Alexander Pope, “The Rape of Lock”
Poem by Alexander Pope who was a famous scholar, translator, poet
Poem is written in couplets, the predominant form in the 18 century
It is a satire, and it brings together the two favorite forms in the 18 century, the epic and
the satire, doing both at the same time
The back story: a party takes place in the late fall of 1711, and what happens that a 23
year old nobleman cuts a lock of hair from Arabella Fermor. She is introduced in the
delitcatee in the poem.
This incident threatens to escalate into some serious ill will
People are upset about it
One of pope‘s friend, John Caryll, asks him to write a poem to laugh these families back
to together again
In the first version, it is 2 cantos long (200 lines long)
Then, Pope begins to translate Homer‘s Iliad, an epic poem.
Pope thinks back on the poem, and thinks that he can add more epic matter into the poem,
so we get something longer, until it is 5 cantos long, published in 1714
In the meantime, the nobleman marries somebody else other than Arabella Fermor but
dies of smallpox
Arabella Fermor‘s sense of vanity is enhanced by the popularity of the work, which sells
Rape is a word that we understand in a certain way: it comes from Latin: raparee: to carry
What pope is doing is that he is writing a mock epic, it is making fun of the event and the
epic genre, and how people treated this event so seriously
A love lock: a woman might cut a lock of her hair to a guy she really likes. Therefore,
you could see how this could create this fight between the families.
You could see how this could be metaphorical in a sense – he took something that she
was supposed to give
There are a lot of epic conventions in the poem
The poem is arranged into 5 cantos, most of the classical epics are in 12-24, so this is
much shorter. This is good because it is on small things. Any longer and it would
become tedious. 5 is about just right. Going too far, and he will become the joke because
he would be a geek going out of control.
What dire Offence from amorous causes springs,
What mighty contests rise from trivial things,
I sing – This Verse to Caryll, Muse! is due;
This, even Belinda may vouchsafe to view:
Slight is the Subject, but not so the praise, If she inspire, and he approve my lays.
Here you get an invocation to the muse (or a reference) and the subject of the song
One of the things to notice is that trivial things are becoming serious things, as trivial as
the cutting of the lock
As someone who knows a lot about epics, he is referencing that context too
What starts the whole Trojan War? The theft of Helen. It is this romantic dalliance that
she has, and it starts this 10 year war. This is story of the Iliad. You can also talk about
Achilles sulking his tent.
He has a nice connection here, because people will see this as a characteristic of an epic
The one thing that Pope had trouble with is with supernatural beings. How is he going to
do this? Is he going to surround them with gods? Pope is not sure how to do that.
However, he finally gets this idea from Germany about these elemental spirits, and he is
going to borrow these beings for his poem
The Rosicrucians have nymphs, sylphs and gnomes, and he aligns them with spirits of
Spirits of young, vain, cokeheadish women
Belinda will become a sylph one day
Her guardian spirit, Ariel, is a sylph too
o The salamanders
Spirits are shrewdish and angry women
They can live through fire, and so they got hot an angry, but yet survive
o The nymphs
Were the more accommodating and gentle
The water nymphs
The prudish girls who were sent back down to the world
He calls these machinery for this poem
So he can construct a supernatural poem, built from the doings of human characters
We learn about them when Ariel comes to Belinda in a dream
She is a woman is quite vain, and he has many love letters (billet-doux)
o She would read them and forget whatever Ariel has told her in her dream
She also has a dog called Shock
The poem opens with her dreaming and an introduction to the machinery
We get a satirical critique of the society that she lives in
Know farther yet; whoever fair and chaste
Rejects mankind, is by some Sylph embrac'd:
For spirits, freed from mortal laws, with ease
Assume what Sexes and what Shapes they please.
What guards the purity of melting maids, In courtly balls, and midnight masquerades,
Safe from the treach'rous friend, and daring spark,
The glance by day, the whisper in the dark;
When kind occasion prompts their warm desires,
When music softens, and when dancing fires?
'Tis but their Sylph, the wise Celestials know,
Though Honor is the word with men below.
What Pope is suggesting here is that honor is the word with men below, it protects these
women when they are vulnerable to these romantic occasions. He calls it honor.
However, Ariel the sylph knows that it is vanity. They are the two sides of self-interest.
In canto 1, we get some of those epic conventions that we have not talked about yet, the
arming of the hero, getting ready for battle
And now, unveiled, the Toilet stands displayed,
Each Silver Vase in mystic Order laid.
First, robed in White, the Nymph intent adores
With Head uncovered, the cosmetic Powers.
A heavenly Image in the Glass appears,
To that she bends, to that her Eyes she rears;
The' inferior Priestess, at her Altar's side,
Trembling begins the sacred Rites of Pride.
Unnumbered Treasures ope at once, and here
The various Offerings of the World appear;
From each she nicely culls with curious Toil,
And decks the Goddess with the glittering Spoil.
This Casket India's glowing Gems unlocks,
And all Arabia breathes from yonder Box.
The Tortoise here and Elephant unite,
Transformed to Combs, the speckled and the white.
Here Files of Pins extend their shining Rows,
Puffs, Powders, Patches, Bibles, Billet-doux.
Now awful beauty puts on all its arms;
The Fair each moment rises in her Charms,
This is the description of her toilet, where she gets herself together: her vanity
This is her getting ready for combat: the battle of the sexes
One thing to pay attention to is the religious imagery.
This is kind of like a shrine, not just a vanity
There is religious association in this shrine ―A heavenly Image in the Glass appears, / To
that she bends, to that her Eyes she rears‖ where she is worshipping herself, the image
of herself, in this mirror.
There is a lot of religious things in this vanity ―priestess, altar, etc.‖ This is a place where offerings are given
You get references to exotic places, and you get a sense of the sacrifices that the
British empire is able to bring back to England as well
One of the more famous lines is ―Puffs, Powders, Patches, Bibles, Billet-doux.‖ Where
all of this is given some sort of equivalency. All of these things are brought into
juxtaposition with each other which renders them equivalent. This is a tactic that he
uses often throughout the play. He uses this in a rhetorical trope called a zeugma.
Zeugma is where one word does double duty
She is all ready for the battle of the sexes
She takes a boat down Thames to Hampton court, where she is going to meet up with her
Throughout the poem, in Canto 2, take note of how she is likened to the sun.
Not with more Glories, in th' Etherial Plain,
The Sun first rises o'er the purpled Main,
Than issuing forth, the Rival of his Beams
Lanch'd on the Bosom of the Silver Thames.
Fair Nymphs, and well-drest Youths around her shone,
But ev'ry Eye was fix'd on her alone.
On her white Breast a sparkling Cross she wore,
Which Jews might kiss, and Infidels adore.
Her lively Looks a sprightly Mind disclose,
Quick as her Eyes, and as unfix'd as those:
Favors to none, to all she Smiles extends,
Oft she rejects, but never once offends.
Bright as the Sun, her Eyes the Gazers strike,
And, like the sun, they shine on all alike.
If to her share some Female Errors fall,
Look on her Face, and you'll forget 'em all
Pay attention to the sun in the poem and the way in which she is likened to the sun
Like the sun, she shines brightly, and brighter than anything else right now, but she will
fade in time
She will also get the representation of the sun setting, fading away
Note that the extraordinary quality of her beauty, it renders her faults invisible
You not conscious that you want to forgive it, but it is so blinding that you will want to
It is here that we meet the baron, who is the figure for lord Peter, and he also, like
Belinda, gets a moment where he is getting his act together
He wants that lock of hair, and he goes to his own shrine to love, and makes his own
sacrifices at that shrine, We find that love is going to give him only part,