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Oct 28, 2014

Rape of the Lock: Pope


Rape of the Lock: Pope

Sex Symbol:

The eighteenth century is and age of psychological insight. Every writer as well as his work is being analyzed in psychological terms. Modern psychology has proved that it is the sex psychology which determined the superiority of a sex. Sex is the nucleus of human life and its all activities. It is not the product of conventions, rather, it is just a natural instinct, which is reduced to some discipline by accepted social convention, morals, laws, etc. Sex is at the root of all moral and physical health. So it may be disciplined, but if it is curbed and suppressed, it leads to drastic consequences.

In fact, frustrations, depreciation, persecution, disparities coupled with economic problems result in dejection and in order to bring about catharsis, one may get depressed or find any easy escape and become immoral in the eyes of the world. 

The lock in "The Rape of the Lock" is a symbol of the female organ and the rape of the lock symbolizes the rape of Belinda by the hands of Lord Peter. In fact, the poem projects a synthesis between sex and religion. The boys and the girls were allured to have relations and were in favour of free sex but religion did not allow it. Besides, they were also afraid of their social disreputation. So they had to suppress their natural instinct sometimes. Resultantly, they established relations with others secretly. Belinda's grief was not the loss of chastity but her social disreputation. That's why she repented would that Baron had cut "hairs less in sight, or any hairs but these". So the sex philosophy in that age was that sex, being a natural instinct, should not be suppressed, but the fear of religion and social disreputation did not allow the boys and the girls have free sexual relations and such relations were dubbed as immoral. That's what happened with Belinda and her shock was social disreputation and not the loss of chastity. 

We notice that throughout the poem, there is a competitive spirit between the female and the male sexes. The game of Ombre is the game of sex in which both the sexes try to dominate each other. The victory of Belinda yielding to lords and the lords playing toy with them. Pope has also indicated their secret relations with the beaus. In this way, if we read the poem, we will find sex symbols scattered here and there and a lot of sex implications. He talks about "soft bosoms", "winning lips", "melting maids", "mid-night masquerades", "the charge of petticoat", etc. These are all sex implications and the modern psychology has interpreted them in terms of the sexual behaviour and sexual relations of the women of that age. Even the lock reaching the sky and turning into a comet has a sex implication i.e. Belinda's reputation is lost for ever and the event of her rape is now known to everyone which implies that she was a woman of yielding and submissive nature who easily fell a prey to the charm of beaus but she frequently changed her favours from one to another and kept "Shifting and the moving toyshop of her heart". She was not satisfied with one man and was always in search of the better. Thus the poem appears before us as a sex symbol.

Comic Epic:

An epic, according to Aristotle, is the tragedy of a conspicuous person, who is involved in adventurous events and meets a tragic fall on account of some error of judgment i.e. hamartia which throws him from prosperity into adversity,however, his death is not essential. So, the subject matter of an epic is grand and that's why it is written in bombastic language and heroic couplet. Its style, too, is grand.

A mock-epic is a satire of an epic. It shows us that even a trivial subject can also be treated on epical scale. The subject of "The Rape of the Lock" is trivial – a love dispute between a lady ad a gentleman. Lord Byron proposes Belinda who rejects his proposal. Baron cuts one of her beautiful looks. This trivial theme has been given epical treatment as if it were some grave event of paramount importance.

The style of the poet is mock-heroic. He employs bombastic and showy diction for thoughts and ideas which are not really grand – pompous expression for low action – for example, the game of Ombre had been described as a war of nerves, the table has been termed as the battlefield, the dispersed cards have been dubbed as routed army etc.

Similarly, the process of Belinda's make –up has been termed s adoration and the sacred rites of priced. Belinda is called 'inferior priestess' and her toilet an 'alter' etc.

The poet has employed the epical method to heighten the effect i.e. the great has been made look small and vice versa. The introduction of the aerial machinery is used for heightening of effect. Belinda is an ordinary fashionable girl, but she has been shown being protected by thousands of spirits. The trivial game of Ombre has been compared with a grave war of nerves. The ordinary flight between the supports of Belinda and those of Peter has been compared with the fatal war between gods and goddesses and their hair pins, fans, etc. with which they fought have been termed as 'deadly weapons', spears, etc. The grief of Belinda at the loss of the lock has been compared with the shock at the death of a husband or a lapdog or at the breakage of a China vessel. Thus the poet raises a lapdog to the level of a husband or reduces a husband to the level of a lapdog.

The poet has also employed epical and heroic images, which is one of the prerequisites of a mock-epic. For example, Belinda has been named as 'the fairest of mortals', the 'bright fair'. The cards have been called 'parti-coloured troops'. The pair of scissors has been termed as a two-edged 'weapon', 'little engine', 'forfex', 'fatal engine', etc.

Belinda's dreams have been called mystic vision. The air-pins have been compared with 'deadly weapons' and 'deadly spears' etc. Belinda's eyes have been dubbed as 'fair suns'.

Humour is one of the prerequisites of a mock-epic and the poem is full of humour and its humour is pleasing as compared to Swift's humour.

Moral is an essential part of a mock-epic. This poem is full of morals from the beginning till the end. However, the speeches of Belinda and Clarissa are especially soaked in moral. Belinda repents that she would have been ten times happier if she had indulged herself in the pursuits of the fashionable circle. So, the more a woman exposes herself and her beauty, the more her chastity is in danger.

Supernatural Machinery

Pope explains that "machinery" is a term invented by the critics to signify the part which deities, angles, or demons play in a poem. He goes on to say that the machinery in this poem is based on the Rosicrucian doctrine of spirits in which the four elements are inhabited by sylphs, nymphs, gnomes and salamanders. The sylphs, whose habitation is in the air, are the best-conditioned creatures. 

Pope tells us that beautiful women return, after their death, to the elements from which they were derived. Termagants or violent tempered women become salamanders or spirit of the fire. Women of gentle and pleasing disposition pass into nymphs or water-spirits. Prudish women become gnomes or earth spirits. Light-hearted coquettes are changed into sylphs or spirits of the air. 

The first and the foremost activity of the sylphs is the protection of fair and chaste ladies who reject the male sex. They guard and save the chastity of maidens and save them from falling victims to the "treacherous friends". The gnomes or earth spirits fill the minds of proud maidens with foolish ideas of being married to lords and peers. These gnomes teach young coquette to ogle and pretend blushing at the sight of fashionable young men. However, sylphs safely guide the maidens through all dangers. Whenever a maiden is about to yield to a particular young man, more attractive and tempting man appears on the scene and the fashionable maiden at once transfers to the new comer. This may be called levity or fickleness in women but it is all contrived by the sylphs. 

In most of the famous epics, "machinery" consists in supernatural beings like gods and angles who play a vital role in the poems thus showing that the human world is not independent and that supernatural powers have an important bearing in this world. Pope thought that his mock epic would be incomplete without machinery. The machinery of his poem comprises the sylphs led by Ariel. Pope described wittily the occupation and tasks of the sylphs in general. 

Ariel and his followers were assigned humble but pleasant duty of serving fashionable young ladies. Their functions are described humorously including saving the powder from being blown off from the cheeks of ladies, preventing scents from evaporating, preparing cosmetics, teaching the ladies to blush and to put on enchanting airs, suggesting new ideas about dress. 

The sylphs show a delightful down scaling of the epic machines. They are heroic standards but feel scared when a crisis approaches. They are Belinda's counselors. They explain the various anxieties that make up Belinda's day. 

"The Rape of the Lock" may be described as a satirical comedy of manners. The sylphs in this poem are both in mirror and mock customs and conventions of the society of the time. Belinda is told in a dream about the danger of life. 

Reassuring Belinda in this way, Ariel is in fact undermining her moral position. He explains how a woman's defence is achieved. A maid would fall to Florio if Demon were not at hand to divert her attention. It is the sylphs who make her do that. 

The machines are present at every crucial situation in the play. The sylphs are present during Belinda's journey by boat to Hampton Court. They have been warned by Ariel to remain alert and vigilant. Fifty of them take charge of Belinda's petticoat. They attend on her when she plays Ombre. They hover around her when she sips coffee and they withdraw only when Ariel sees "an earthly lover lurking at her heart". A gnome, called Umbriel, goes to the cave of Spleen and brings a bag full of sighs, sobs, screams and outbursts of anger, and a phial filled with fainting fits, gentle sorrows, soft briefs, etc. all of which are released over Belinda. And then sylphs are present to witness the flight of Belinda's lock of hair to the sky. 

The sylphs were added to the poem not simply as shinning trinkets and three-penny bits to a Christmas pudding but to develop and flavour the whole. They improve the literary and human mockery. The machinery of sylphs is the principal symbol of the triviality of Belinda's world. "The light militia of the lower sky" is a parody of both Homeric deities and Miltonic guardian angles. Like these they have an ambiguous status; they exist within and without the characters. The sylphs who protect Belinda are also her acceptance of the rules of social convention which presume that a coquette's life is a pure game. 

The machinery of sylphs in this poem is vastly superior to the allegorical personages of respective mock-epics. It allows Pope to show his awareness of the absurdities which nevertheless is charming, delightful and filled with a real poetry. The myth also allows him to suggest that the charm, in past at least, springs from the very absurdity.

Machinery serves various purposes in the poem. It imparts splendour and wonder to the actors and the actions in the story. Like Homer's gods, Pope's sylphs move easily in and out of the lower world. What they really stand for – feminine honour, flirtation courtship, the necessary rivalry of man and woman – is seen in its essence, and is always beautiful. 

These "light militia of the lower sky", increase dramatic suspense and story depth. They help to universalize the whole action. They are in binding symbolism of the little drama. 

The sylphan machinery is superb. Ariel offers a satanic substitute for Christianity. Addison advised Pope against adding the machinery of the sylphs to the poem but that Pope ignored the advice. Pope succeeded eminently in his design of introducing his element. 

According to John Dennis, Pope's machinery contradicts the doctrine of the Christian religion and all sound morality. They provide no instruction and make no impression upon a sensible reader. Instead of making the action wonderful and delightful, they render it absurd, and incredible. Dennis' opinion is, however, not sound or convincing.

Significance of Cave of Spleen

Spleen was the Augustan name what Elizabethan described as melancholy. It is less of a disease than a fashionable affectation. Fashionable ladies, poets, and playwrights pretend to suffer from it so as to give an impression that he victims are serious thinkers of creative writers. Pope exalts Spleen to the level of Goddess and cave of Spleen to the level of underworld and personifies her as the Queen of underworld. This suits his scheme to mock the epic conventions systematically because the serious epics like "Illiad" and "Aenied" show heroes taking a voyage to the underworld. In travesty of this convention, however, Pope packs a lot of social criticism, especially the criticism of fashionable vanities and affectations of the fashionable women.

Sylphs were in attendance to Belinda when she plays Omber. They hover around her when she sips coffee. They withdraw when Ariel sees "an earthly lover lurking at her heart". A gnome, called 'Umbriel' holds the place of Ariel. After the rape of the lock of Belinda, Umbriel wanted to inflict her with Spleen. So he took a journey to the underworld to the cave of spleen.

It is reported that the Queen of Spleen as a capricious and eccentric goddess holds full control over the fashionable ladies ranging from fifteen to fifty. She, the Goddess of Spleen is the aspiration behind the affectation of melancholy as well as the pretension to the poetry by the female sex.

The effect of Spleen on the women varies according to their temperament. While some consults the physician for their treatments. Some begin to write scurrilous plays and those who are proud give them an air and try to delay their visit as to show their importance.

While speaking of the cave of Spleen, Pope gives a vivid picture of the fantastic vision to which the men and women plagued with spleen are exposed to. At the moment we see flaming devils and snakes erected on their coils, lustrous ghosts, opening sepulchers and red fires and the other moment we visualizes the lakes of liquid gold, scenes of paradise, transparent places and angles coming to solve the difficulties in human life. Thus the description of the cave of Spleen is highly symbolic and conveys the accurate picture of the people suffering from Spleen.

Moreover, Pope points out the illusion from which morbidly melancholic people suffer. Such people are often plagued with fantastic ideas or visions and often imagine themselves transformed into various objects.

Then, there are two hand maidens who wait upon the Goddess of Spleen, are Ill-Nature and Affectation. Apparently, it is seemed that Pope has delineated the pictures of two hand-maidens just to emphasize the splendour of Goddess of Spleen. But since Spleen, Ill-Nature and Affectation are the typical feminine vices in Pope's time, therefore, the delineation of their portraits provide the vivid picture of the fashionable women who affected so many things.

Ill-Nature is presented as an ugly, wrinkled and decayed woman who pretends to be virtuous and pious but essentially a vicious creature who takes delight in murdering reputations of the other people. The black and white lines of her dress presents the contrast between her pretension and reality – the while colour suggests purity, innocence and religiosity and the black colour suggest malice, envy and scorn. In fact, Pope has satirized the double role of the woman's nature of his times who pretends to be pious and virtuous just to maintain their good reputation i.e. the woman of his age gives importance to their reputation than their virtues. In other words they are hypocrite.

The, Pope delineates the portrait of the Affectation, the second hand maiden of the Goddess of Spleen. Affectation is personified as an old woman who is beautiful, young and tender though she is fairly old. Delineation of the portrait of the Affectation provides a vivid picture of the fashionable woman. It includes a sharp, ironical commentary on the vanity, frivolity d hypocrisy of fashionable women.

There Affectation, with a sickly mien,
Shows in he cheek the roses of eighteen,
Practiced to lisp, and hang the head aside,
Faints into airs, and languishes with pride,
On the rich quilt sinks with becoming woe,
Wrapt in a gown, for sickness, and for show.
The fair ones feel such maladies as these,
When each new night-dress gives a new disease.

Then, the bag, which the Goddess of Spleen gives to gnome, Umbriel, is the clever mimicry of the bag in which Ulysses entrapped the winds. The bag contains all the violent and noisy emotions while the Phial contains the noisiest sort of sufferings. This bag is indicative of female weaknesses. Thus, Pope seems to imply that the women are capable of all sorts of antics to demonstrate their sufferings.

To sum up, the visit to the cave of Spleen is introduced for the sake of mock-heroic effect, which gives an opportunity to the poet to satirize the evil nature and the affectations of ladies and gentlemen of his society. Furthermore, it also serves the action of the poem.


The Rape of the Lock is a brilliant and humorous satire on the aristocratic society of England, with its social scandals, follies, trivialities and vanities in general of fashionable men and women. Dryden said, “The true end of satire is the amendment of vice by correction,” and that is what Pope set out to do in his “Rape of the Lock.” By using the burlesque, mockery, and irony, Pope ridicules the deviation of his society.

Satire in “The Rape of The Lock" can be called a social satire because it satirizes the society as a whole in ways still relevant to to-days world. Moreover it is not a satire against any individual, but against the follies and vanities of fashionable men and women in general. Through Belinda Pope satirizes the fashionable women of the time and through Baron, he satirizes the aristocratic gentlemen of the age. However, the reason for why Pope’s “The Rape of The Lock” can be called a social satire is given below:

The poem is, in fact, a satire upon feminine frivolity. And Pope introduces the readers with many “Female Errors”. At the very beginning Pope satirizes the idleness late rising of aristocratic woman by Belinda. It was the hour of twelve when Belinda opened her eyes to fall asleep again-

“Now Lap-dogs give themselves the rowzing Shake,
And sleepless Lovers, just at Twelve, awake:”

The poet goes on to make fun of the vanities of woman .The aristocratic ladies of those days were over fond of gilded chariots and of ombre; and the poet makes fun of that over fondness here .These vanities, he says, do not end even with the death of the woman:

“Think not, when Woman's transient Breath is fled,
That all her Vanities at once are dead."

The poet also expresses the weakness of these ladies for entertainment and for marked balls. The satire in the following lines is obvious:

“With varying Vanities, from ev'ry Part,
They shift the moving Toyshop of their Heart"

Woman, in short, are all frivolous beings whose genuine interest is in love making and they felt keenly interested in the love letters that they received. The poet makes fun of Belinda by saying that when at least she woke up from her prolonged sleep, “Thy eyes first opened on a Billet doux" in which the lover had spoken at charms. He satirizes by saying that love making was the greatest pastime of young ladies .They expected attention and gifts from the lovers, but they were rather inconsistent in their love.

The poet also ridicules the women’s excessive attention of self embellishment and self decoration of a famous satirical passage. Belinda is described as commencing her toilet operations with prayer to the cosmetic power, puffs, and powders lie on Belinda's dressing table.

“Here Files of Pins extend their shining Rows,
Puffs, Powders, Patches, Bibles, Billet-doux.”

Another object of satire is present in the arrangement of things on the table: the Bibles are usually placed in the midst of her beauty aids. But Bible is the holy book which should be kept separately. So, Bible is as important as other thing to Belinda. This type of attitude towards religion is satirized by Pope.

Then the poet satirizes how chastity and serious thing might be lost in the world of philanderers. Honour was merely a word with little meaning to them and reputation was more important than honour. A lady's honour is no more serious than her staining new brocade, a lady's missing a ball is as serious is her forgetting her heart. As Elwin points, "The relative importance of things, the little with them is great, and the great little. They attach as much importance to a china jar as to their honour as much to religion as to dances and masquerades, as much to their lap-dogs as to husbands."

"Not louder shirks to pitying Heaven are cast
When husbands or when lap dogs breathe their last"

In this poem, Pope also satirizes Belinda as well as whole fashionable woman's pretended purity. Because of her false purity, she was punished. Ariel discovered that Belinda was not quite keen on preserving her virtue and therefore she withdraws from the scene pope satirizes Belinda by saying that if she tried she could save his hair but she tried outwardly not from her heart. Pope also satirizes the aristocratic men of his time. They are as frivolous as the ladies. Lord peter and his fellows are the representatives of the fashionable society of the time .They are all idle, empty minded folk, and seem to have nothing else undo but making love or flirting with ladies and pope satirizes this.

One can't easily forget the satire in the portraits of sir Plume, another fashionable gentleman, with his snuff emptiness. When he is requested by his beloved Thalestris to persuade Lord Petre to surrender the precious hairs of Belinda, he utters words which are unsurpassed in their emptiness and pore ridicules this emptiness:

“With earnest eyes, and round unthinking face,
He first the snuff-box open'd, then the case,
And thus broke out — "My Lord, why, what the devil?
"Z — ds! damn the lock! 'fore Gad, you must be civil!
Plague on't!'t is past a jest — nay prithee, pox!
Give her the hair" — he spoke, and rapp'd his box.” (593-598)

Nothing shows more clearly the faithfulness and unthinking folly of the smart set than this little speech of Lord Plume. Not only that the poet has also satirized the system of justice. At four in the afternoon, judges hurriedly sign the sentence so that they could have their dinner in time. This is their sense of responsibility and showings these judges Pope satirizes the system of justice of his time. He says about them:-

“Mean while, declining from the Noon of day,
The sun obliquely shoots his burning ray;
The hungry Judges soon the sentence sign,
And wretches hang that jury-men may dine;”

Even Pope has attacked the concept of friendship. Friends are hollow and fickle. 
Belinda’s friend Thalestris is as shallow as the age in which she lives. As soon as the reputation of Belinda is gone, she doesn’t like to be called her friend, because it will be a disgrace to be known as her friend henceforth.

Thus the poem is a delicate humorous and witty satire on the upper class society of the eighteenth century. It exposes the follies with a light ridicule. It points the idle life of pleasure seeking young men and women. It introduces us to a world of frivolity and fashion and by showing these; he wants to correct these things.

Social Satire:

ocument because it mirrors contemporary society and contains a social satire, too. Pope paints about England in 18th century.

The whole panorama of “The Rape of the Lock” revolves around the false standard of 18th century. Pope satirizes the young girls and boys, aristocratic women and men, their free time activities, nature of husbands and wives, the professional judges and politicians of the day.

Pope clearly depicts the absurdities and the frivolities of the fashionable circle of the 18th century England. The world of Belinda – the world of fashion is a trivial world. The whole life of Belinda is confined to sleeping, make-up, enjoyment and alluring the lords. There are no transcendental elements in her life. This life is marked by ill-nature, affection, mischievousness, coquetry, yielding and submissive nature, fierce and unruly nature, infidelity, cheapness, meanness, trivialities and frivolities etc. Belinda represents all the fashion struck women, busy in such stupidities.

The gallants of the time have not been spared by Pope. Baron not only represents Peter but also typifies the aristocratic gallants of the age.

Pope satirizes man’s nature that is always weak at beauty. Men sacrifice everything at the altar of beauty and even the most intelligent man behaves foolishly when he fall a victim to beauty.

In order to make his satire sharper and all the more effective, Pope introduces the aerialmachinery, which facilitates the satire. Through this weapon, the poet throws in contrast the weaknesses of the fashionablewomen of that age. He satirizes women who are interested in fashionable life and its pursuits and who go on ex ercising their evil influence even after their death. For the sake of worldly grandeur, they can bid farewell even to their chastity and honour. He satirizes women of fiery, coquettish mischievous and yielding nature and gives them different names. It also provides the poet with an opportunity to satirize the class consciousness of women.

All the women and beaus gather at the place where they exchange talks on trivial things e.g. visits, balls, films, motions, looks, eyes, etc. and “at every word, a reputation dies”.

“A beau and witling perished in the throng,
One died in metaphor, and one in song.”

Man’s favourite activity is to take suffered women to play with fan. There is singing, dancing, laughing, ogling, etc. and nothing else. Women are busy alluring the dukes and lords. The poet reflects the hollowness of men in the character of Sir Plume who is coward, foolish and senseless, lacking courage. Women are on the whole irresolute and they have made toyshops of their hearts. They have even illicit relations with the beaus. Women are meant only for the entertainment of men, who play toy with them.

Pope also satirizes of the husbands and wives of the day. Husbands always suspect their wives. They think that their wives have been merry making with their lovers.

Wives are also not virtuous at all. They love their lap-dogs more than their husbands. And the death of husbands is not more shocking than the death of a lap dog or the breakage of a china vessel.

So through the medium of satire, Pope paints a picture of 18th century English society. His satire is didactic and impersonal. It is not inflicted against any person or individual, rather against the society and that, too, owing to some moral faults. He is dissatisfied with the society around which he wants to reform. The society he pictured is the aristocratic group of 18th century fashionable English society. But thee are several allied subjects, too, on which he inflicts his satire. For example, he satirized the judged who make hasty decisions.

“The hungry judges soon the sentence sign,
And wretches hang that jurymen may dine”

He also satirized those friends whose friendship is but lust, those politicians who do not have a deeper insight and cannot see beyond the shows and take steps just for their own interests and ends etc.

To sum up, the poem is a reflection of this artificial and hollow life, painted with a humorous and delicate satire. Pope’s satire is intellectual and full of wit and epigram. Is picture of Addison as Atticus though unjust and prompted by malice, is a brilliant piece of satire.
“As an intellectual observer and describer of personal weakness, Pope stands by himself in English verse.”

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