What is a mock-epic poem? | Illustrate fully the mock epic equality of “The rope if the Lock.”

What is a mock-epic poem? | Illustrate fully the mock epic equality of “The rope if the Lock.”

What is a mock-epic poem? | Illustrate fully the mock epic equality of “The rope if the Lock.”

What is a mock-epic poem?

There were no supernatural spirits in The Rape of the Lock in its original form. The first version of the poem contained only two Cantos imparting the main story of the Baron severing off Belinda’s lock and pointing at the same time the superficiality of the whole episode. The poem was of course, in the form of comic exaggeration intended to show the absurdity of the quarrel over such a trivial thing as the cutting of the lock. This first version adequately served the purpose for which it was written it reconciled the two warring families of Miss Arabella Fermor and Lord Peter.

It was some time later that Pope thought of elaborating the poem in the ful fledged form of a mock epic poem. And, then among the problems he faced in making such an attempt was the central one of the supernatural machineries. Supernatural machinery is an integral part of any epic poem. It shows the relationship of God and man, the hand of supernatural powers in dictating the fate of human beings. In Homer’s epic, gods are shown to be at the back of all that happens in the Trojan War and In Milton’s God speaks in his voice to Adam and sends his angels to protect to warn, and finally to eject Adam.

Pope’s chief difficulty was that he could neither have adopted either the machinery of Greek gods and goddesses, nor that of Christian theology, simply because neither of the two enlisted the faith of the common people. There was another reason perhaps. He could not have used Christian and Greek theology in his mock epic poem, since they were inherently serious and solemn. Fortunately for Pope, he came across a French novella type book called Le Comte de Gobalis which contained an account of strange community of people known as the Rosicrucian’s who believed in a fantastic system of supernatural beings. Promptly, Pope made use of this machinery in The Rape of the Lock.

Pope gives a detailed description of this race of supernatural beings and their relationship to human beings through the two mock heroic speeches delivered by Ariel, the chief supernatural being, in the first two Cantos. The description could be summed up in a few words. In the vast expanse of the sky continually hover a whole legion of spirits, invisible to human beings on the earth but always guiding their destiny. The chief function of the spirits is to protect the chaste and virgin women from being spoilt by rapacious, lusty men. They are a constantly watchful army with light arms to protect virgin maids. These spirits were once women of the world and derive their specific character and function from what they were as women. After the death of women, their spirits leave their bodies and are transformed into spirits. Giving the whole account a mock-epic twist, Pope makes Ariel say that it is only the spirits of vainglorious, fashionable, flirtatious, quarrelsome, querulous, ostentatious women that become the legitimate denizens of the air. The spirits of ferocious looking, querulous women, after their death mount up in flame and come to be known as ‘salamanders,’ those of soft yielding women glide along the water and go under it and become the associates of water spirits. The spirits of the Puritanical women to the under world and become mischievous spirits known as the ‘gnomes’. And, finally the spirits of the light-hearted flirts, who take pride in rejecting one man for another are known as ‘sylphs ‘band sylphs reside in atmosphere close to the earth and protect the virgin maids.

Further these sylphs have power to acquire any shape and any sex they like, fly without being seen anywhere they like, but are always in the service of the young virgins. They have a strange way of protecting the virginity of chaste young women. If at a ball dance or a dinner party, one lord approaches a virgin to offer her promise of ball dance in order to seduce her, the sylphs manage to send to the place another gallant with more tempting offer with the result that the maid rejects the former in favour of the latter. But before she is seduced by the gallant with the promise of a dinner, the sylphs send the third and so on, each with more tempting offer. Thus the sylphs protect the virginity of the beautiful women by making them flirt more with a larger number of young men. Of these sylphs, Ariel is the head, and he, with a foreknowledge of the future warns Belinda to be careful about the impending disaster.

In the second Canto, Ariel, addressing a gathering of sylphs and other kinds of spirits elaborates the comic function of his compatriots and Pope, hereby elevates mock-heroically, the fantastic supernatural order of spirits to the universal order. There are first, various types of spirits sylphs, sylphids, fairies, genii, elves and demons. All of them have been assigned various function to perform in the order of the universe. Some of them are highest up in the pure region of ether controlling the movement of stars and the moon and other planets. Others guide the shooting stars and control the rainbow, the storm and the destiny of human race including the safety of the British throne. Arial himself belongs to the group of spirits who have the charge of protecting the fashionable, sophisticated, beautiful young virgins,

Such an account of the supernatural order or machinery served Pope’s purpose of writing the mock-epic exceedingly well, and he skilfully assimilated the whole scheme into his poetry. The question whether Pope should have elaborated his first version of the poem with the addition of this supernatural material is no longer important. Addison’s warning to Pope against including the supernatural machinery was correct from Addison’s point of view, but not many critics in the eighteenth century concurred with him. And Dr. Johnson himself commended Pope for having used the machinery which gives evidence of Pope’s brilliant wit. In the twentieth century, the critics are unanimous in seeing that the supernatural machinery is an integral part of the total structure of the poem.

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Kumud Singh

M.A., B.Ed.

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