‘The Rape of the Lock’ as a piece of Satire

‘The Rape of the Lock’ as a piece of Satire

‘The Rape of the Lock’ as a piece of Satire

As a piece of satire, The Rape of the Lock, greatly surpasses all its predecessors. It sparkles in every line. The touch is never too heavy, an air of gay good humour is preserved throughout.

The nicest proportion is kept. On a mere lock of hair, the powers of air, as well as of earth, are centred. But the sylphs are no more too great for their task than are Milton’s archangels for theirs. They preside over fashions and

Oft, in drams, invention we bestow,

To change a flounce, or add a fur below.

They are the spirits of coquettes and in a new generation reimpose the vanities they themselves have felt of old :

With varying vanities, from every part,

They shift the moving toyshop of their heart

Where wigs with wigs, with sword knots sword-knots strive.

Beaux banishes, and coach’s drive.

She over whom they preside is worthy of such spirits. Her eyes first open on a billet doux. She adores the cosmetic powers and bends to the heavenly image in the glass which the inferior priestess’

Trembling begins the sacred rites of Pride.

The poem is a social satire and the poem as Pope himself declared was “to laugh at the little unguarded foibles of the female sex.” Through Belinda, the poet satirises the foibles of the whole frivolity. It continues the strain of mocking hoops and patches and their wearers, which supplied Addison and his colleagues with materials for many Spectators. The toilet was women’s great scene of business, and the right adjustment of their principal job. The women used to be fashionable and entertained visits even in their beds. In The Rape of the Lock, Pope displays the world of fashion in its most gorgeous and attractive hairs. The beauty of Belinda, the details of her toilet, her troops of admirers are not of one Belinda alone but of every lady of court in Pope’s time.

Lap-dogs were as favourite with women as Shock was a favourite dog of Belinda. They had nothing useful to do. They left their beds late in the day, and the only drudgery they knew was of the toilet. The powers they worshiped were no ordinary powers, but the cosmetic powers. The toilet table for them was an altar for the worship of goddess Beauty or God Love. Every sort of fashionable object could be seen on their table-

This casket India’s glowing gems unlocks,

And all Arabia breathes from yonder box.


Transformed to combs, the speckled and the white.

The tortoise, here and elephant unite.

Pope satirises in the following lines the prevailing fashions of love- affairs among the young because –

But chiefly Love to Love an altar built,

Of twelve vast French Romances, neatly gilt.

There lay three Garters, half a Pair of Gloves

And all the Trophies of his form Loves.

With tender Billet- doux he lights the Pyre.

And breathes three amorous Sighs to raise the Fire.

Then the poet attacks the delicacies and softened cares of the fair sex. These lines also reflect the main preoccupations and the tastes of the then women. How sentimental and delicate they were-

Whether the Nymph shall break Dianna’s Law,

Or some frail China Jar receive a Flaw,

Or stain her Honour, her new Brocade.

Forget her prayers or miss a Masquerade,

Or lose her Heart, or Necklace, at a Ball…..

How satirically he points out that it was a common fashion with women to lose their hearts at a ball. The Court of Hampton remained always busy “with singing, laughing, ogling, and all that.” The spirit of the poem is thus permeated with the spirit of satire. And the aim of this satire is to establish peace between the two quarrelling families in particular and to reform the fads and fashions of the contemporary society in general. The Rape is after all a creation of young soul full of mirth and wit. humour and irony. Compton- Rickett says that the poem is a light satire on the upper class, “the artificial tone of the age, the frivolous aspect of feminity, is nowhere more exquisitely pictured than in this poem. It is the epic of trifling a page torn from the petty. Pleasure seeking life of a fashionable beauty.

English – Important links

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About the author

Kumud Singh

M.A., B.Ed.

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