English 245 with Dr. G @ SUNY TC3   




Link Library




Syllabus & Schedule





1. Classical Britain

2. Beowulf 1

3. Beowulf 2

4. Middle Ages

5. Romance

6. Sir Gawain

7. Malory

8. Chaucer's Miller

9. Wife of Bath

10. Religious Protest

11. Biblical Drama

12. Play of Mankind

13. Early Modern Period

14. Thomas More

15. Philip Sidney

16. Print Culture

17. Walter Raleigh

18. Twelfth Night 1

19. Twelfth Night  2

20. Civil War

21. An Age of Irreverence

22. Aphra Behn

23. Reading Papers

24. Gulliver

25. Rape of the Lock

26. School for Scandal

27. New God

28. Revolution

Final Exam




  ****    25. The Mock Epic    ****



Alexander Pope and the Augustan Era

Vol. 1C pages 2599-1601 & 2631-2652
 from Longman 3rd ed

"Pope" and "The Rape of the Lock"

An annotated internet text of
"The Rape of the Lock"
is available online from University of Toronto at


The lesson includes both a quiz and a journal writing assignment to be submitted on the interactive course site at  SUNY Learning Network.  


Write for an hour (or more if you have time). Summarize the readings or make notes you will find useful on the final essay. Some other journaling ideas for today include:

What is your favorite couplet in "The Rape of the Lock"? What makes it good?

The classical allusions in "The Rape of the Lock" make the poem difficult for readers unfamiliar with the classics. Do you think that Pope was smart to try to associate himself with Homer, Virgil and Horace? Or was he mistaken that the fame of these writers would last forever? What does the poem really tell us about using literary models?  Are any of the selections we have read in this course good practical models for writers today?

How do you like 18th century British fashion? Why do think that such styles were fashionable?


"the most attractive of ludicrous compositions"--Samuel Johnson (Damrosch 2938)




See General instructions on Journaling for this course. For a sample journal, see Dr. G's 2007 Brit Lit 1 Journal.

Adapted by Dr. G from David Damrosch, et al.,
Teaching British Literature
(New York: Longman, 2003)

Alexander Pope (1688-1744) has been regarded as the great poet of the 18th century, but the all-time master of the heroic couplet, or paired lines of rhymed iambic pentameter. He wrote almost everything in this form: epics, epistles, satires, poems of celebration, philosophical poems. He claimed to have had the rhythm all of his life, “As yet a child, nor yet a fool to fame, / I lisped in numbers, for the numbers came” ("Epistle to Arbuthnot " ll. 128–29). Remarkable in Pope's couplets is the range of expression--the nuance, pause, and emphasis, varying the metrically monotonous beat “da DA da DA da DA da DA da DA.”

If you try writing some heroic couplets, there should come a point after lots of practice where the precise, rhythmic, alien form suddenly crosses over into natural speech patterns (one of the form’s virtues, according to 18th century poets). Or are the natural speech patterns of our age captured in rap or limerick or some other popular form?

Pope helped to professionalize the poet as he pulled away from the system of private patronage and moved into the public world of commercial booksellers and publishing. He also helped to privatize poetry, to authorize the writing of self along with traditional public subjects such as monarchs, national events, and British character types. His epistles and satires emphasize the occasional and the trivial.

Following the lead of John Dryden (the great Restoration poet and critic for whom our town is named), he wrote at length about literary matters: what literature does, how it works, who is great and who isn't. His "Essay on Criticism" is like Sidney's "Defense of Poetry," a classic statement on literature, but it is more practical in its advice. For example, one of famous passages describes (and illustrates as it describes) how sound should echo meaning:

But most by Numbers judge a Poet's Song,
And smooth or rough, with them, is right or wrong;
In the bright Muse tho' thousand Charms conspire,
Her Voice is all these tuneful Fools admire,
Who haunt Parnassus but to please their Ear,
Not mend their Minds; as some to Church repair,
Not for the Doctrine, but the Musick there.
These Equal Syllables alone require,
Tho' oft the Ear the open Vowels tire,
While Expletives their feeble Aid do join,
And ten low Words oft creep in one dull Line,
While they ring round the same unvary'd Chimes,
With sure Returns of still expected Rhymes.
Where-e'er you find the cooling Western Breeze,
In the next Line, it whispers thro' the Trees;
If Chrystal Streams with pleasing Murmurs creep,
The Reader's threaten'd (not in vain) with Sleep.
Then, at the last, and only Couplet fraught
With some unmeaning Thing they call a Thought,
A needless Alexandrine ends the Song,
That like a wounded Snake, drags its slow length along.
Leave such to tune their own dull Rhimes, and know
What's roundly smooth, or languishingly slow;
And praise the Easie Vigor of a Line,
Where Denham's Strength, and Waller's Sweetness join.
True Ease in Writing comes from Art, not Chance,
As those move easiest who have learn'd to dance,
'Tis not enough no Harshness gives Offence,
The Sound must seem an Echo to the Sense.
Soft is the Strain when Zephyr gently blows,
And the smooth Stream in smoother Numbers flows;
But when loud Surges lash the sounding Shore,
The hoarse, rough Verse shou'd like the Torrent roar.
When Ajax strives, some Rocks' vast Weight to throw,
The Line too labours, and the Words move slow;
Not so, when swift Camilla scours the Plain,
Flies o'er th'unbending Corn, and skims along the Main.
Hear how Timotheus' vary'd Lays surprize,
And bid Alternate Passions fall and rise!
While, at each Change, the Son of Lybian Jove
Now burns with Glory, and then melts with Love;
Now his fierce Eyes with sparkling Fury glow;
Now Sighs steal out, and Tears begin to flow:
Persians and Greeks like Turns of Nature found,
And the World's Victor stood subdu'd by Sound!

With his criticism, Pope teaches us to read his poetry. He shows us that the art of writing heroic couplets is not as effortless as it should seem: “True ease in writing comes from art, not chance, / As those move easiest who have learned to dance” (ll. 362–63).

The Augustan Age
Pope's era is known as the Augustan Age in that the chief literary figures modeled their works on the Roman writers of the time of the first emperor Augustus (63 BCE - 14 CE). Virgil, Horace, Ovid and other imperial worthies were taught in British grammar schools, and the lessons stuck in professional adult writing. Milton in Paradise Lost had imitated Virgil, and Dryden had translated Virgil, with a result that his poetry became Virgilian. There is a certain irony or perhaps arrogance in this admiration of the classics, if we think back to the Roman conquest of Britain in the classical period with which our course began (lesson 1).

After spending years translating Homer into heroic couplets, Pope's could see everything in his life in terms of the Trojan War. His mocking in the Rape draws constantly on the juxtaposition of “the trivial matter and the heroic manner,” as his introduction to the poem suggests. Everything in the Rape has a model in Homer or Virgil or Milton. An example in our textbook allows us to compare Sarpedon’s speech from Homer's Iliad to Clarissa’s speech inserted to “open more clearly the MORAL of the poem.” What we are seeing in this kind of neo-classicism is the Age of Books at its peak, with books becoming so influential that one's work is focused on them and one's life experience is dominated by literary experience. Reading and writing have become a way of life.

Arabella FermorThe Rape of the Lock
English critic William Hazlitt once commented about the Rape: “It is like looking through a microscope, where every thing assumes a new character and a new consequence, where things are seen in their minutest circumstances and slightest shades of difference; where the little becomes gigantic, the deformed beautiful, and the beautiful deformed” (Lectures on the English Poets [London, 1818], 4:142). Making connections with our anthology's selections from Boyle’s Meditations and Hooke’s Micrographia can show how the new science offered new opportunities for poetic experiment and imagery. The microscope and the telescope (the latter makes an actual appearance within the poem as “Galileo’s eyes” [5.138]) supply images through which to analyze the exaggeration and miniaturization of the poem, to see how the “mock” transforms in paradoxical ways the “epic.” If looks could kill.

Pope’s poetic technique is dazzling here. Consider the rich connections of zeugma: “Or stain her honor, or her new brocade” (2.107); “Dost sometimes counsel take—and sometimes tea” (3.8). And through the interpretive prisms of metonymy: Belinda’s dressing table, on which India and Arabia are reduced (1.129–36), or Japan and China on “the board” (3.105–12), the poem at once celebrating and satirizing the symbols of imperialism. Visit the dark corners of the mind in the Cave of Spleen, where boundaries of gender and identity blur: “A pipkin there like Homer’s tripod walks; / Here sighs a jar, and there a goose pie talks; / Men prove with child, as pow’rful fancy works, / And maids turned bottles, call aloud for corks” [4.51–54]). And what do you think Belinda means when she cries out, “Oh hadst thou, cruel! been content to seize /Hairs less in sight, or any hairs but these!” (4.175–76)? Pope's nemesis John Dennis pretended to be incensed at the implicit obscenity here; so don't worry that your interpretations read too much into the poem.

And what the “rape” itself. The Latin word rapere means to “carry away”; the lock is literally stolen. But “rape” then as now had its violent sexual meaning; of what else is Belinda “raped”? How do the genderless—or cross-gendering—sylphs fit into the scenario? Why does an “earthly lover lurking at her heart” (3.144) become the crux of vulnerability? What, in this central interpretive issue, are the “epic” meanings and the “mock-epic” exaggerations?

The final stanza recommends that Belinda cease to mourn her ravished hair; she should instead cheer up because the Muse is about to make her immortal. The story is about the rape of Belinda’s lock, but it’s more about the telling of the story. The ability to have a laugh defuses conflict.





Image left: cartoon by Dr. G from an 18th century bust of Alexander Pope in Roman toga.































































 Left: elaborate dress and outlandish hair
get-up were
 the fashion of the day.




















Left: Arabella Fermor (locks included), society belle to whom Pope dedicated his "Rape of the Lock." She is and isn't the original of Belinda. "The human persons are as fictitious as the airy ones."



Below: Hampton Court interior showing ornate Queen Anne style furniture.



"The Rape of the Lock" Home Page

Annotated "Rape of the Lock" from University of Toronto

Alexander Pope at Bartleby

Alexander Pope at Victorianweb

Quotations from Alexander Pope

Twickenham Museum (Pope's home)


Know of an excellent website that would wonderfully  complement this lesson? Please send it to Dr. G.


 Copyright 2008 by Gary Homer Gutchess