Alexander Pope’s masterpiece, ‘The Rape of the Lock’ is an epic narrative, touching different subjects of epic poetry. Alexander Pope was a great English poet and satirist of the 18th century. He owned great skills of using heroic couplet in his poems. Pope is also regarded as one of the most accurate poets of English literature.
A mock epic or mock heroic, is a form of satire that mocks common classical stereotypes of heroes and heroic literature. Such mock epics put a fool in the role off a hero or exaggerate the heroic qualities to such an extent that they become absurd. It is considered as a parody of the epic. A mock epic contains several features of an epic such as lengthy speeches, battles, invocation of a deity etc but all for a comic effect.
The Rape of the Lock is also a mock epic poem where the poet mocks the upper class of the contemporary society through series of words and phrases.The main theme of the poem is cutting of a lock of the protagonists hair, which is mockingly referred to being raped. The theme reflects no heroic qualities to be considered as an epic, but it fits more to the category of mock epic. Belinda, is a lady belonging to the upper class of the elite society. Her two locks of hair define her beauty and bring her honor. Therefore, the Baron chops off one of her locks as termed as ‘raped’ here, to doom her chastity and honor as a revenge.
Just like an epic, this mock epic also begins with an invocation to the Gods.
"Say, what strange motive, Goddess! could compel A well-bred lord to assault a gentle belle?"
The title of the poem is another feature of the mock poem. Rape is a serious offence, an alarming crime of the society. The chastity of a woman is violated by force. But here, Pope has used the word in a rather humorous way to contribute to the mock epic qualities. Belinda is portrayed as the Goddess of beauty. Even the rays of the sun cannot compete with her beauty.
Another mock epic quality found here is the comparison of her clothes with the epic hero Achilles. Just like Achilles killed his enemies with his power and weapons, Belinda metaphorically did the same with her beautiful clothes and makeup.
One notable mock epic element is the coffee party which is the parody of meals discussed in Homer. After Belinda’s locks are being chopped of, she screams in agony mimicking a girl screaming after being raped.
“Restore the lock restore the lock.”
Her screams are being mocked to the heroic screams in epics.
One another interesting mock epic element takes place when Ariel finds an earthly lover lurking at Belinda’s heart. He retires with a sign and resigns to his fate. This situation might be a mockery of John Milton’s ‘Paradise Lost’ where after the fall of Adam and Eve, God’s angels retired feeling helpless before man’s free will.
The Rape of the Lock is undoubtedly a mock epic poem. But it has been a subject of criticism as well. An epic is a long narrative poem, but The Rape of the Lock is comparatively much shorter in length. Again, the story of an epic covers long periods of days, months or even years. However, in the Rape of the Lock, the entire story takes place within a couple of hours only. Even in the presence of such criticisms, The Rape of the Lock can rightly be considered as a mock heroic, because it contains several mock epic elements in it. Pope has succeeded with his wordplay to construct a perfect mockery to the epics.