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ENL 3230
British Literature 1616-1780

Class 10 -- VIRTUE AND THE TRIVIAL -- THE MOCK-EPIC --

Reading Assignment:

    Alexander Pope, The Rape of the Lock (1714)
    Demaria p. 530

    The Happy Critic, chaps. 3 & 4

Also read the introductory statements for the authors in Demaria.

DUE: Weekly Post #5 Ireland and Scotland groups


Note that I've moved the recommended reading in The Happy Critic to this week because it addresses technical matters that will truly help you understand Pope's poetry. Pay attention to the forms and figures explained by Beranbaum and apply that understanding to Pope's poem.

With "The Rape of the Locke" (RoL) we introduce a very different style from what we have been reading. We closed our discussion last time with reference to the tremendous influence Milton has on eighteenth-century writers. Where were they to go since he had achieved the highest success in the highest genre? One response is the development of the mock-epic. Keep in mind that mock-genres (which proliferate in this era) are both celebratory and critical, and that imitation is both the highest flattery and the departure for original creation.

I used to entitle this section of the syllabus "From the Epic to the Domestic," because you can clearly see in these works the development of Miltonic ideas on a humbler, and indeed more human, scale. Consider some of the problems we had (and Johnson had) with Milton's representation of humanity. How has Pope, and later Barbauld, changed the representation of human nature? What do they take from Milton (in tribute) and where do they depart?

We will spend two classes on Pope's RoL, but I will include all of the notes here and on the link for the next class. For those writing posts for Thursday's class, please concentrate on the early cantos. Those writing for Tuesday's class, please focus on the ending cantos.



Notes and Discussion Questions:

Happy Critic chapters 3-4:

1.

In Beranbaum's explanation of how language becomes literature, he offers some helpful ways to understand the specific nature of literary language. In particular I find useful his suggestion that we think of language not simply as an object on a page but also as constitutive of our consciousness. He suggests that we read language as experience. As you read Pope, imagine the world he is describing and try to understand the psychology of the characters that he creates. Note how the images, the details, the setting and the sounds construct an environment that has meaning for the poem.

On page 60, Beranbaum asks a series of questions about style. These are useful for you to try in your assessment of a passage of poetry/prose. Notice the language. What is the effect? How is it achieved?

He also suggests that although we may not be familiar with the language (indeed much of this eighteenth-century literature is highly stylized), it is nonetheless the language of ordinary speech and thought. Begin to assess the language with the words you recognize, and move through context clues to a fuller understanding of the lines -- compressed though they be. There is a meaning to comprehend in these lines. Also be aware that some words do not mean the same thing then as they do now, or may have more specific meanings. Read the notes and look up any word you do not recognize in the dictionary.

On page 68, Beranbaum offers an explanation of the structure of the metaphor using I.A. Richards' terms, "vehicle" and "tenor." Try to identify the metaphors of Pope's poem using these terms and come to an understanding of the signficance of the comparison.

I find helpful his distinction between the meaning of metaphor --- a fusion --- versus simile -- a comparison: "Metaphor and simile ... are different states of mind. In metaphor we enter an imaginative world where two disparate things become one. In simile we think with our conscious intelligence about a particular similarity, remaining aware that the similarity is a limited one" (71).

As you read Pope, identify the usage of synedoche, metonymy, personification, synesthesia, transferred epithet (discussed on pages 74-76).

Perhaps figures of logic are even more central to understanding Pope than figures of speech. The work is deeply ironic -- in which sense it achieves a rich complexity of meaning beyond simple mockery. Examine and understand (raise questions about?) the figures of logic: irony, (sarcasm), verbal irony, stylistic irony, parody, dramatic irony, paradox, puns, overstatement or hyperbole, zeugma, understatement. However, I hope we can offer a fuller and more interesting discussion of mock-epic than is offered on page 83.

"Tying the right tag around the neck of an expression should help us to notice that it is a figure of speech and to appreciate the fact that figures do come in varieties. If you want to see how a poem is working, however, this should be only the first step. It is more important to explain the logic of the figure: exactly what it is that the two parts of a metaphor or simile have in common, why an irony is ironical, a paradox paradoxical, hyperbole hyperbolic. This kind of analysis is one of the main features of explication. More important yet is describing and accounting for the effect that the figure has. What does the poet achieve by using this figure?" (my emphasis, p. 86).
I cannot emphasize enough how important this is. The more difficult but more meaningful part of your writing comes in explaining the signficance of the features you have identified.

Two further notes -- on chapter four: 1) the psychological environment is important to understanding the symbolic reality of the literary work. Read carefully for details that convey the psychology of the poem/character. What does it mean for Pope to open his poem in the bedroom of Belinda, while she wakes from a dream at noon?

2) When you are evaluating a work of literature, keep your analysis on the work rather than the poet or the intentions of the poet. While biographical details of the author may help contextualize the work, literature cannot be reduced to the author. Therefore, concentrate on the effect of the literature and the ways in which the effects are achieved and finally the significance of the effect.


Alexander Pope's Rape of the Lock

2.

What other writers had to say of Pope:

Samuel Johnson in his Life of Pope writes that "Pope had ... genius; a mind active, ambitious, and adventurous, always investigating, always aspiring; in its widest searches still longing to go forward, in its highest flights still wishing to be higher; always imagining something greater than it knows, always endeavouring more than it can do" (from Tillotson, et al, The Eighteenth Century 1100).

He was primarily known as a verse satirist; Jonathan Swift writes of Pope in his "Verses on the Death of Dr. Swift": "In Pope I cannot read a Line, / But with a Sigh, I wish it mine: / When he can in one Couplet fix / More Sense than I can do in Six" (47-50).

Mock-epics belong to the satirical mode of writing. Johnson describes the purpose of satire: "All truth is valuable, and satirical criticism may be considered useful when it rectifies error and improves judgment" (Tillotson, et al, 1105).

How do these comments aid our understanding of the poem? What sort of style does Swift envy? What errors are rectified in R of L?


3.

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.

How does this publication history exemplify the spirit described by Johnson above?

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 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


4.

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?


5.

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.

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? compare this ending with the ending of An Essay on Criticism.


6.
What is the object of satire in this poem? What is Pope's attitude toward Belinda? Toward the Baron? Toward his society?

In the introductory note, Demaria writes that "The Rape of the Lock is too attractive to leave out," suggesting that the poem 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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