alexander Pope, Rape of the Lock

Reading Assignment:

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.
    Due: Post #8 Group B

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)

Canto 3:

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 the significance?

Why don't the sylphs interfere? Why can't the sylphs protect Belinda? ll 139-147.

How does the Baron respond ll. 161- 170?

Canto 4:

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 the scene?

Read the closing lines of the canto: ll 176-177; what do the lines suggest about Belinda's contrition?

Canto 5:

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 Clarissa's delivery?

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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