Popes Poems and Prose

The Lapdogs of Swarthy Warriors: Gender Reversal in Pope’s The Rape of the Lock

July 26, 2019 by Essay Writer

In The Rape of the Lock, Alexander Pope utilizes a reversal of gender roles to sculpt a subtle societal critique of the leisurely life of belles and beaux. Through this satirical device, Pope exposes the aristocratic pretensions of this heavily ornamented and indolent lifestyle. He emasculates his male characters and applies warrior-like traits to his female characters, with the exception of Clarissa, whom is instead identified as a defender of the patriarchy. In this mock-epic poem, assumed gender positions and presupposed dominances break and blur in the flurry of futile action that ensues between and within the sexes. The roles generally reserved for men in epic poetry are usurped from them and given to the women, who prove to be convincing warriors and dominant heroines. In this mock-epic piece, Pope walks a tightrope of maintaining his good rapport with the families mentioned and inserting his own critique into the poem. Critic Cleanth Brooks identifies Pope’s areas of critique as “…the real nature of the conventions of polite society, the heroic pretensions of that society as mirrored in the epic, the flattering clichés which society conventionally employs—all come in for a genial ragging” (Brooks 108). As a technique, gender reversal aids Pope in expressing his discontent with the decline of traditional roles. Pope uses the first two cantos of the poem to show Belinda and the Baron preparing for “war” in their respective manners. He gives the reader a glimpse into the magical inner-workings of Belinda’s morning routine. Belinda is armed with the aid of the sylphs, and “Puffs, powders, patches, Bibles, billet-doux,/Now awful beauty puts on all its arms” (I 138). However, Belinda is unaware of the conquests she will meet this day. Echoing the language of traditional epic in its cataloguing of weapons and armor, these lines gradually begin the language of mock-epic. Critic Hugo Reichard argues these two characters to be equal, each with powerful, dominant characteristics unique to their sex: “Both Belinda and the Baron are at the age of exuberance where the armor of courtship fits rather loosely…Feigning ‘death,’ sophisticating love, and shunning marriage, they wage a mock war in a mock-heroic poem. Their maneuvers […] make the plot of the poem a contest of wiles between commanding personalities—an uninhibited philanderer and an invincible flirt” (Reichard, 887-888).However, the scene in which we are first introduced to the Baron does not portray him as “commanding” in the least. Our high-maintenance heroine is juxtaposed with the fawning Baron, kneeling at his altar comprised of various love tokens from past amorous endeavors: “There lay three garters, half a pair of gloves,/And all the trophies of his former loves./With tender billet-doux he lights the pyre,/And breathes three amourous sighs to raise the fire” (II 39-42). Pope feminizes the Baron by introducing him as a beaux sighing and prostrating himself before the altar of love. The ‘contest of wiles’ that Reichard mentions seems to have little grounding in light of how quickly the Baron’s enjoyment of his victory is deflated. He also resolves to have the lock, no matter the method, be it “By Force to ravish, or by Fraud betray” (II 34), indicating his willingness to use artifice and cowardice to obtain the lock. This is a far cry from the valorous, epic hero which the Baron sees himself to be, and Belinda later becomes.However, it is not long before these lightly satirical beginnings transform into a battleground where gender wars ensue and Pope wields his strongest satire. The actual scene of the “rape” itself reveals a complex network of indistinct gender alliances and positions. The rape of the lock is not the lusty, virile conquest, which would be anticipated for the Baron as a male warrior. It is actually incited by the temptation and aid of a woman, Clarissa. It is Clarissa who provides the shears with which the Baron cuts Belinda’s lock: “Just then, Clarissa drew with tempting grace/A two-edged weapon from her shining case:/So ladies in romance assist their knight,/Present the spear, and arm him for the fight” (III 127-130).Clarissa chooses to betray Belinda through deception instead of direct conflict. She is different from the other two prominent women of the poem, Belinda and Thalestris, in that she does not take the most direct, aggressive route to obtain power. Because she is female, and not a love interest of the Baron’s, their alliance is somewhat confusing. She later attempts to portray herself with neutralizing virtue, contradicting her earlier socially pragmatic behavior in aiding the Baron. It is possible that Clarissa sees herself as a neutral, combative force against vanity and coquettishness, therefore justifying her actions. Although the language of the poem connotes that Clarissa and the Baron have a romanticized knight/lady relationship, it is not clear what Clarissa has to gain by assisting in the cutting of the lock. Critic Peter Staffel accuses Clarissa of becoming a male sycophant for gain of status: “The deportment and carriage that Clarissa encourages perpetuate both women’s marginal status and her superiority to Belinda within those margins. Thus she establishes herself as a corrupt collaborator in a hegemonic patriarchy” (Staffel 91). Staffel seems correct in thinking that moral superiority above her female counterparts and patriarchal favor are the goals of Clarissa’s actions.Following the rape of her lock, Belinda falls ill with grief. Pope uses this illness to introduce us to another fantastical world, the Cave of Spleen, pulling us aside from the overblown epic human world. Ralph Cohen points to this world as a reflection of the human world, because “the mythological machinery reflects the same inversion of sexual roles” (Cohen 58). The gnome Umbriel descends into this world, where “Unnumbered throngs on every side are seen/Of bodies changed to various forms by Spleen…Men prove with child, as powerful fancy works,/And maids, turned bottles, call aloud for corks” (IV 47-48, 53-54). This image of impregnated men is a bold statement about the flexibility of masculinity within the poem. The cave could be interpreted as a murky microcosm of the human world. Just as the shapes of men and women shift in the cave, the roles and identities of both genders are shuffled around in the human world. The Queen Spleen, another example of a dominant woman, who parallels the powerful women yet to come, rules the cave. The woman with the strongest power associations is Thalestris, whose name echoes back to the Amazons. Unlike Clarissa, Thalestris acts as an ally to Belinda and advocates her anger and grief. Thalestris, as Belinda’s brave and aggressive sidekick, represents the tightly bound sisterhood, which Clarissa has failed to enter. She fights alongside Belinda and sets an example in her assertiveness. Thalestris’ first small victory is her domination over Sir Plume, her beau. With her rhetorical fierceness, Thalestris convinces Plume to demand the lock of the Baron. The reader watches Thalestris swiftly emasculate Plume with unrelenting slander: “’Men, monkeys, lapdogs, parrots, perish all!’/She said; then raging to Sir Plume repairs,/And bids her beau demand the precious hairs” (IV 120-123). For the third time in the text, men are referred to as lapdogs. Although there is not a blatant parallel, it is significant that men are included in this running list of animals. In this case, subtle juxtaposition is just as effective as an obvious parallel. As Ralph Cohen points out, like lapdogs, monkeys and parrots, all common pets of the stylish upper class, the men of this poem “…become the housebroken possessions of the women, to blither at their command, to obey their every wish…and to faint before the displeasure of their glances” (Cohen, 55). Upon her command, Plume submits to Thalestris’ will and assaults the Baron with a muddled list of over compensatory swearing: “Zounds! damn the lock!/‘fore Gad, you must be civil!/Plague on’t! tis’ past a jest—nay, prithee pox!/Give her the hair’—he spoke, and rapped his box” (IV, 128-130). His ludicrous demand does not move the Baron, whom ironically remarks that it pains him “Who speaks so well should ever speak in vain” (V 132). Thalestris apparently matches and surpasses Sir Plume’s rhetorical skills by virtue of her persuasive power. If she is not able to gain power over the Baron directly, she is still dominant in that she can vicariously influence him via Sir Plume. The accelerating action of this scene is interrupted by the reappearance of Clarissa, who delivers a speech on “good humor.” In his article “The Case of Miss Annabella Fermor,” Cleanth Brooks presents the most popular view of Clarissa’s purpose: “Pope expresses his own judgment of the situation, employing Clarissa as his mouthpiece […] Though Pope obviously agrees with Clarissa, he is neither surprised nor particularly displeased with his heroine for flying in the face of Clarissa’s advice” (Brooks, 105). This high-minded, ineffectual speech comically receives no applause. It seems that if Clarissa were truly Pope’s mouthpiece, her moralizing speech would at least elicit approval from the patriarchal side she is attempting to defend. It is clear that she utilizes this speech to elevate her own wisdom, which is a vanity in itself: “And trust me, dear, good humor can prevail/When airs, and flights, and screams and scolding fail” (V 31-32). By positioning herself as the expert on the virtues of “good humor,” she seems to forget her previous involvement in the perpetuation of this chaos: her assistance in the rape of the lock. It is more likely that Clarissa is just as much of a caricature as the society surrounding her, she merely has a different approach in her ludicrousness. Immediately following Clarissa’s applause-less speech, she meets with Belinda’s frown, and Thalestris comically quips her to be a “prude.” It would seem uncharacteristic of Pope to advocate such a self-aggrandizing and verbose speech, critic Robin Grove indicates it is more likely that he “detects the taint of high-minded insincerity in Clarissa’s over-conscious speech…” (Groves 83). Clarissa’s opportunism overshadows her moral voice and reveals her to be a socially pragmatic traitor. Her speech does not beg to be taken seriously because of her deceptive participation in the “rape,” which makes her as guilty and engaged in this vain game as the others whom she is attempting to rise above with rhetoric. Almost instantly after the deliverance of Clarissa’s speech, the warring characters escalate the conflict with humorous alacrity. The battle, full of fierce females and fainting men, culminates in the ultimate portrayal of gender reversal. The men are slain merely by the disapproving stares of their mistresses:While through the press enraged Thalestris flies,And scatters death around from both her eyes,A beau and witling perished in the throng,One died in metaphor, and one in song.O cruel Nymph! A living Death I bear,”Cry’d Dapperwit, and sunk beside his chair. (V, 57-62).Instead of drawing a more feminine comparison, Pope presents Belinda’s anger as surpassing the rage of Othello, a character embodied by his warrior status and short temper: “Not fierce Othello in so loud a strain/Roar’d for the handkerchief that caused his pain” (V 105-106). This parallel marks the final stage in the usurpation of conventionally male roles, and completes Belinda’s transformation into a swarthy warrior, a striking contrast with the delicate, belle Belinda at her vanity, whom we meet in the beginning of the epic. The Baron suffers a very unmanly defeat with merely a pinch of Belinda’s fingers, and is almost finished off by her mother’s hairpin, which Pope names a “deadly bodkin” (V 88). In the history of this hairpin, Pope includes a delightfully subtle commentary on the masculine becoming effeminate. He parenthetically traces the hairpin back to its origin, where it once belonged to her great grandfather, then was melted down into a widow’s belt buckle, and then a child’s whistle, and eventually was reincarnated as a woman’s hairpin. Belinda’s role of chaste coquette was defined in Pope’s day as “a woman who uses arts to gain the admiration and affection of men, merely for the gratification of vanity or from a desire of conquest, and without any intention of responding to the feelings aroused…” (Reichard 889). Belinda’s reactive rage at her “defilement” shows a rejection of her presupposed, natural role as woman, and in many ways her character would be a perversion of the expectations for women in her day. Clarissa’s speech sets up a narrow binary in which a woman like Belinda will either put aside her pride and marry or have no worth and die a spinster. Critic Robin Grove suggests that Belinda’s anger at the loss of the lock is actually “honest and life-engaging,” (Grove 83) considering that in the world of Clarissa and the patriarchy, she is only given the option of becoming one who “…scorns a man, [and] must die a maid” while on her current path (V 28). But for one to assume that the “Satire emerges because of the stress laid on Belinda’s rejection of her natural role” (Guilhamet 108), would be to ignore the ludicrousness of the portrayal of the men as well. Pope apparently disapproves of the Baron’s capriciousness with lovers, emphasizing his “…altar built,/Of twelve vast French romances, neatly gilt” (II 37-38). Pope ultimately equalizes the sexes by the mysterious disappearance of the lock, which becomes “a sudden star” (V 127). The apotheosis of Belinda’s lock raises it above the earth, where it was once an object of petty debate and a cause of war. The loss of the lock proves that nothing has come of this battle: neither harm nor victory. It is also fairest to both sexes, for the Baron has no trophy of conquest for his altar and Belinda does not gain her revenge. This equalization also lies in the satirical negation of the poem: nothing significant occurs. In spite of all of this language of “rape,” Belinda is still a virgin, even if her missing lock may imply she belongs to another. If Pope’s voice is inserted into the poem, it is in the last portion, where he soothes a fraught Belinda with the comfort that her name is “inscribed” in the stars. By transforming women, men, and hairpins, Alexander Pope creates a playful, yet mordant satire of the lazy, leisurely lifestyles of beaux and belles. His intricate network of gender alliances and oppositions are both playful provocations and engaging entertainment. By utilizing juxtaposition and metamorphosis, he seems to critique an age in which men and women have lost their bearings among frills and frivolity. Works Cited1. Cohen, Ralph. “The Reversal of Gender in ‘The Rape of the Lock.’” South Atlantic Bulletin. Vol. 37, No. 4. , pp. 54-60. Nov, 1972.2. Erskine-Hill, Howard, ed. The Art of Alexander Pope. New York: Harper and Row. 1979.3. Guilhamet, Leon. Satire and the Transformation of Genre. Pennsylvania: University of Pennsylvania Press. 1987. 4. Mell, Donald C., ed, Pope, Swift and Women Writers. Newark: University of Delaware Press. 1996.5. Guerinot, J.V., ed. Pope: A Collection of Critical Essays. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice Hall, Inc. 1972.6. Reichard, Hugo M. “The Love Affair in Pope’s ‘Rape of the Lock.’ PMLA, Vol. 69, No. 4. September, 1954.

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Belinda: Wronged On Behalf of All Women

July 10, 2019 by Essay Writer

On the surface, “The Rape of the Lock”, by Alexander Pope, appears to be a mild satire on the recent rise in materialism and the specifically female habit of excessive consumption. Originally published in 1712, the poem was situated among numerous other satires on the same subject, including Jonathan Swift’s “The Lady’s Dressing Room”. However, upon further examination, the poem seems to be far more troubling than what critics have called gentle social commentary dedicated to a friend or a brilliant use of the mock-epic style. The eighteenth century marked the transformation of many social and economic conventions, and these transformations resulted in an increase in power for many women. This shift towards equality was troubling to many men, who became anxious to restore their dominance and force women back into a position of subservience. I will argue that Pope uses Belinda to embody numerous aspects of British femininity, including consumerism and an adherence to the societal standards for relationships, and in doing so, he employs her many imperfections as a means to highlight women’s true inferiority.The dedication of the poem is cited as one of the primary reasons that “The Rape of the Lock” is regarded as a mild social satire. Inspired by a real-life event in which Lord Petre cut a lock of hair from the head of Miss Arabella Fermor, Pope claimed that the poem was intended to pacify the socially tumultuous situation. Addressed to Fermor herself, Pope explains that the poem was “intended only to divert a few young ladies, who have good sense and good humor enough to laugh not only at their sex’s little unguarded follies, but at their own” (Pope). He goes on to clarify the function of the sylphs and gnomes, and he reassures Fermor that she was not the inspiration for Belinda, saying “The human persons are as fictitious as the airy ones; and the character of Belinda, as it is now managed, resembles you in nothing but in beauty” (Pope). However, the patronizing nature of the letter is evident throughout. Pope seems to imply that Fermor’s gender makes her not only unable to grasp the concept of supernatural creature but also naïve enough to believe Pope’s transparent assertions. Another indication that the poem was ultimately not intended as a friendly gesture lies in the history of the dedication. Cynthia Wall explains that “Pope offered Arabella Fermor a choice of dedications, prose or poem. . . She chose the prose letter that has traditionally prefaced the poem” (Wall 175). The poem which she rejected as ultimately published under the name “To Belinda on the Rape of the Lock”, and it contains numerous other insinuations of female inferiority. Pope writes, “Nature to your undoing arms mankind/ With strength of body, artifice of mind;/ But gives your feeble sex, made up of fears,/ No guard but virtue, no redress but tears” (Pope 15-18). He also offers a measly attempt at consolation, saying that Belinda should not mourn the loss of her hair because it was important enough to inspire a poet. Overall, the dedication and its alternative both serve as distressing reminders that Pope’s intentions were likely not as honorable as many have claimed. While he claims to be writing in honor of Arabella Fermor, the dedication belittles her in such obvious ways that one can not ignore his disdain. Coupled with Pope’s use of the epic form, it becomes evident that Pope utilized “The Rape of the Lock” as a means to express his utter disgust for all the qualities possessed by women. Critics have written countless analyses of the mock-epic style found throughout Pope’s poetry. This style of writing was not simply a coincidence. Alexander Pope began his career translating many of the classical works, including those by Horace and Homer, and was thus very familiar with the literary conventions of epic poetry. These conventions can be seen numerous times throughout “The Rape of the Lock”. The poem opens with the invocation of a muse. The classical authors called upon one of the nine Muses, while Pope cites his friend John Caryll, writing, “This verse to Caryll, Muse! is due” (I, 3). The second epic reference is in the author’s description of Belinda as the ideal woman, far above the standards of the common people. Belinda is characterized as “fairest of mortals” (I, 27), having “graceful ease” (II, 15) and a beauty which rivals the sun. As in the epics, the poem is marked with numerous supernatural interventions; Odysseus was protected by the gods, and the Sylphs and Gnomes watch over Belinda. The traditional armament scene in which the warrior is assisted in his preparation for battle can be seen in Belinda’s dressing scene as “awful Beauty puts on all its arms” (I, 139). Pope writes, “The busy Sylphs surround their darling care,/ These set the head, and those divide the hair,/ Some fold the sleeve, whilst others plait the gown” (I, 145-148). The necessity for armament becomes apparent in the multiple occurrences of battle. First, Belinda engages in a tense card game called ombre. After nearly securing a victory over two lords, Belinda takes part in the feast after a battle, which in this case is a luxurious cup of coffee. Subsequently, after the Baron cuts off Belinda’s lock of hair, the men and women engage in a passionate battle. Unlike the weapons found in other epic battles, the men are equipped with their wits and the women must fight using their eyes or mouths. Pope writes, “Chloe stepped in, and killed him with a frown;/ She smiled to see the doughty hero slain,/ But, at her smile, the beau revived again” (V, 68-70). What function does the satirical mock-epic style serve in “The Rape of the Lock”? Scholars have offered numerous possible explanations. Cleanth Brooks theorizes that the mock-epic style was intended to portray the incident as trivial, saying, “His choice of the mock-epic fits beautifully his general problem of scaling down the rape to its proper insignificance. The scene is reduced and the characters become small and manageable figures whose actions can always be plotted against a larger background” (Brooks 110). On the other hand, Felicity Nussbaum argues that “the mock-heroic ‘Rape of the Lock’ teases Belinda while it displays her entrapment in the rigid rules of courtship” (Nussbaum 137). I contend that Pope uses the mock-epic style in order to show the utter inferiority of women. Epic poetry traditionally featured a hyper-masculine hero in a setting of warfare and male competition, and Pope juxtaposes these masculine elements by placing a feminine character in the role of protagonist. However, Belinda ultimately fails in this role, and Pope blames the failure on the fact that her femininity makes her unable to function in a traditionally masculine world. This masculine world was accentuated even further with the growth of trade. The eighteenth century signaled a drastic revolution in the British economy as an increased mercantilism led to a more extravagant standard of living. This expansion of trade was manifested in both higher earnings for many of the elite and the prevalence of luxury items, such as imported fabrics, coffee, and spices. Women were granted more purchasing power, and many females spent their newfound wealth on elaborate costumes and imported makeup. The changes in economy resulted in similar changes in the English society. The distinction between the aristocracy and the merchant class greatly expanded, and commodities became the most significant means of measuring one’s place in society. However, as with many social and economic changes, there is often a backlash. In an effort to reinforce their dominance, men focused upon the most obvious signs of progress, and women were blamed as being the primary cause for this move towards excessive consumption. As a result, women were continually criticized for their vain nature and lack of self-control. They were seen as the embodiment of the evils associated with commercialism, and their almost ridiculous fixation on fashion became a common topic for satire. Laura Brown explains, “The image of female dressing and adornment has a very specific, consistent historical referent in the early eighteenth century-the products of mercantile capitalism. The association of women with the products of trade is a strong cultural motif in this period, and the concern with female adornment . . . is a prominent expression of that association” (Brown 112). Clarissa’s speech before the battle between the sexes comments on the temporary nature of ornamentation. Pope writes, “But since, alas! frail beauty must decay,/ Curled or uncurled, since locks will turn to gray;/ Since painted, or not painted, all shall fade,/ And she who scorns a man must die a maid”” (V, 25-28). At first glance, it appears as though Pope uses Clarissa as a vehicle to inspire a change in the society which forces women to value their appearance. However, the conclusion of her speech reinforces the necessity of marriage, negating any progress towards empowerment. Cynthia Wall explains, “Clarissa counsels resignation, reinforcing a status quo that punishes a woman who scorns a man or rejects a lord-by definition denying her the ability and the right to choose” (Wall 34). Also, the reaction which her speech receives from the other women in the poem indicates its effectiveness. Pope writes, “So spoke the dame, but no applause ensued,/ Belinda frowned, Thalestris called her prude” (V, 35-36). The response seems to imply that if females themselves do not support Clarissa’s speech, why should society cease its criticism of women?The condemnation of women is seen continuously throughout “The Rape of the Lock” as Pope characterizes Belinda as the epitome of excessiveness. He describes Belinda’s “joy in gilded chariots” (I, 55) and the “sparkling cross she wore/ Which Jews might kiss and infidels adore” (II, 7-8). He criticizes her overly prideful nature as he writes, “Think not, when woman’s transient breath is fled/ That all her vanities are dead:/ Succeeding vanities she still regards” (I, 51-53). He also mocks the female system of values, saying that Belinda can not distinguish between what is truly important and what is mere frivolity. The author describes Belinda’s inability to decide between her intrinsic qualities or her material possessions. Is it worse to “Stain her honor, or her new brocade/ Forget her prayers, or miss a masquerade/ Or lose her heart, or necklace at a ball” (II, 105-109)? Nicholson elaborates on these juxtaposed values, saying, Pope “shows market values confounding a traditional ethics as they refashion the human personality, accommodating it to different priorities. In Pope’s construction, a commercialized society rewrites virtue and leaves Belinda without any anchoring sense of morality” (Nicholson 40). All of these representations of extravagance serve to highlight Belinda’s superficial nature and her close bond with consumption. Nicholson further explains that Pope portrays “Belinda as a consumer, the embodiment of luxury, whose ambience is defined by the wealth of objects with which she surrounds and decks herself” (Nicholson 28). Pope employs Belinda to represent not simply a single greedy woman but rather the belief that all women equally as ostentatious. By representing all women in Belinda, Pope uses her fall from arrogance in order to humble all of womankind. Another important example of Pope’s derogatory representation of women can be seen in Belinda’s toilet scene, in which Belinda adorns herself with numerous imported beauty items. Pope writes, “The various offerings of the world appear;/ From each she nicely culls with curious toil,/ And decks the goddess with glittering spoil./ This casket India’s glowing gems unlocks,/ And all Arabia breathes from yonder box. The tortoise here and elephant unite/ Transformed to combs, the speckled and the white” (I, 130-136). This toilet scene, which was a common literary convention in the eighteenth century, is used to specifically tie women to mercantilism. Laura Brown writes, “The artifice through which Belinda’s beauty is either created or awakened is attributed to the products of trade and defined through a catalogue of commodities for female consumption” (Brown 113). This explicit association of women with trade reinforces the propensity to blame women for the problems linked to the increased commercialism, essentially placing men in a permanently elevated status. While Belinda as a whole personifies the feminine habit of excessive consumption, her vanity is most obviously encompassed in her locks of hair. Pope describes “two locks which graceful hung behind/ In equal curls, and well conspired to deck/ With shining ringlets her smooth ivory neck” (II, 20-22). The hair is described as beautiful enough to ensnare man’s imperial race (II, 27), and after the Baron cuts it off, it is placed in the sky as a constellation. Pope describes the “ravished hair,/ Which adds new glory to the shining sphere!” (V, 141-142). On the other hand, as Felicity Nussbaum claims, “Each bit of praise for Belinda in ‘Rape of the Lock’ is mitigated by satiric diminution” (Nussbaum 141). In this instance, the beauty of the lock is negated by the amount of superficial effort placed into maintaining its appearance. Pope asks, “Was it for this you took such constant care/ The bodkin, comb, and essence to prepare?/ For this your locks in paper durance bounds,/ For this with torturing irons wreathed around?/ For this with fillets strained your tender head,/ And bravely bore the double loads of lead?” (IV, 97-102). Pope wraps Belinda’s femininity into her lock of hair, and by destroying her lock, he essentially manages to destroy her entire gender. In addition to her appearance, a woman’s identity was inexorably tied to her relationships with men. A woman was seen as the property of her father until she became married, and then the father transferred her rights to her husband. This objectification was widely accepted in the traditionally patriarchal society as women were thought to be unable to take care of themselves. Few women owned property, and the occupations available to women were extremely low-paying. Therefore, females were taught from an early age that their goal was to find a husband who could support them. Marriage was rarely viewed as a loving union, but rather one of economic security. Although wives were expected to be submissive to their husbands, women began to exhibit more control over their own destinies. As a result, Pope uses Belinda as a model of the consequences for defying the social constraints placed on love. Women in the age of Pope were repeatedly praised for their wit and the ability to balance intelligence with the proper deference to their male counterparts. However, Pope portrays Belinda as possessing neither of the two. Clarissa explains the importance of character, saying, “Trust me, dear, good humor can prevail/ When airs, and flights, and screams, and scolding fail./ Beauties in vain their pretty eyes may roll;/ Charms strike the sight, but merit wins the soul” (V, 31-34). Pope characterizes Belinda as relatively dim-witted, having “infant thoughts” (I, 29) and a “vacant brain” (I, 83). Also, Belinda does not recognize the perceived impropriety of a woman appearing more intelligent than a man. Belinda possesses “learned pride” (I, 37), and motivated by her “thirst of fame” (III, 25), she dares to challenge the Baron and another young man to a game of cards. Diana M. Agy writes, “When Belinda challenges men to ombre, we see her overstep her culturally defined status of subservient female” (Agy 233). Consequently, instead of the expected acquiescence, Belinda displays an unexpected desire for power and comes dangerously close to winning the game. I contend that Pope uses this social transgression to symbolize the agency which real women were gaining and utilizes her as a means to punish all women for their attempts at empowerment. Women in the eighteenth century were also expected to follow certain standards for courtship. They should be playful and engaging but not to the point of giving men false hopes. Women should always maintain the appearance of propriety, while still remaining flirtatious in order to attract a suitable husband. However, Pope portrays Belinda as unable to find any sort of middle ground; she is either characterized as a tease or a prude. Pope first characterizes Belinda as a tease, saying, “Favor to none, to all she smiles extends;/ Oft she rejects, but never once offends. Bright as the sun, her eyes the gazers strike,/ And, like the sun, they shine on all alike” (II, 11-14). She is protected by the Sylphs, the guardians of all coquettes. However, as Ariel discovers upon peering into Belinda’s mind, there is “an earthly lover lurking at her heart” (III, 144). Although the identity of this lover is never revealed, his presence in Belinda’s thoughts signals her transition from coquette to prude. Her care is then transferred to the gnomes, who protect those who never act upon their romantic feelings. This change was foreshadowed in the first Canto, when Pope writes, “Some nymphs there are, too conscious of their face,/ For life predestined to the Gnome’s embrace” (I, 79-80). The mythological creatures watching over women throughout “The Rape of the Lock” are dually significant within Pope’s attempts to debase women. First, the creatures are assigned based upon a woman’s personality, and she can only be protected by one creature at a time. This attempts to compartmentalize the numerous complexities within a woman’s mind. That is, a woman can be a coquette or a prude; she can not have characteristics of each. By limiting a woman’s ability to express her individuality, Pope manages to repress the essence of femininity. Next, Pope implies that the spirits not only guard the women, they dictate their thoughts and actions. Pope writes, “Oft, when the world imagine women stray,/ The Sylphs through mystic mazes guide their way” (I, 91-92). He also describes the Sylphs as “these that early taint the female soul,/ Instruct the eyes of young coquettes to roll,/ Teach infant cheeks a hidden blush to know,/ And little hearts to flutter at a beau” (I, 87-90). These depictions of the Sylphs imply that they exhibit control over Belinda and other coquettes, which effectively confiscates any agency held by Belinda or other women. Eighteenth century society was no different from our own in that romantic relationships were still unavoidably linked to sexuality. The expression of sexuality was a relatively new phenomenon, instigated in rebellion against the Puritan lifestyle previously forced upon the English citizens. However, as with many conventions of the time, sex carried with it a gendered double standard. Although men were encouraged to openly practice their sexuality, women were taught that virginity was their most important asset. Without their virtue, women were not considered to be “marriage material”. However, as many critics have explained, innocence was often not valued as much as the appearance of innocence. Cleanth Brooks writes, “Chastity is, like fine porcelain, something brittle, precious, useless, and easily broken” (Brooks 104). While Belinda is constantly lauded for her virgin status, Pope fills the poem with sexual innuendos to illustrate her deceptively virtuous nature. The poem opens with a description of Belinda as a “sleepless lover”, and her dreams “that even in slumber caused her cheek to glow” (I, 24). Although the readers do not learn the identity of Belinda’s secret lover, we are instead presented with a substitute for her sexual desires-her dog, Shock. In the first Canto, the insinuation is obvious as Shock leapt from the bed and “waked his mistress with his tongue” (I, 116). Throughout the remainder of the poem, the dog is consistently worshipped as if he were human. Pope appoints the supervising Sylph to watch over Shock, and after the Baron cuts Belinda’s lock, “Not louder shrieks to pitying heaven are cast,/ When husbands, or when lapdogs breathe their last” (III, 1557-158). According to Nussbaum, “The lapdog assumes the role of a surrogate husband, and the satire mocks such unnatural behavior. The implication . . . is that women will resort to any means to quench their insatiable desire” (Nussbaum 140). Pope’s accentuation of Shock both portrays Belinda as overtly desperate for sexual fulfillment and reinforces his earlier suggestion that women are unable to distinguish between items of importance (a husband) or material things (a dog). Finally, the subtle references to sexuality are brought to the surface with Belinda’s “rape”. Although the term rape could be used to refer to a violation of Belinda’s very essence, I believe Pope purposefully chose a phrase so closely associated with sex. The implication is that the lock of her was representative of her virginity, and by stealing it, the Baron has doomed Belinda to a life of shame. Thalestris tells Belinda that society will likely label her a whore for giving away her hair to the Baron. She says, “Methinks already I your tears survey,/ Already hear the horrid things they say,/ Already see you a degraded toast,/ And all your honor in a whisper lost!” (IV, 107-110). After the rape, Belinda cries, “Oh, hadst thou, cruel! been content to seize/ Hairs less in sight, or any hairs but these!” (IV, 175-176), implying that she would rather have been physically raped than to lose the illusion of chastity. As Karen Aubrey elucidates, “Had he raped in the true sense of the word, Belinda’s humiliation would have at least been private and would have preserved appearances” (Aubrey 12). Thus, Belinda’s rape is far more significant than forced sexual intercourse. The Baron takes away both Belinda’s innocence and her ability to exist in a society which placed such an emphasis on the appearance of innocence. The rape is only one of the methods which Pope uses in order to highlight women’s inferiority. Initially, the dedication letter subtly insults Arabella Fermor, patronizing her intelligence based simply on the fact that she is a woman. Next, the style of the poem points out the inability of women to function within the masculine world of epic poetry. Finally, Pope uses Belinda to embody all of the aspects which the British associated with femininity, and then he systematically destroys these characteristics. The result of “The Rape of the Lock” is that women are left without a suitable means to define their identity, and Pope has accomplished his goal of returning men to a position of complete superiority. The poem is the ultimate humbling experience for women, emphasizing the consequences for a woman who attempts to escape from the social constraints of femininity.

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An Exploration of ‘Dulness’ In Pope’s Dunciad

July 3, 2019 by Essay Writer

One of Pope’s most fundamental premises in The Dunciad is the idea that the demise of the word cannot be blamed solely on the Grub Street hacks but also on academicians at large. Not only does the ‘uncreating word’ of Chaos (IV 653) pose as a religious and moral Armageddon – this allusion to the reinstatement of conditions that existed before creation being perhaps the most sinister image in the poem’s entirety – but also as a semantic and creative apocalypse. The textual critics such as the Tibbaldian hero of the previous editions of The Dunciad, clearly contribute to this dissolution, and their effect on the author’s ‘wits’ whom they study is violent and brutal: When Dulness, smiling – ‘Thus revive the Wits! But murder first, and mince them all to bits… …Let standard authors, thus, like trophies born, Appear more glorious as more hack’d and torn, And you, my Critics! in the chequer’d shade, Admire new light through holes yourselves have made. (IV 119-126)Among the vast army of personae attacked by Pope in The Dunciad, two characters, Dr Busby and Richard Bentley are satirised at some length and as such, are held as the arch propagators of academic Dulness. Being projected very much as Dulness’ chief representative in schools, Busby’s heavy pedantry and a heavier hand is shown to debar pupils from genuine enlightenment: We ply the Memory, we load the brain, Bind rebel Wit, and double chain on chain, Confine the thought, to exercise the breath; And keep them in the pale of Words till death. What’er the talents, or how’er design’d, We hang one jingling padlock on the mind. (IV 157-162)Warburton’s annotations to these lines likens the versified mnemonics in rote-learning as practiced by Dr Busby in Winchester to the bells put onto draught horses’ bridles, emphasises Pope’s own satire of an inescapable academic world in which, words instead of being a means to knowledge, are built into a barrier against it. This idea of textual Dulness as repressive, burdensome, and imprisoning has also been presented earlier to the reader: Beneath her footstool, Science groans in chains, And Wit dreads exile, penalties, and pains. There foam’d rebellious Logic , gagg’d and bound, There, stripp’d, fair Rhet’ric languish’d on the ground (IV 21-24)But Pope’s satire extends beyond Busby’s stick-wielding classroom habits to political Dulness, immaturity and consequently independence, in the sense that the ‘Boy-Senator’, even after leaving school, still cringes in fear of being punished. As Valerie Rumbold notes, “…when such young men leave school Walpole takes on the absolute power of a Busby over them, making nonsense of their supposed role as representatives of a free people.” Pope seems to suggest that this education can be of little use as it takes no more account of the varying demands life will make on the students than it does of their varying talents. Seemingly, Busby’s academic Dulness not only stunts free-thinking creative growth, but also his influence resurfaces as a debilitating trait in his students later on in their careers.Yet another perfect bête noire for the ‘ancients’ such as Pope, Bentley’s mangling of the text of Milton’s Paradise Lost is also exemplary for corrupting words in what is considered to be a superficial, unnecessary, and irrelevant exercise: Turn what they will to verse, their toil is vain, Critics like me shall make it prose again. (IV 213-214)Bentley’s enlightened concern with accuracy is deliberately confounded with his Enlightenment arrogance, his inability to allow the dead poet his autonomy. As J. Philip Brockbank notes, “Our education, as transmitters of literary tradition, have some place in the creation story, and their function, according to Pope, has been to subdue all creative art to dullness.” Having once censured ‘Dunce’ scholars such as Bentley and Theobald who either over-analyse texts (particularly problematic if the mistakes found therein are from Pope’s own works) or fragment literature to a series of meaningless words and disjointed letters, which cease therefore to signify, (“Tis true, on words is still our whole debate,/ Disputes of Me or Te , of aut or at,/ To sound or sink in cano , O or A,/ Or give up Cicero to C or K” {IV 219-222}) Pope’s satire on Dulness is further applied to the incongruity of things. The way the characters in The Rape of the Lock attach immoderate importance to particular objects (the lock of hair itself), is one of Pope’s chief sources of social and cultural comment. In it, there is also a tendency for routine objects to be invested with almost religious significance and to be registered as precious or attractive. The same method is employed in The Dunciad, but the transitions which the objects experience are different. As critic Martin Blocksidge notes, “Wherein The Rape of the Lock the trivial was made significant, in The Dunciad, the potentially significant is trivialised in order to present a view of culture and learning which has become fatally fragmented and concerned with mere shards rather than with real objects.” The whole superficiality of learning and apprehension is summed up in Pope’s treatment of the young man undertaking his grand tour. Pope offers a criticism of tourists which has with time become commonplace enough: that they are likely to visit places simply for the joy of having been there, rather than because they are particularly well equipped to get anything out of what they see. Pope’s ‘young Aeneas’ makes a breezy whistle-stop tour of Europe: Intrepid then, o’er seas and lands he flew, Europe he saw, and Europe saw him too…(IV 293-294)Not only are Europe’s cultural monuments cheapened by the young man’s indiscriminating avidity before them (‘The Stews and Palace equally explor’d/ Intrig’d with glory, and with spirit whor’d’ {315-6}), some are degraded by time anyway. For example, the once-great city of Venice is now merely effete and vicious: Where, eas’d of Fleets, the Adriatic main Wafts the smooth Eunuch and enamour’d swain. Led by my hand, he saunter’d Europe round, And gather’d ev’ry Vice on Christian ground; (IV 309-312)Introducing a satirical account of what was considered to be a necessary part in the completion of the education of the member of the ruling class in the eighteenth century, this Grand Tour did little to mature the minds of the young travellers but instead was blamed for introducing foreign corruption into politics, religion and culture, as well as allowing the men to indulge in unrestrained debauchery in a city of decadent carnivals involving masking and fancy dress. And Venice, in ‘dull’ decline despite a proud tradition of liberty, can furthermore also be seen as a specific warning to Britain.

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Fortasse, Pope, Idcirco Nulla Tibi Umquam Nupsit (The Rape of the Lock)

June 21, 2019 by Essay Writer

Alexander Pope is known for his scathing but intelligent critiques of high English society. His acclaimed poem The Rape of the Lock does support female passivity and subordination in marriage; however, the fact that they are endorsed in Pope’s satirical world demonstrates his detestation of these ideas, and more importantly, of the society (comprised of both males and females) that upholds these conventions.In many aspects Belinda is infantilized; her judgment and intelligence reduced to that of a child and subject to an authority figure of some sort. For example, Pope writes: “Some secret truths, from learned pride concealed/ To maids alone and children are revealed” (ROTL 1.37-38). Here, the “learned pride” represents the men, who, for all their erudition, are not privy to the existence of the chimerical creatures. Women, however, are not above believing in the machinery because they are nave as children are. Her “ideas crowd a vacant brain,”(ROTL 1.83) suggesting that she is not capable of any substantial considerations, certainly not anything transcending her “infant thought[s]”(ROTL1.29). Later, she is depicted as juvenile and unreasonable during her crying fit, while the Baron is heroic, surpassing even Aeneas in steadfastness for his refusal to return the lock of hair (ROTL 5.5).Another way she is compared to a child is her inability to fend for herself and thus needing the Sylphs, who “guard the purity of melting maids” (ROTL 1.71). Belinda was “claimed” (ROTL 1.105) by Ariel, which demonstrates how the woman is not only objectified by the men she encounters, but by the Sylphs as well. Although it is specified that their sex is interchangeable, Ariel, the Sylph chiefly responsible for Belinda’s well-being, is identified as a male with the masculine pronoun “he” (ROTL 1.115, etc.). By defining Ariel as a man, Pope places Belinda under the care of yet another virile figure.An important aspect of the child/woman comparison is that the ignorance is attributed to innocence. This is meant to demonstrate the virtue and sexual purity a woman was expected to possess, but this wholesomeness is undermined throughout the poem by the repeated suggestions of Belinda’s sexual desire and even the satiation of this desire. First, the poet describes how a “birthnight beau…even in slumber caused her cheek to glow.” (ROTL 1.23-24) This hints at sexual desire so potent within Belinda that she cannot escape it while sleeping. Pope’s discussion of female desire extends to the root of it and the facility by which a man can incite it. For example, in Canto 1, Lines 86-90 Pope writes:And in soft sounds, ‘your Grace’ salutes their ear’Tis these that early taint the female soul,Teach infant cheeks a bidden blush to know,And little hearts to flutter at a beau.”The lines suggest that flattery “taints” the female soul from youth. Additionally, their blushing cheeks and fluttering hearts denote the awakening of their passions. Belinda’s yearning is mostly fiercely attacked in lines 105-110. Here Pope juxtaposes her honor to a brocade. This implies that her worldly goods (a brocade was usually made of rich fabric and were very expensive) were esteemed on the same level as her nobility. Next, it indicates that her honor would be as easy to stain as an article of clothing. The point that Pope makes in his mentions of female desire is that attention is sought more than sexual gratification. For instance, Belinda is described as having “a thirst of fame” (ROTL 3.25) when she sits to play ombre with the knights. Pope’s use of sexually charged vocabulary (“thirst”, “invites”, and “burns”) implies that her attention mongering is as satisfying as a sexual experience.The act of cutting the lock itself is the greatest statement on female compliance. The Baron is glorified for acting in the name of love in Canto Two, lines 30-34:He saw, he wished, and to the prize aspired.Resolved to win, he meditates the way.By force to ravish, or by fraud betray;For when success a lover’s toil attends,Few ask if fraud or force attained his ends.The diction in these lines demonstrates how the Baron saw Belinda as a trophy to be won by any means. Later, he boasts of his conquest, claiming that “so long [his] honor, name, and praise shall live!” (ROTL 4.169) Although the act is not worthy of the uproar expressed in the mock epic, it would be contestable even in modern times. Instead of facing any retribution, he was exculpated from the opening lines of the poem when his motives for the assault are explained to be no stranger than those that “Could make a gentle belle reject a lord” (ROTL 1.9-10) Belinda cements the notion in her last speech when she voices the notion that “she who scorns a man must die a maid” (ROTL 5.28). The assumption in these lines is that a woman is obligated to accept any man that courts her without regard to her personal preferences and that it is dishonorable to die without a husband. Both ideas weaken the woman because they undercut the possibility of an independent woman being socially acceptable in their society. It is here that the reader realizes that the roles of victim and perpetrator are switched and Belinda will assume culpability for everything that happens to her.Pope makes a strong statement about the role of women in The Rape of the Lock, but it is important to consider that the statement is not encouraging the behavior and standards he presents; rather he condemns those who maintain those conventions. He is not attacking women in general; he is attacking the kind of woman he describes in the mock epic (and probably the kind of woman that rejected him.)

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Breaking Clod: Hierarchical Transformation in Pope’s An Essay on Man

June 8, 2019 by Essay Writer

Pope’s “An Essay on Man” can be read as a self-conscious consideration of the idea of formal systems, both at the level of the poem and of the world. Pope moves philosophically from the lowest- to the highest-ranked levels of being and back, charting these hierarchies through a series of rhymed iambic pentameter couplets. While this structure is not in itself noteworthy, as it is a common phenomenon in Pope’s work, it gains significance when one considers it in the context of the poem’s subject matter. The concept of hierarchy, both as a cause of limitation and as praise of man’s place in the world, is brought into focus as Pope considers the confines of these hierarchies, and the ways in which a lower and a higher level might merge. For example, with the question “The lamb thy riot dooms to bleed to-day,/ Had he thy Reason, would he skip and play?”, Pope highlights the limited mental world of the lamb, and suggests that the limitation may, in this case, be purposeful. Because of man’s brutality, Pope argues, the lamb is better off in a state of ignorance; in this way, he will not have to suffer the presentiment of death. Such passages, Nuttall suggests, argue that “Man, so limited [to a particular state,] would never know that he was limited” (Nuttall 54), and as such raise the issues of hierarchy and knowledge within the poem. By questioning the boundaries between lamb and man, between man and God, and so on, Pope attempts to understand the essence of particular hierarchies, as well as the possible transformation of one thing into the next. Far from espousing a quietist viewpoint, Pope seeks to understand the very nature of the world’s distinctions, to juxtapose elements of different levels against each other and see what equation will result. His use of the couplet, rather than a list or other form, allows chiasmus to occur throughout the poem, with room for comparison or contrast of elements in every set of rhymes. Through the placement and grammatical linking of each of the four parts of the couplet, Pope posits distinctions between concepts at the very level of the line. Through the use of poetic enactment, he is able to envision the transformation of one being into the next, to move a creature from the lowest to the highest level of society through words. It is this poetic enactment, Pope suggests, this particular structuring and breaking of the line, which allows for dramatic departures from the hierarchies the world traditionally holds. Through describing and enacting transformations in the hierarchy of things, Pope utilizes his own metaphor of concentric circles (“As the small pebble stirs the peaceful lake;/The centre mov’d, a circle strait succeeds”), examining hierarchies at the smallest, most reduced level of the line in the hope that they will radiate out into the world of the poem.Pope’s consistent usage of the iambic pentameter couplet has beenoften discussed, with critics sometimes decrying the rigidity and formality this verse form imposes. Whether or not the couplet does represent a particular ideology (a question Hunter’s “Form as Meaning” discusses), it is clear that its formal requirements must be carefully considered by the poet composing in such relatively strict verse. As Hunter notes in “Form as Meaning,” “Absolute and unbending loyalties or essential values for the heroic couplet as a verse form may be impossible to establish, but expectations, patterns, leanings, tendencies, and appropriate formal associations can all be culturally described” (Hunter 259). Because of the tradition arising from such a recognizable form, it is inevitable that a “canon” of heroic-couplet poems have come into being, all with similar concerns as to the form’s particular constraints. With little leeway metrically and even less in rhyme, the poet must choose those elements strategically, in order that he might both hold to the requirements of the heroic couplet and have the freedom for the expression he desires. While such strategy clearly exists in other forms, such as the sonnet, the heroic couplet is unusual, in that it has both open and closed elements. There is no set line length, fourteen or otherwise, which offers the poet a prescribed place to draw the poem to a close.Because of this dichotomy – a strict limitation in rhyme and meter at the level of the pair, and the absence of any length limitation but that of the poet’s capacities – the heroic-couplet poem requires that the poet have both the ability to work within tightly-prescribed limits and the consideration to build these limited pairs into a self-regulated, self-sized whole. The form offers neither the freedom of vers libre nor the comfortable rules of a set-length poem; thus, the poet must define the balance of regulation and freedom himself. Because of this open-closed dichotomy, the form seems already suited to a self-conscious questioning of itself. As the form is, from the very beginning, obvious to the reader, it is perhaps tempting for a writer to foreground this formal obviousness when constructing a poem of this kind. Yet Pope, in writing “An Essay on Man,” takes this questioning a step farther, in that he makes the concept of boundaries, the open and closed nature of hierarchies, into the very subject of his poem. Hunter calls Pope “a conscious worker in the couplet tradition” (Hunter 266); as such, it seems he has transferred his knowledge of that tradition’s limitations into the questioning of the world’s. The poem’s form supports this questioning, in that it allows for two sets of pairs to be placed next to each other – if nothing else, to be displayed in the space of the poem as they would not normally be in the world. Hunter argues that Pope is not only able to display his terms through this poetic form, but is in fact able to suggest a sense of causality: “Each couplet involvesa structure of four fundamental unitsdivided rhetorically by a caesura and syntactically by some crucial grammatical relationship that implies cause/effect…” (Hunter 267). In this way, Hunter argues, the four “fundamental units” are both separated, in the sense that the caesura and the punctuation divide them, and are brought together, in that a “crucial grammatical relationship” links their terms. Through such a statement, Hunter seems to assert not only that the form itself is conducive to claims of causality and comparison, but also that Pope’s particular use of the English grammar causes them to be further linked.For example, in Epistle I, the lines “When the dull Ox, why now he breaks the clod,/ Is now a victim, and now Egypt’s God” (I., 63-4) not only propose a strict progression of events, but actually move the image of the ox through a series of philosophical and mythological transformations. In part one (first half of the first line), the ox is simply “dull” and presumably motionless; though there is the time marker “when” given, there is no verb at all, and one is able to characterize the ox only through the adjective “dull”. This initial characterization marks perhaps the least dramatic of a series of transformations, in which the reader’s expectations will be radically shifted within the space of the two lines.In part two, for example (the second half of the first line), the characterization has become dramatic and full of motion – not only through the interjection “why,” which suggests surprise as well as conjunction, but also through the straightforward word order, the strong action verb “breaks” and the extremely present-tense adverb “now”. Through this adverb, Pope moves the line from describing an instance, “when,” to a particular, contemporaneous moment in time, “now.” The “now” forces the reader to reconsider the ox, which was first only characterized as “dull,” as a creature who makes strong movements in the present time. The presence and immediacy of the stresses also changes, from two in the first half-line to three in the second, and from a vague or secondary stress in the first (perhaps on “When” and “dull”) to a very articulated and regular sense of stress in the second (strong stress on “now,” “breaks,” and “clod”.) The meter has moved from uncertain and partially stressed in the first to completely regular in the second, reflecting not only the completion of an iambic pentameter line, but more significantly, the difference in metrical description of the first two parts. One might even perhaps consider the significance of “breaks” in the second half-line; though used to refer to the ox, it is possible that it references the poet as well, and the “breaking” occurs, not only of the clod, but of the line as well.If this theory of enacted metaphor is continued, it might suggest that the poet himself is implicitly being compared to the ox – dull in the first half-line, and then, as the breakage and turning of the line occurs, transformed into an active, transformative being. Indeed, as the Latin versus derives from the turning of the plow, this self-reflexive metaphor has a basis in the language itself. The line breaks right after “now he breaks the clod,” enacting what may have been first considered simply descriptive terms. Whether or not this metaphor is borne out by the reader’s ear, it does at least seem that Pope transforms the figure of the ox from a state of “dull” stasis into a more exciting, consequential one, as he goes through the action of breaking. The placement of these two terms, “part one” and “part two,” directly beside one another, and separated by a comma, allow them to be considered as equivalencies, not necessarily equal terms, but terms whose equality comes, through their placement, into question. Through reading the two terms, one after the other, one is struck by the dramatic movement from one to the other state.Similarly, in terms three and four, an equally stark transformation takes place. Both terms include, through parallelism, the being verb “is”; both also contain the word “now” and the sense that the ox is being renamed. Because of the similarities in structure between the two parts, one might initially assume that the sharp distinction of parts one and two is not here taking place. The meter also does remain relatively regular and iambic, rather than moving from less to more regular as in parts one and two. However, the parallelism of parts three and four allows a different sort of transformation to take place: one based not on a difference of sentence structure, but rather on the violence of the animal renamed. The phrase is not structured around the difference between the “dull” ox and the ox breaking clod, but rather around the opposition between the ox’s status as a “victim” and that of “Egypt’s God”. The opposition is as dramatic as can be imagined, and may be said to parallel, in more drastic terms, that of the first two parts.The ox as victim is one who has been beaten, who is inactive because of a stronger force; the ox as Egypt’s God is one who has triumphed, has won over the hearts and minds of the people and attained the status of a deity. Taken by themselves, these two phrases force the reader to consider a simple opposition between the two; taken together, though, they force the reader to make a philosophical and chronological link between the two. Pope’s use of the word “now” twice in this line creates a sense not only of contemporaneousness and spontaneity – “now” this happens, and “now” this happens, as though the author could not get down the words fast enough – but also a sense that the author is all-powerful, capable of making the impossible real through the use of his pen. The use of the double “now” suggests that the author has the power to create the ox anew, perhaps not in physical reality, but at least in the minds of the perceived audience. It seems either that the ox, perhaps through his breaking of the clod, has actually changed from a victim to a deity, or that the author, with his use of the adverb marking time, has the ability to create it so. The perception of the animal changes as Pope changes from part three to four; perhaps a change in perception is all that is necessary to re-envision the ox as a god. Through the use of “now,” Pope allows the reader to follow along as he makes this change; indeed, through the proximity of parts three and four, Pope suggests that almost no time is needed for the change to occur. In addition, because this line involves only the verb “is,” the reader is invited to contrast it with the previous line, in which an action verb occurs. There is, Pope suggests, an analogy-based relationship between the dull ox and the ox as Egypt’s God, and alternately between the ox breaking clod and the victim. Though such relationship is not made explicit, it seems that, based on the use of enactment before, Pope implies that the action is itself transformative, that it is the breaking of clod which allows the ox to become more grand.To follow the enactment metaphor, this suggests that it is the work of the poet itself which causes change, the writing of “now” and “now” again which forces the reader to consider concepts in a new way. The ox is not physically recreated in three different guises; it is rather the lines of the poet which, through juxtaposition, force such recreation to occur.Indeed, as the ox moves from being “dull” to “breaking clod,” to a “victim” to “Egypt’s God,” it seems it is undergoing a parallel transformation in both lines. The ox moves from a dull, passive object to an active force, and from a victim, one of the lowest states in society, to one of the highest, as Egypt’s God. This quick, seemingly miraculous transformation becomes believable if created poetically by the author himself; if the reader’s perception is made to shift with each clause the author makes after “now.”Without necessarily proposing hierarchies, then, Pope suggests them implicitly through the very pairing of the images he selects. An apparently simple couplet, when examined, expands to reveal the author’s insistence on the transformative properties of his own hand. Though the terms themselves may not be of particular importance, they help to reveal the consideration of the juxtaposing process itself, and thus enter into importance as terms of a logical argument. For instance, Hunter argues that “the closed couplet tends to privilege the balancing itself – the preservation and acceptance of difference rather than a working out of modification or compromise” (Hunter 266) and Nuttall, in Pope’s Essay on Man, suggests that “it is bestto speak of the elements of the line as positions, which may be variously occupied” (Nuttall 21). In considering the verse, then, it seems that explicit commentary on Pope’s part may not be necessary for elements to be compared. The form itself seems a kind of argument, whose logic allows for pairs of premises and terms. When these premises are read more closely, it seems evident that they suggest a kind of transformation that cannot occur in reality. The heroic couplet, it seems, acts as a kind of Gedankensexperiment in which wildly different terms may be worked out to their own conclusions. As Sissela Box says of Pope’s metaphor of concentric circles, “It is a metaphor long used to urge us to stretch our concern outward from the narrowest personal confines toward the needs of outsiders, strangers, all of humanity” (Nussbam 39);Pope’s four-part juxtaposition seems to be doing much the same work, though considering humanity’s essences more than its needs. Through comparison by the written word, the narrow concept of a “dull ox” may be quickly transformed into grandeur, and then back into dejection again.Through the writing of verse, the “breaking” of the line as well as the ox’s clod, the poet may enact such hierarchical transformations, thus envisioning a broadening and a transforming of the (at least poetic) world.

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Of the Characteristics of Pope

May 18, 2019 by Essay Writer

In Pope’s “Epistle: To a Lady of the Characteristics of Women”, he condemns the “wise wretch” of a woman who is not only too wise, but has “too much spirit”, “too much quickness” and does “too much thinking”. He bitterly exposes what “Nature conceals” (Pope ln 190) in women by purposefully selecting “the exactest traits of body or of mind” (Pope ln 191) and finding faults in such specimens as Narcissa, Flavia, Atossa, and Chloe only to make apparent the high standards that his own model of perfection, the lady for whom he is writing the epistle, achieves. And yet even the Lady’s reputation is falsely inflated, for it is only after listening to his tirade on women that she is honored by Pope. The Lady claims “women have no characters at all” (Pope ln 2) in attempts of consoling him for being the “nothing so true” that a woman has “once let fall” (Pope ln 1). She convinces him that the rejection he has faced is unworthy of the dejection he experiences, observable through his bitter, angry tone throughout the poem. His rejection is a “matter too soft a lasting mark to bear” (Pope ln 3) and yet in the first fifteen lines he is not an emotional participant but a cold, jealous observer of the very setting he has created, a situation in which he yearns to exist. “I must paint it,” (Pope ln 16) he says, intentionally setting himself apart from scene. He lets his “folly grow romantic” (Pope ln 16) through capturing an image of his ideal, and yet here in the very first lines of the poem he shies away even from any sort of fictitious sexual assertion and instead puts himself in physical seclusion. When he calls for the ground to be prepared (ln 17) he is metaphorically referring to the preparation of his own “colored” emotions upon the literal canvas that is the text of this poem. Pope could care less about what he finds to be good and bad characteristics in women, for in this poem there is an internal struggle for power within Pope between his own fears and insecurities and his generalized conception of the role of women.Wanting to be contained by a woman, Pope fears this as an impossibility because of a woman’s seemingly ever-mutating emotions. “Tis to [women’s] changes [that] half their charms [he] owes”, and yet this instability and ephemeral nature of women’s passions is what frightens him the most. It is the Cynthias who are ever changing and the Papillias who fly out of his reach that frustrate Pope into writing a somewhat misogynistic piece of work, for the reality of attaining a woman is in itself so impossible, that the possibility of finding an ever accepting, lasting love is outside of his range of conception. He wants to be loved and yet he hides from the pain that he is certain will be further inflicted upon him. The lover of a woman “purchase[s] pain with all the joy [that she] can give” (Pope ln 99) and yet he will “die of nothing but a rage to live” (Pope ln 100). This is Pope’s ultimate fear- not living fully- and yet without a woman he is not able to live fully either. He is the “nothing” referred to here, as in the first line of the poem, for his purpose is to do nothing but live. His existence is wholly in the verbal entity of “nothing but a rage to live” and yet it is from this force that Flavia’s lover dies. Man is killing himself by pursing Flavia’s love, for Pope literally dies of his accord but instead blames Flavia’s wit as the culprit. Pope condemns a woman’s humor, but goes on to use Simo’s mate as an example of vulgarity in humor. She “laughs at Hell” (Pope ln 107) he exclaims and likens her to a fool, and yet his own awe and jealousy of sin’s “charm (Pope ln 15) is disregarded.Pope wants a woman to contain him in ways a woman who is “fine by defect and delicately weak” (Pope ln 44) can never do. He wants to be as desirable as the “good man” (Pope ln 9) over which Fannia is leering, but he cares not “whether the charmer sinner it, or saint it” (Pope ln 15), for he simply desires to be the one who charms. Parallels can be drawn to Genesis here, for like the serpent that lures Eve to eat the forbidden apple from the Tree of Knowledge, the sinner’s charms are at work. Similarly the saint is alluring with the appeal of moral rectitude, God being an implied force here, and also Zeus is referred to as the Swan who seduces Leda (footnote 2). Evil and good act in one and the same way, merely as a process of gaining love and what’s more- respect. Although Pope paints a light scene with purity from “naked Leda” (Pope ln 10) and “simpering angels, palms, and harps divine” (Pope ln 14), he disregards both of these processes of gaining women and instead focuses on the physical attainment of the woman. In numerous accounts, Pope expresses how he is “fearful to offend” (Pope ln 29) women, and yet by charming women under the false pretenses of either being rebelliously wicked or supremely good, he no longer is at the mercy of women but gains power and thus control through seduction of the mind. However this is only a reality in Pope’s fantasy scene, in actuality it is women who have gained power over men through the same methods of seduction that Pope mentions, and unlike Pope, have been successful in controlling the opposite sex.Pope writes this poem in response to his failed attempt at love, but with his bitter realization that the reception of love is forever forsaken, “Love, if it makes her yield, must make her hate” (Pope ln 134), he recognizes that the power of love is itself feminine and thus the power of love that he craves will always be in a woman’s control. With venomous jealousy, Pope recounts the story of Calypso who “without virtue, without beauty, charmed” (Pope ln 46) Odysseus and his men. Calypso “touched the brink of all [that] we [men] hate” (Pope ln 52), and yet what is truly hated is simply the subordination of men to a woman. Pope’s insecurities are exposed when he exclaims that Philomede with “soft passion, and taste refined” (Pope ln 84) “makes her hearty meal upon a dunce” (Pope ln 85). He is afraid that he will be made a fool out of love, for in loving a woman he will be submitting to her. In submitting to her, he naturally resents her. This explains why Narcissa is at once applauded for her “tolerably mild” nature (Pope ln 53), and why many lines such as these tend to glorify the domestic, submissive women in this poem. Pope, like Papilla, too is “wedded to [his] amorous spark” (Pope ln 37) and yet he finds it easier to blame women for what can only be labeled as his own failure for personal fulfillment, for he lacks the power over women that women conversely have over him.Offend her, and she knows not to forgive; Oblige her, and she’ll hate you while you live: But die, and she’ll adore you-Then the bust And temple rise- then fall again to dust.Pope can only gain love in death, and yet even that is only for an ephemeral moment. In falling to dust he again becomes nothing, for he is a forgotten memory of someone who was never loved. He is nothing more than dust, worthless.Pope remains bitter about the loveless women who abandoned him and let him become “nothing” in their metaphysical presence, and again creates a fantasy where he envisions that they “regret [what was] lost” (Pope ln 234) but pretend they don’t. Pope rejoices in the literary deconstruction of the women that destroyed him, but he too ironically fits his own description of the bitter ladies who were “young without lovers, old without a friend” (Pope ln 246). With this proclamation, Pope suddenly describes the Lady as a “sober moon”, serene, virginal and modest (Pope ln 254). Stripped of her sexual powers over him, the Lady is no force to be reckoned with. He says the Lady is “softer than a man”, but goes on to state that she has the same characteristics of a man and still even more characteristics specific to a woman. By comparing her to a man, he has elevated her to the status of a man, perhaps an even higher echelon than man, but becoming insecure of a her supremacy in relation to himself, he singles out the one attribute he favors most in his own Lady Blouth. She is “a woman seen in private life…Bred to disguise, in public” (Pope ln 199/204). By making her importance appear more tarnished, he is able to boost his own perception of power.He references woman’s subservience to men only to boost men’s own egos and false senses of authority. He recognizes this by outright stating that no matter what type of lady, whether she is submissive or authoritative, that which makes a true lady is the “charm” with which she manages herself. Pope uses this word intentionally to note the shift in power, for he originally uses that word exclusively to describe a man’s seduction of a woman in his fantasy first scene. He celebrates the Lady’s good humor and wit and says very poignantly that she is a contradiction. She “never shows she rules” (Pope ln 262) and yet she is able to maneuver her man in ways in which he does not even realize. This strategy helps her charming “submitting sways” (Pope ln 263) that do not reflect in her own submission but in that of her spouse. Pope is not dense, and fortunately or not, he is not Aphrodite’s dunce, but he recognizes the power relationships for what they are and does his best to differentiate himself from the “dross” for the noblewomen (Pope ln 291) and finally attempts to redeem himself as a poet, not as a man.

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Allusion and Its Effects in Pope and Johnson

May 10, 2019 by Essay Writer

In some eighteenth century works, the emphasis on alluding to and drawing inspiration from the past proved to be one of the most effective methods in composing a satirical piece. Appearing in two forms, Juvenal or Horatian, a satire is “a poem, or in modern use sometimes a prose composition, in which prevailing vices or follies are held up to ridicule” (Drabble). Alexander Pope’s The First Satire of the Second Book of Horace Imitated alludes to the past as well as the present in a piece representative of Horatian satire. Serving as the example of Juvenalian satire is Samuel Johnson’s London: A Poem, In Imitation of the Third Satire of Juvenal. The significance of the allusions present in both pieces is central to understanding the overall intention of each satire.

Alexander Pope’s The First Satire of the Second Book of Horace Imitated, published in London in 1733, is Pope’s endeavor to defend himself and his satirizing works, by writing yet another satire (Pope 1-14). In the poem, he defends himself by alluding to some of his previous victims and subjects, declaring satire to be the truth as well as his guilty pleasure and if he ceased to write he would “think/ and for my Soul I cannot sleep a wink/…Fools rush into my head, and so I write” (Pope 29). Writing, particularly of the follies and vices of others is his primary passion. The poem is written as a dialogue between Pope and a friend who acts as his “council learned in the Law” and as Pope justifies his satire, the friend attempts to convince him of the dangers of his writing (Pope 27). Having the piece written as a dialogue allows the reader a chance to hear an outsider’s opinions as the text jumps from the friend’s main concerns followed by Pope’s justifications. Incorporating dialogue between Pope and another into the poem adds an extra dimension to it by allowing the reader to place themselves into the text as a second character in the dialogue.

The controversial nature of his allusions and subjects are the source of the displeasure towards his poems. Arguably, the “precise question is whether Pope’s verses constitute satire or libel” (Maresca 366). Is he merely making a mockery of those included in his works, or is he in fact guilty of slander against them? Pope defends his earlier works, referencing when he wrote satires that seemed “too bold/ Scarce to wise Peter complaisant enough/ And something said of Chartres much too rough” (Pope 27). Pope affirms he wrote satire and not libel since both references were to guilty men, thus Pope “undermines the charge of libel in the very act of presenting it by referring to his attacks” (Maresca 367). Pope believes he is not guilty of libel when the words he wrote were that of public opinion.

He satirizes the traditional poets methods of writing merely for the pleasure and satisfaction of others such as the poet “Sir Richard, rumbling, rough and fierce/ With Arms and George, and Brunswick crowd the Verse”, who writes what Pope considers to be shallow poetry written purely for the affections of royalty (Pope 29). Pope refers to what he sees as lesser poets thus providing an example to further defend that he must be the one to satirize the truth otherwise no one will. The friend encourages Pope to use his poetry to “Let Carolina smooth the tuneful Lay/ Lull with Amelia’s liquid Name the Nine/ And sweetly flow through all the Royal Line” because in immortalizing the royal family he has the greater possibility of immortalizing his own writing (Pope 31). Pope writes poetry in order to give insight into the human condition and to uncover the flaws that exists in everyone. When comparing Pope’s satire to Horace’s original, and in regards to writing poetry for the glorification of royalty, Pope’s and Horace’s “excuse for not writing heroic poetry is literally true of them; their talents are insufficient” (Maresca 386). Pope deems royalty unworthy of such immortalization without just cause.

Pope further alludes to the past when professing his dedication to remaining honest and true in his works:

My Head and Heart thus flowing thro’ my Quill,

Verse-man or Prose-man term me which you will,

Papist or Protestant, or both between,

Like good Erasmus in an honest Mean. (Pope 33)

Erasmus was one of the great sixteenth-century scholars, known for a number works including translations of the Bible and classics that helped revolutionize European literary culture (Drabble). In alluding to Erasmus, Popes draws a comparison between himself and another great intellectual. Erasmus authored The Praise of Folly in 1511 which satirized church dignitaries and theologians (Drabble). Erasmus satirized others and was still considered ‘good’ and ‘honest’, traits which Pope himself wishes he and his satires can be associated with as well. Pope draws from the past in order to compare and relate them both with one another, allowing for the association to positively impact Pope’s own reception with his readers.

Pope further defends his use of satire in the lines:

I only wear it in a Land of Hectors,

Thieves, Supercargoes, Sharpers, and Directors,

Save but our Army! and let Jove incrust

Swords, Pikes, and Guns, with everlasting rust! (Pope 35)

Pope has alluded to the past as well as the present here in order to defend his satire. He uses satire against the “Land of Hectors/ Thieves, Supercargoes, Sharpers, and Directors” who represent the “corrupt and vice-ridden England” that exists in the present (Maresca 390). His inclusion of the government arises from his use of the term “Minister” which “emphasizes the fact that the court is principally responsible for the disorder of England and so indirectly responsible for Pope’s compulsion to write satire” (Maresca 391). Pope cleverly brings the satire full circle in claiming those who criticize his use of it are the sources of his material for writing it. His ultimate defense is that he must write it. Along with these present allusions, Pope’s use of “Jove” alludes to the the ancient Roman god, also known as Jupiter. Jove is the king of the gods, and the allusion to him emphasizes the power Pope places in the notion of peace. He asks for peace in asking Jove to destroy the weapons of their armies, in the same way he asks for peace from his readers.

Samuel Johnson’s London: A Poem, In Imitation of the Third Satire of Juvenal was published in London of 1738 (Johnson 1). This poem employs Juvenal satire to express Johnson’s disappointment and disgust over the present state of his beloved city of London. As Pope did, Johnson also alludes to the past and the present, though since the poem is Juvenal satire, the allusions are less playful and more abrasive and critiquing (Drabble). Having the poem be an imitation of the Third Satire of Juvenal immediately associates the poem with the past. In constructing his poem this way, each line though different from the original, still bears some connection to it. The structures and ideas within the lines of Johnson’s London were written in a manner reflective of the original, bringing the past to his new poem.

Within the first stanza of the poem Johnson emphasizes the poor state of London:

I praise the Hermit, but regret the Friend,

Who no resolves, from Vice and London far,

To breathe in distant Fields a purer Air,

And, fix’d on Cambria’s solitary Shore,

Give to St David one true Briton more. (Johnson 3)

His use of the phrase “from Vice and London far” presents the reader with the association between vice and London essentially equating one with the other. London has become so corrupt and broken that it is nearly synonymous with the term vice. Even a “true Briton” can no longer take up residence there, seeking relief where there is a “purer Air” (Johnson 3). His use of “true Briton” to describe the personae of the speaker, Thales, in the poem implies a strong sense of pride, but even that pride is not powerful enough to make one stay in London. Thales acts as “a stereotype of the good man ‘harass’d’ by the vileness of his city…[who] must endure the agony of exile in order to survive as a ‘foe to vice’” (Bloom 116). Johnson draws such a critical distinction between Thales and the vice-ridden Londoners. In presenting the image of this fractured London, Johnson reveals how society has “in itself the elements of its own destruction, an enemy within which will subvert and betray it” (Varney 204). When Johnson asks “For who would leave, unbrib’d, Hibernia’s Land/ Or change the Rocks of Scotland for the Strand” he draws subtle allusions of the past in using more classical names Cambria and Hibernia to refer to Wales and Ireland (Johnson 4). These more classical terms imply a sense of history or the overall passing of time.

Some of the most powerful allusions to the past are included in the third stanza of the poem:

Struck with the Seat that gave Eliza Birth,

We kneel, and kiss the consecrated Earth;

In pleasing Dreams the blissful Age renew,

And call Brittannia’s Glories back to view;

Behold her Cross triumphant on the Main,

The Guard of Commerce, and the Dread of Spain. (Johnson 5)

The suggestion of the “consecrated Earth” where Queen Elizabeth was born brings up what is considered one of the greatest reigns of England. Elizabeth I ruled from 1558 to 1603, and during her successful reign was immortalized in countless works of literature and art (Drabble). Her inclusion in the poem draws a clear distinction between the present London of Johnson’s poem, and London back in its days of greater glory. In alluding to Elizabeth I Johnson begs the reader to consider the seriousness of his poem in forcing the reader to make their own comparisons between London of the present and the past.

Since the poem refers to one of the most renowned political figures of England, it draws a stark contrast between past and current administrations. Politics has a heavy hand in influencing London and many of the downfalls Johnson see within it. London “reflected and contributed to the volatile political atmosphere of 1738 and its popularity was undoubtedly bolstered by its fiercely engage content and tone”, thus making it one of Johnson’s most publicized works (Varney 203).

Further emphasis on the political issues in London in 1738 are brought up as Johnson asks readers to “call Britannia’s Glories back to view/ Behold her Cross triumphant on the Main/ The Guard of Commerce, and the Dread of Spain” (Johnson 5). Looking to the past is necessary to comprehend Johnson’s insistence that London is rapidly falling apart. When compared to “Britannia’s Glories” of the past, London in 1738 appears in even greater shambles. He reminds readers of the days when the English army was triumphant and defeated the Spanish Armada, drawing another comparison to its present lack of victories. The depth of Thales’ pain for London’s downfall is evident as he “is more shaken by the world he decries and may even have taken on something of its fated and self-destructive character. He is more a product of the world he lives in and less independent” (Varney 205). This description reveals the level of involvement of Thales, how unbearable and destructive the nature of things are. If London falls, all of its people will fall with it. Johnson cannot stress the importance enough.

The allusions used by Pope and Johnson serve primarily to add a new dimension and depth to their satires, whether Horatian or Juvenal. Drawing from the past in order to make a point about the present proves a successful means for each. In his First Satire of the Second Book of Horace, Pope defends himself over his use of satire. He sharply defends himself where others have found reason to critique him, not for the quality of his writing, but for his subjects. In his writing Pope believes in “the virtuous intent of his satire, and points out that under other kings satirists, not flatterers, had been rewarded with royal favor” (Maresca 391). Pope alludes to Erasmus to bring similarities between the two of them, with the hopes of receiving the same respect Erasmus received. Drawing from the past brings an element of time to the work. Pope connects the past and present, almost questioning why Erasmus was so well received for his satire while Pope is so harshly judged. This all relies on the distinction between satire and libel, and in walking the fine line between the two, Pope is making himself subject to such criticisms.

Johnson’s efforts to draw inspiration and allusion from the past seems to have a greater and more profound effect upon his work than on Pope’s. His allusions come from a variety of areas whether historical, political, mythological, or cultural. In order to emphasize the social and political issues occurring in London in 1738, he takes advantage of these allusions to stress the changes that have changed London from the most wonderful city, to a decrepit and fallen city. He uses historical political figures such as Elizabeth I and Edward III to remind prideful Londoners of the glory their nation once possessed. In addition to reminiscing about better days, he reveals what he believes are the problems with London at present- from vanity, to poverty, to shame, and all the vices employed therein. London is such a success “not just because of the accuracy, mordancy, and poetic brilliance with which Johnson has suited Juvenal’s satire…but because Johnson fuses with his public satire a deeply impassioned presentation of the mind in distress” (Varney 204). Johnson’s Thales is so passionate about the city he loves that it effects his actual being; it is not just about the city of London, but of the physical and emotional state of Londoners themselves. He possesses a strong love for London, even in its current troubled state, and his words serve to reignite such spirit in his fellow Londoners.

Works Cited

Bloom, Edward A., and Lillian D Bloom. “Johnson’s London and Its Juvenalian Texts”. Huntington Library Quarterly 34.1 (1970): 1-23. JSTOR. Web. 9 November 2011.

Drabble, Margaret, and Jenny Stringer. The Oxford Companion to English Literature. New York: Oxford University Press, 2007. eBook.

Johnson, Samuel. London: A Poem, In Imitation of the Third Satire of Juvenal. London, 1738. Eighteenth Century Collections Online. Web. 9 November 2011.

Maresca, Thomas E. “Pope’s Defense of Satire: The First Satire of the Second Book of Horace, Imitated”. ELH 31.4 (1964): 366-394. JSTOR. Web. 9 November 2011.

Pope, Alexander. The First Satire of the Second Book of Horace, Imitated. London, 1733. Eighteenth Century Collections Online. Web. 9 November 2011.

Varney, Andrew. “Johnson’s Juvenalian Satire On London: A Different Emphasis”. The Review of English Studies 40.158 ( May 1989): 202-214. JSTOR. Web. 9 November 2011.

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Homer and the Influence of Material Excess in Alexander Pope’s “The Rape of the Lock” and “The Dunciad”

April 30, 2019 by Essay Writer

‘From Pope’s perspective as satirist’, writes Michael Seidel, ‘London is stuffed with the bodies of dunces and awash in printer’s ink’, hitting upon the early 18th century’s proliferation of print culture and its wider implications that Pope was so interested in. This proliferation manifests itself in multifarious ways in his satires The Rape of the Lock [1712] and The Dunciad [published and revised in 1728, 1729, 1742 and 1743] in which material culture saturates and overwhelms both poems. Both texts also share their roots in Homer’s Iliad, a choice which elides in some ways with the saturation of material culture, as the ‘epic’ by its very nature is concerned with grandeur, prizes, and trophies. Although some critics have perceived Pope’s satires as mocking works, outrageous parodies of sincere matter, in this essay I will discuss his use of Homer’s work as a framing and comparative device to ridicule his contemporary material culture as petty and illusory, during an age which was just beginning to develop self-awareness about its legacy and place in history as well as the world, in literary debates about newness vs returning to classical antiquity, and the emerging perception of England as a mercantile capital of the world. Tensions between the illusory and tangible, and worldly and domestic weave through Pope’s satires, centred round the chaos of the material world, which constitutes a central target for Pope’s attacks on his contemporary world, in turn mocking those who [sometimes quite literally] buy excessively into its false sincerity or promises.

Pope’s Rape of the Lock is often referred to as a ‘mock epic’, or, ‘satiric burlesque’ by Seidel for example, who describes the mode as ‘a substitute literary program, a way of rearticulating an important part of any culture’s reassessment of its literary inheritance’. For writers in Pope’s era, this notion of ‘inheritance’ was centered largely on the classical writers of the Augustan period, Homer being whom Pope took inspiration from for his satire. However, to state this, or to label Pope’s work ‘mock’ epic or ‘burlesque’ implies that the epic itself is the locus of his satire, when in fact, much the opposite is true. In spite of claims that his works ‘do violence to Homer’s passages, adulterate them’, it seems clear from Pope’s corpus of work, including a translation of Homer’s Iliad, strongly implies his reverence for the ancient poet:

‘He was a Father of Learning, a Soul capable of ranging over the whole Creation with an intellectual View, shining alone […] leaving behind him a Work adorn’d with the Knowledge of his own Time […] A Work which shall always stand at the top of the sublime Character’[.]

Pope’s admiration of the poet’s work is clear in his depiction of it as standing ‘at the top of the sublime character’, and far from mockery, this passage illuminates Pope’s desire to emulate Homer’s role. He perceives him as ‘capable of ranging over the whole creation’, producing a ‘work adorn’d with the knowledge of his own time’, an position Pope attempts to achieve, as Seidel describes the Dunciad as ‘a monumental instance of how the scope of satire expands in the early eighteenth century to absorb virtually everything modern society can display and produce’. By taking on this same role and absorbing the epic conventions he so admires, the satirical nature of Pope’s works arises from the changed scope of what ‘society can display and produce’, rendering his own world disappointing in comparison to that of the epic. The notion of ‘prizes’ or ‘trophies’ are motivations in both The Dunciad and The Rape of the Lock for example, yet whilst the Trojan war is fought over Helen, the woman prized enough to ‘launch a thousand ships’, the ‘prize’ of concern in The Rape of the Lock seems barely a quarter of the worth, as merely a lock of hair:

‘This Nymph, to the destruction of mankind,/Nourish’d two Locks, which graceful hung behind’[.][Canto II, 19-20]’

These two lines work in a way much like the chronology of Pope’s work following Homer’s; the ‘destruction of mankind’ on line 19 sets up anticipation something terrible or disastrous, yet they are met on the following line with an image of two locks of hair, hanging benignly and ‘gracefully’ from the Lady’s head. This is exemplary of the classical hyperbole and sense of inflation Pope proliferates throughout the poem as he exposes the concerns of those in the poem to be hysterical and excessive. Through this same method, Pope plays on anxieties of his age of its legacy in history, by substituting a mighty warrior and his weapon with Belinda and her bodkin:

’Now meet thy fate, incens’d Belinda cry’d,/And drew a deadly bodkin from her side./(The same, his ancient personage to deck,/Her great great grandsire wore about his neck,/[…]Form’d a vast buckle for his widow’s gown […] Then in a bodkin grac’d her mother’s hairs/Which long she wore, and now Belinda wears’.[Canto V, 88-90,92,95-6]

Pope fashions a history to the bodkin akin to that of those included in classical epics in reference to the warrior’s weapons. Again, Pope here employs hyperbole, scaling down a mighty weapon to a ‘bodkin’, a kind of needle which is inept to inflict any ‘deadly’ blows. Much like Helen reduced to a lock of hair, the bodkin provokes a feeling of loss in reflection upon the classical epic, and more importantly, an inflated perception of petty material goods as important or powerful. Whilst the weaponry objects attributed to Homer’s warriors leave them a legacy of heroism, Pope expresses ridicule for the frivolous object[s] Belinda and her recent ancestors are remembered by, in every case here being merely decorative, worn ‘about [a] neck’ or gracing ‘her mother’s hairs’. Satirising a real incident, Pope fashions a perspective around the closed, civilized world his characters inhabit, and his Homeric frame both expresses the pettiness of their argument, but also mocks the habit of sensationalising and placing excessive faith in objects of little real importance.

Whilst I have analysed specific objects of ridicule in Pope’s satire, what has not yet been addressed is the mass proliferation of material things in his work. The Rape of the Lock is ornate, decorated with objects, exemplified by Belinda’s toilet which strikes parallels to a virtuosi’s curiosity collection:

‘Here files of pins extend their shining rows,/Puffs, Powders, Patches, Bible, Billet-doux./Now awful Beauty puts on all its arms’[Canto I ,137-142]

In an almost sacrilegious fashion, the ‘bible’ is jumbled carelessly amongst Belinda’s ‘puffs’ and ‘powders’ as though equal in value. It is here then that an opposition arises, where we see that not only are petty objects inflated to false values, but that things of importance are neglected. In The Dunciad, this complaint is the centre of Pope’s attack upon the proliferation of print culture, which as he saw it, brought a ‘new wind of commercial and material order in England’ as writing became heavily involved with economic capital. In this mock epic, he again appropriates part of Homer’s work in his heroic couplet form, but also structurally, as we see the goddess of Dullness at ‘war’ with reason, and dark at war with light. Much as with Rape of The Lock, the framing device poses The Dunciad’s ‘war’ as fought for ignoble ends. Pope mourns for a lost purity in writing as figures and tropes from Homer’s epic multiply, and become warped or excessive. Homer’s Hera, for example, who is described as cow-eyed, becomes an ugly ‘Juno of majestic size,/With cow-like udders, and with ox-like eyes’[Book II, 155-6] in Pope’s work. We see two different kinds of ‘excess’ arise between The Rape of the Lock and The Dunciad, where in the former, Homer’s heroic style applied to the argument makes it appear excessive and overblown, using this to mock the treatment of petty commodities as prized, worldly goods, and in the latter, elements of Homer’s work are directly magnified and multiplied to ugly proportions in order to condemn those writers he deems to be muddying the waters of the literary sphere. With the rise of print culture and the lapsing of the licencing act in 1695, Pope sees the literary sphere as overwhelmed with bad writers and bad work, looking only for money, rather than the purity he finds in Homer’s work:

‘Now thousand tongues are heard in one loud din:/The Monkey-mimics rush discordant in;/Twas chatt’ring, grinning, mouthing, jabb’ring all,And Noise and Norton, Brangling and Brevall,Dennis and Dissonance, and captious Art’[.][Book II,227-231]

The alliterative turns are to be waded through here, as the lines move rapidly from ‘t’ sounds through to ‘n’s and ‘b’s, making it a mouthful to read, especially out loud. On this point of readerly difficulty in the poem, Aubrey L. Williams supposes that ‘so weighty, and occasionally, so unassimilated are the materials of history and personality that the poem’s organizing principles and central themes at times struggle through the mass of detail painfully, if at all’. Whilst this comes across as a criticism of Pope’s style, this confusion or struggle can be usefully considered as deliberate stylistic excess, utilized as part of the poem’s emphasis on the literary world’s overcrowding, mirroring the way in which he perceives his own literary world to be a chattering ‘mass’ of bad work. Pope sees a ‘thousand tongues’ as negative, strongly advocating Dryden’s succinct decree: ‘Learn to write well, or not to write at all’, and suggesting that for an age to be remembered, it is better to have one skilled ‘tongue’ like Homer’s producing great work rather than a ‘thousand’ producing work of poor quality, as he saw in his contemporary world ‘ “little hope of maintaining the principles and standards or literature, largely derived from the classic past” ’[.]

In looking at the two satires’ depictions of excess, Barbara Benedict’s notion of ‘the material replac[ing] the moral’ seems especially fitting, for it was not simply that the ‘trophies’ or valued objects of Homer’s Iliad had degenerated into meager locks of hair, but also that the material elements of things were pored over excessively, negating moral good or satisfaction. For example, Pope levels his attack at one point in The Dunciad at Sir Thomas Handmer, who edited Shakespeare into exceptionally ornate editions:

’The decent Knight retir’d with sober rage,/ “What! no respect, he cry’d, for Shakespear’s page/But (happy for him as the times went then)/Appear’d Apollo’s May’r and Aldermen,/On whom three hundred gold-capt youths await,/To lug the pond’rous volume off in state’.[Book IV, 113-118]

With ‘sober’ rage, Sir Thomas laments a lack of respect for Shakespeare’s ‘page’, or writing, yet at the appearance of a hundred ‘gold-capt youths’ he is pacified in an instant, as all moral outrage dissipates in the face of material wealth. This is of course the crux of Pope’s satire in Dunciad, as he depicts both writers and the booksellers who [quite literally] chase them as mercenary and greedy, neglecting the moral duty to produce good literature in favour of material gain. In fact, the feeling of being overcome by bad writers and literature goes as far to suggest that words or essays have a physical weight, with ‘show’rs of Sermons, Characters, Essays,/ In circling fleeces whiten all the ways:/So clouds replenish’d from some bog below,/Mount in dark volumes, and descend in snow’.[Book II,361-364] Belinda’s lock of beautiful hair is the primary material desire of The Rape of the Lock, and petty collections are amplified to heroic status, whilst poets and booksellers of The Dunciad dedicate themselves to churning out hack literature and amassing material wealth. Yet all of these things are exposed by Pope as excessive in nature, and ultimately, illusory gains. In The Rape, Belinda’s lock literally disappears: ‘The Lock, obtain’d with guilt, and kept with pain/In ev’ry place is sought, but sought in vain’[Canto V, 109-110] and the quarrel comes to nothing, whilst in The Dunciad, writers and booksellers compete for prizes like ‘a pig of lead’[Book II,281], and in their ‘dull’ literary pursuits, all become the same, or as Pope puts it: ‘ “Reader! These also are not real persons … Thou may’st depend on it no such authors ever lived: all phantoms’. Their work amasses to so little that the authors and their work may literally be conceived of as meaningless, or transparent.

Excess, especially in the case of material objects, is pervasive in Pope’s satire, and it is Homer’s Epic that provides the springboard from which Pope mocks both the superfluous concerns given to petty matters, as well as the excessive propagation of hack literature by those writers deemed not qualified to write. In writing his satires, Pope drew directly from the contemporary world he perceived in order to control, and tame or change it, as is often the intention of satire generally. By means of his own ‘excess’, whether that is in heroic form laid over petty subjects, words and characters accumulating physical weight and presence, or the distorting of classical tropes and figures, Pope attempts to contain that ‘excess’ he so despises in his own world. It seems nothing characterizes this better than his constant re-revisions of The Dunciad in particular, as over the years the real people he satirizes change and transform, and as Rosenblum notes, if somebody made ‘a suitable act of submission to Pope’ he/she could be ‘taken out of the poem’. Pope contains his real-world subjects within his satires to display their foolishness, and thus hypothetically, until they make a ‘suitable act of submission’ to prove their innocence, they remain the subjects of ridicule for their investment in petty, meaningless masses of things.

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The Difference Between Augustanism and Romanticism

April 15, 2019 by Essay Writer

Alexander Pope’s poems ‘An Essay on Criticism’ and ‘Windsor Forest – To the Right Honourable George Lord Landsdowe’ compared with the critical extract of William Wordsworth’s Preface ‘Poems Volumes 1’ creates a basis in which one can demonstrate the difference between Augustanism and Romanticism. Pope was regarded as ‘one of the primary taste makers of the Augustan Age’ whose works appraised the work of Augustan Age writers such as: Horace, Ovid and Virgil. Whereas Wordsworth was a primary influence in the launch of Romanticism in literature through the joint publication of ‘Lyrical Ballads’ with Samuel Coleridge. This essay will first define both movements, providing historical context to analyze both movements separately. It will then discuss Augustan conformity and taste with Romanticism and its individualistic style. And, by comparing Wordsworth’s Poem ‘Lines written a few miles above Tintern Abbey, on revisiting the banks of the Wye during a tour’ and Pope’s ‘Windsor Forest’ this essay can compare their use of nature and place in their respective literary movements, and the poetic form that naturally follows.

Augustanism was a literary period dating approximately from 1700-1745, reacting against the lack of discipline of Renaissance poetry, which had an excessive aptitude for innovation – rather than understanding that ‘many of the important genres of this period were adaptations of classical forms: mock epic, translation, and imitation’ with Pope explicitly imitating Horace, mirroring his ‘informal candor and conversational tone, and applying the standards of the original Augustan Age to his own time, even addressing George II satirically as “Augustus.’ Notably, the availability of literacy, the relatively low printing cost expanded the readership through social, class and economic backgrounds. Emergence of coffee houses where people discussed literature, recognizing the importance of literature in the public sphere. Rapid improvement within science and medicine began to replace the religious understanding of the world, encouraging a rational and intellectual mind-set. Thus, contrasting with Romanticism, and what it valorizes within its movement. Unlike Augustanism that favors a communal understanding of society and politics, Romanticism focuses on: interiority, deep thoughts and individual emotion. One could argue that poets like William Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge created a more accessible form of through breaking traditions. Those traditions are found in Pope’s poetry, with structured and applausive literature dedicated to classical Augustan Age literature. Romanticism aims to avoid using allusions, which restrict the readership to the highly educated. Wordsworth states this his Preface that he ‘[chose] incidents and situations from common life and to relate or describe them, in a selection of language really used by men’ underlining his purpose of creating a poetry that reflects verity, and the beauty in the complexity of nature.

Furthermore, ideas of Augustan conformity versus a Romanticist’s individualistic viewpoint is shown through Pope’s ‘An Essay on A Criticism’ and in Wordsworth’s preface. The Romanticist’s ability to create poetry that can be fully comprehended by anyone who reads it, with a stress on the verisimilitude found in life and nature, means that Romanticism is ultimately most accessible than Augustan literature, and its allusiveness. Augustan literature is littered with classical allusions, such as in Pope’s poem ‘An Essay on Criticism’ focusing on what constitutes bad poetry and criticism. He begins to discuss attributes of bad writers and taste. He alludes to Horace’s Epistles on lines 67-8 ‘Would all but stoop to what they understand / First follow Nature, and your judgment frame.’ Strengthening his own belief of following the rules in the creation of good writing and taste. The Augustan age was believed to be a golden age of Classical Rome, omitting a superiority and complexity in language that can only be achieved through ‘a set of skills which, although it requires innate talents, must be perfected by long study and practice’ A strong belief in order, structure and acknowledgement of the classics is they only way in which one can create great poetry in the viewpoint of Augustanism. In Juxtaposition, Romanticists like Wordsworth are focused on the sensuality of nature, and its synergy with the mind. For example, Wordsworth states that ‘we shall describe objects, and utter sentiments, of such a nature and in such connection with each other…[we] be in some degree enlightened, and his affections ameliorated.’ Suggesting that our feelings are directed by our thoughts and understanding connection with nature creates an enlightenment and amelioration within the self. Romanticists have a personal response that is self-created, rather than a communal understanding the Augustan literature like Pope’s ‘Essay on Criticism’ encourages. Pope’s concern of the literary commerce, and the spread of bad writing and criticism is entirely different to Wordsworth’s intentions for his poetry, with emotion and feeling as central focus. He also criticizes modern writing for its preoccupation with what he calls ‘a craving for extraordinary incident’, condemning ‘frantic novels’ similar to that of Pope.

Another major difference between both Augustanism and Romanticism in relation to Pope and Wordsworth is the use of place in Pope’s poem ‘Windsor Forest’ and Wordsworth’s ‘Tintern Abbey’. Pope makes nature act as a metaphor for the emergence of industry, with technology and the printing press rapidly improving ‘Here Ceres’ gifts in waving prospect stand/…Rich Industry sits smiling on the plains’. Pope argues that nature and politics combine, and the effects of the political stability as a result of a Queen Anne’s reign. Afterwards, alludes to tyrants such as William the Conqueror’s destruction of the New Forest, littering lines 50-65 with predatory, war and animalistic qualities of the tyranny that existed such as ‘his prey was a man/…And makes his trembling slayes the royal game’. Windsor Forest acts as both a visual representation of; the history of political instability, its current peaceful reign, and the potential for more future prosperity – he shows this in the apostrophe to peace ‘Augusta’s glittering spires increase/ And temples rise, the beauteous works of peace’ suggesting that power will only come from peace, rather than the tyranny that was used in the past. Anne’s reign restored the balance of nature, representing a new era of political stability, which is then furthered by alluding to Mount Olympus – making Windsor Forest into a classical paradise. On the other hand, Romanticism stresses the importance of the mind and nature, and as Wordsworth describes this as ‘passions of men are incorporated with the beautiful and permanent forms of nature.’ Taking Wordsworth’s poem ‘Tintern Abbey’ as an example of place to compare to Pope’s ‘Windsor Forest’ we can see the difference in use of nature in both literary movements. In Wordsworth’s poem, he discusses an individual response to nature. Entirely contrasts to Pope’s use of nature, as Windsor Forest simply acts as a metaphor for the tyranny that existed, and the peace that can be achieved in the future. Wordsworth furthers the beauty in nature in ‘Tintern Abbey ’with ‘These forms of beauty have not been to me/ As is a landscape to a blind man’s eye:’ but rather, nature being a spiritual guidance, instead of God. Both writers recognize the significance of nature, but Pope has an almost sociological and communal purpose for nature, compared to Wordsworth’s individual response to nature’s complexities, and its importance in the development of the human mind.

Naturally, both Romanticism and Augustanism follow their own conventions when it comes to form in their poetry. Pope’s ‘Windsor Forest’ adheres to the dominant poetic form in this period – the heroic couplet with an iambic pentameter rhyming scheme. A strong example of this is Pope’s reference to Discors Concordia ‘Not chaos-like together crushed and bruised, / But, as the world, harmoniously confused’ The use of complex language, with classical allusions, paints beautiful imagery that flatter his readership. You could argue that the use of heroic couplets, paired with classical allusions only distances the reader from the poet, or rather, only the highly educated can fully understand his poetry. Another example of this is ‘Here too, ‘tis sung, of old Diana strayed, / And Cynthus’ top forsook for Windsor Shade’ where Pope compares Queen Anne to the goddess of the moon, Dianna, which glorifies Anne’s reign of Britain. Form and language plays an important part in strengthening Pope’s points, rather than Wordsworth, whom attempts to illicit an emotive and individual response from the reader. Romantic form avoids the rigidity of the Neo-classical form, with a poetry that emulates the spontaneity and innovation in natural speech. Wordsworth follows Romanticism’s conventions by using Blank verse – and an unrhymed iambic pentameter to achieve this. Wordsworth argued that this disrupts and slows down the reading process, encouraging his readership to pause and stress the final syllables of each line, and then pause bringing out the ‘passion’ of the poem’s subject and sound. Wordsworth states that ‘[to] speak a plainer and more emphatic language…may be more accurately contemplated, and more forcibly communicated’ suggesting that for Wordsworth, form, narration and its accessibility in its ease of reading, are ultimately the driving force for the success of their poetry. Establishing the idea that form, conformity and narration all create good poetry. Whereas for Pope, structure and acknowledgment of the classics produces successful poetry.

Pope’s poems ‘An Essay on Criticism’ and ‘Windsor Forest’ reflect Augustan literature through its discussion of taste, conformity to the Augustan Age literature, structure and allusiveness. This juxtaposed with Romantic literature, favoring the response of a free, individualized poetry, avoiding classical literature. Wordsworth’s aims of using real situations that is easily relatable, with vivid descriptions and imagery, and the stress on the importance of nature in the development of the human mind – all of which, allow there to be an accessibility that isn’t found in the same way Augustan literature. Pope’s poetry only favors an elite society, only those with extensive education and awareness of classical literature can appreciate the meticulous poetry of Alexander Pope; and his ability to articulate, satirize and voice his comments on society and politics. His imitation of Horace adds flair to his work which allowed him to be a part of the literary commerce, permitting him to speak with authority, mirroring that same authority found in the classics. Despite Romanticism avoiding these references, it achieves a different purpose, of evoking a human response only created because of the synergy between humanity and nature. It may appear to be an adolescent and immature mind set, but once could argue that the modernity of neoclassicism creates a dogmatic and arrogant society, but undeniably, a product a more educated society full of literary discussion. Or in the case of the Romanticism movement, the encouragement of striving towards a harmonious society that understands the importance of nature and its driving effects on humanity.

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Puffs, Powders, and Pillars: The Strength of Form and Unresolved Tension in The Rape of the Lock

April 4, 2019 by Essay Writer

The verse of Alexander Pope often succeeds in conveying far more meaning than its words, taken at face value, might suggest. In The Rape of the Lock particularly, what at first seems like a light-hearted ribbing of upper class preoccupations, soon reads like a multi-layered meditation on class, religion, and social priorities. Certain tensions become clear to the careful reader, certain ironies and couched critiques are found to result from the way the poet has manipulated the form. These individual tensions rarely see resolution and it is these perpetually competing ideas that keep the poem relevant and worthy of continued consideration. Pope’s heroic couplets, using techniques such as unexpected emphasis, antithetical rhyme, and purposeful redundancy, engineer a construct of tensile force upon which he is able to build complex webs of multiple meaning. He creates a suspended series of intricate tensions that are never resolved, but which instead push against and counteract one another eternally. It is these everlasting pillars of competing ideas that ensure the poem’s legacy.

In the early part of the eighteenth century, the heroic couplet “was far and away the dominant verse form in Anglophone poetry and perhaps the characteristic form of verbal discourse in English” (Hunter 258-9). Pope found in it an agile method through which dynamic linguistic and metaphorical intricacies could be presented in The Rape of the Lock. A pair of poetic lines written in iambic pentameter, the heroic couplet was popular with contemporary readers and was, therefore, a mechanism through which he could make an instant connection with the audience he hoped to reach. However, popularity among his readership was not the only reason Pope may have chosen heroic couplets to author his solicitation for a détente between Arabella Fermor and Lord Robert Petre. This particular form gave him ready access to various rhetorical techniques that would allow him to sculpt the messages he wanted to convey in restrained ways. J. Paul Hunter explains that “form . . . does make demands and have implications. Verse forms are not decorative afterthoughts or neutral frames for messages” (269). Establishing definitive determinations about specific forms is an unfeasible, perhaps undesirable, pursuit, but one may study patterns and poetic tendencies of how forms are used to gain a better understanding of their effect on the reader. Forms can not have ideologies, but “traditions of usage create poets with habitual assumptions and readers with particular expectations, so that it may be possible – even obligatory – to think practically about the ideology of form in particular historic moments and for particular groups of authors and readers” (Hunter 258). Additionally, just as a form’s reception may change among groups of readers, so too, does the nature of a form change. Whereas to its contemporary readership, the heroic couplet provided a comfort of familiarity as well as an acceptable arena for critical wit, so over time the couplet has proven, in The Rape of the Lock, a lasting girder for a poem whose relevance has not faltered.

Many critics believe that much of the poem’s power stems from the fact that its couplets are self-contained statements. The poem’s overall themes are significant, but if they are remarkable or enduring, it is due to the power of the individual couplets, several of which in and of themselves, stand alone in terms of literary merit. (Though I agree with this idea, not all scholars support it. Hunter, for example, disagrees, claiming that Pope’s thought was never complete within the bounds of two lines unless he was writing a poem that consisted only of a single couplet (268).) While the nature of this particular poem is narrative and plot-driven, there is still room among its various couplets for individual analysis. “Heroic couplets had not always been written in the way Pope wrote them. He may be said to have regarded them as if they were stanzas, self-contained; or, if not quite that, as having a beginning, middle and even though at the end stood a gate, a gate which on some occasions he opened to allow the sense to drive through” (Cunningham 104). Within a self-contained unit, one can make an independent statement. Pope accomplishes this through dynamic structural and linguistic manipulation of meaning and emphasis.

For Pope, action takes place within, as opposed to between the couplets, which are “a flexible framework allowing perpetual activity” (Chico 252).Within the two lines, ten iambs, and twenty syllables, the potential for phrase division, types of rhyme, and plot advancement are many. Pope seems to have taken up the challenge to look at this form in new ways. How could it be manipulated to convey various levels of meaning? As forms change, “they carry within them various aesthetic hierarchies, material and theoretical indices, and ideological imperatives” (Chico 264). These layers and levels when left to be threaded together by the narrative alone may remain illogically discrete. In the hands of a capable poet, however, they may be woven into an intelligible, if multi-faceted, whole by the sophisticated rhetorical techniques the poet may choose to employ.

One such technique is the manipulation of a reader’s expectation. Inherent in the structure of the heroic couplet are echelons of expected emphasis. Playing with expectation is an immediate way to start a reader out of complacency and to present a rhetorical strain that may need to be reconciled. The manipulation of these expectations goes a long way toward creating and harboring a tension that permeates the poem. “Each couplet involves . . . four fundamental units . . . divided rhetorically by a caesura and syntactically by some crucial grammatical relationship that implies cause and effect” (Hunter 267). These four half lines and their cause and effect relationship solicit certain expectations from a reader as far as which of the half lines will be emphasized. “The structure of the heroic couplet when divided into half lines creates primary emphasis for the final half line, culminating in the rhyme word, and secondary emphasis for the first and second half lines, leaving the first half of the second line without important emphasis” (Goosenik 191). This third half line serves as a break for the reader’s breath and concentration as he or she gears up for the punch that will come in the final rhyme’s most important half line. Therefore, by placing seemingly unimportant elements in a position of anticipated emphasis or by placing generally accepted items of importance in a position without emphasis, the poet produces irony and places himself at odds with the expectations of his reader. Such is the case in the following couplet:

Or stain her honour, or her new brocade; Forget her prayers, or miss a masquerade (2.107-8 )

“Prayers” is placed in the third half line, the position of least emphasis. This indicates that to Belinda and her kind, prayers, and one can then infer, religion, are of little import. What is important, according to the tension of the line, is a masquerade ball. “For anyone with the religion of Belinda, going to prayers and attending the midnight masquerade is merely a matter of the time of day. The functions of the two activities are basically identical” (Goosenik 195). Later in the poem, when discussing Hampton Court Palace, the poet describes the location in terms of how Queen Anne utilizes it:

Here thou, great ANNA! Whom three realms obey, Doest sometimes counsel take—and sometimes tea. (3.7-8)

The counsel of her political advisors, according to the arranged emphasis of the couplet, matters little compared to conversational gossip of those she may entertain. “By placing what should be significant in the unemphatic position and what should be trivial, but is important to Belinda’s world, in the most emphatic, Pope allows rhetorical structure to convey irony” (Goosenik 191). That irony, then, houses a tension, between what should be important and what to Belinda and Queen Anne is important. The careful reader realizes this and should begin to see the unlikely resolution of this tension, the unlikely change in Belinda’s outlook and priorities. The lack of a moral catharsis by the characters of the poem, despite evidence suggesting one is necessary, raises it beyond the realm of simple fable or fully resolved morality play. The astute reader should feel compelled to consider the work further, finding meaning in the ironies and hoping, futilely, yes, but as humans tend to do hoping, nonetheless, that upon the next read, the tension may perhaps be resolved.

Pope manipulates emphasis in other ways, as well. As Belinda prepares herself for the day, the poet enumerates the “unnumbered treasures” upon her dressing table. Among the gifts and grooming products brought to her from around the globe, one finds “[p]uffs, powders, patches, bibles, billet-doux” (Pope 1.138). Each item featured in a list has a predetermined emphasis. The penultimate item in an alliterative listing such as this one is necessarily the least emphasized and, one would think, the least important. “Pope places [“bibles”] which should be of paramount importance in the least emphatic position in the line to show the reader that the values of Belinda’s world are upside down” (Goosenik 195). Instead of explicitly stating this, however, Pope uses his inherent understanding of how an audience member will read the line to convey his meaning subtly without having to articulate it. He lets particular word placement and expected emphasis work together to make his point for him. Instead of stating that Belinda treats religion as just another reason to be seen in public, he sweeps its iconography up with the accoutrement of makeup and places the key to moral redemption, “bibles,” in a position where it will most likely be overlooked or ignored.

In addition to the mechanisms by which Pope is able to manipulate emphasis, the meter of the heroic couplet offers him an array of avenues by which to craft meaning and orchestrate tension. The ten two-syllable iambs of a couplet aid conciseness and present a “firmly controlled progression” (Cunningham 103). The aforementioned comfort that a reader of the day would have found in the reading of iambic pentameter afforded the form a certain accessibility. That comfortable reader is, therefore, more susceptible to messaging not explicit in the words of the poem. “The metre whispers to the reader the sense, the tone, the nuance which those words have not needed to be used for” (Cunningham 107). The potential of meter for varied rhythms and manipulated accent work to keep the reader engaged. Pope was loathe to put his audience to sleep. He crafted lines that bounced, with syllables that insisted on punctuation and invited animation.

Where wigs with wigs, with sword-knots sword-knots strive, Beaux banish beaux, and coaches coaches drive (1.101-102)

In this couplet, the normal emphasis of the iambs is stressed further. The percussive accent of the words “wigs” and “swords” equates them ridiculously. The “pleasurable effects of poetry are produced by subliminal verbal patterning” (Ligget 17). Our mind wants to find reasonable meaning in the messages it receives. The reader, therefore, would readily take a clue such as the punctuated words in a line’s carefully composed meter and draw parallels between them.

These sorts of illogical unions are reinforced throughout the poem through the use of sophisticated rhetorical techniques such as zeugma and chiasmus. Using these tools, Pope is able to juxtapose competing ideas and thereby further develop his intricate web of small tensions. Zeugma is “the yoking of two distinct idioms to a single verb [and] is the single most effective of Pope’s rhetorical tricks, in so far as it creates an ironic clash between seemingly disparate orders of value” (Norris 151). In a line we have previously examined, we see the verb “stain” referring to both Belinda’s “honour” and her “new brocade.” The implication, of course, is that by staining her dress, Belinda’s reputation, or honour, is thereby damaged. By connecting the one verb to the two incongruent nouns, Pope implies a level of parity between the young woman’s character and her outward appearance. Again, we find ironic tension between what should be important and what, in fact, is important to Belinda nestled lyrically in a single line. The couplet continues with another example, “Or lose her heart, or necklace, at a ball” (Pope 2.109). “The metaphorical meaning of both ‘stain’ and ‘lose’ is first emphasized and then we are asked to attach to it as object, unexpectedly, a noun which works with it in the literal sense only. The shock of inappropriate relation is conveyed” (Doody 217). This discordance may be read as humorous or discomfiting. The reader’s preconceived condition will affect his or her reaction. What does not change, though, is the tension between what should be valued and what is valued not at all.

With chiasmus, we find two parallel phrases balanced against one another, but with their parts of speech reversed. This technique is a mechanism by which “the poem plays with the concepts of dissimilarity and resemblance” (Cohen 207).

The hungry judges soon the sentence sign And wretches hang that jurymen may dine (3.21-22)

In line 21, the subject, “hungry judges” precedes the action “sign.” This imprimatur allows for two things: wretches, guilty or not, will go to the gallows sooner and the jurymen may get home to eat. The gravity of what the judges have done and the carelessness with which they have done it are pitted against one another. So, too, is the permanence of the wretches’ death, set against the temporary satiation of the jurymen. “Pope uses chiasmus to cross-connect moral significance with slight occasion” (Nicholson 84). In another example from Ariel’s warning to his fellow sylphs, we see threats to character and virtue being feared evenly with threats to material things.

Whether the nymph shall break Diana’s law, Or some frail china jar receive a flaw; (2.105-106)

These sorts of rhetorical origami, coupling and folding opposite ends of possible meaning to create a decorous artifact, allow Pope the freedom to comment on the ambiguities he is witnessing among the upper class as well as create a pleasing piece of poetry that the same upper class will purchase and enjoy. When the narrator explains the Baron’s desire to obtain one of Belinda’s locks, “[b]y force to ravish, or by fraud betray,” the degree of his determination is implied. (Pope 2.32). A man may take something by force, but he may then be subject to the ridicule of others. The speaker undercuts the crime of taking something by force, however, by suggesting that once a deed is done, no one really remembers how it was accomplished.

For when success a lover’s toil attends, Few ask, if fraud or force attained his ends (2.33-34)

The narrator has prejudiced the reader toward acquittal before the crime has even been committed. A tension remains between a foreshadowed guilt and an ambivalent jury. Robert Markley suggests that these complexities see “Pope the champion of drawing room civility . . . replaced by Pope the incisive commentator on the political ambiguities of his day.” (73) I would argue, however, that one Pope is not being replaced by another. Instead, techniques such as zeugma and chiasmus allow his various messages to coexist. The opposing implications push against one another, resisting the other’s attempt to alter or weaken it, thereby reinforcing the strength of each as well as Pope’s statement over all.

In The Rape of the Lock, Pope is touching on several pairs of competing elements: Belinda versus the Baron, the sylphs versus that which threatens their lady, the insular upper class English set and the outside world from which they are now obtaining their trinkets. Between these individual sides, tensions exist. Pope could have chosen to write in monosyllabic, masculine rhyme. The story would have been conveyed, but not endured. The nature of the end rhyme in many of Pope’s couplets is one means through which new tensions may be discovered upon multiple readings. Antithetical rhyme, in which the last two words of each line rhyme but have opposite meanings, is one such mechanism. For example, the last words in each of the lines below imply wholly different meanings:

Know farther yet; whoever fair and chaste Rejects mankind, is by some sylph embraced (1.67-68)

By associating the notion of chastity with a signifier for intimate contact, Pope is playing one notion of success off another. Belinda’s virtue, traditionalists might think, lies in her virginity. However, in her mind, her virtue lies in the nature of her outward appearance. She is not bothered that her honor may be compromised. She exclaims, “Oh hadst though, cruel! been content to seize/Hairs less in sight, or any hairs but these” (Pope 4.175-6). She would not have minded so much a more private violation. As long as she is blemished in a way that others can not see, to her, virginity and intimacy are of one accord. We have entered now “a world in which appearances have actually become substitutes for things themselves where virtue has been reduced to reputation” (Pollak 77). When Ariel is explaining to Belinda that she is surrounded by protective sylphs, he says,

Some secret truths, from learned pride concealed, To maids alone and children are revealed. (1.37-38)

Belinda has little use for anything concealed. She believes anything she possesses of value should be on display for all to see. “These antitheses follow Pope’s normal satiric pattern of inversion of values” (Goosnik 193). The reader must balance what he understands to be a properly aligned moral compass with what he is being told Belinda believes. More than likely, these two visions will be at odds. Pope’s genius lies in his ability to craft language such that the tension is conveyed, but does not prompt us to stop reading. We want to read on, perhaps seeking a resolution that may never come.

Antithesis does not only occur in end rhymes. We see more than one antithetical pairing in this couplet:

Safe from the treacherous friend, the daring spark, The glance by day, the whisper in the dark (1.73-4)

Hunter believes that “often, the force of a couplet hangs on our noticing the conflict between the words.” (266). In these lines, we notice much. A “treacherous friend” is an oxymoron, which Margaret Anne Doody refers to as “the governing figure of speech of Augustan poetry, the central figure of its poetic thought” (217). Which friends are to be trusted? What treachery lurks behind the intentions of those we believe to be our allies? “Spark,” the text’s endnotes quote Mr. Johnson, may be defined as “a lively, showy, gay man,” someone who may prove treacherous to a virginal young woman. “Spark” is also used as a pun, to form an antithetical rhyme with “dark.” In the second line, “day” serves as an additional counterpoint to the impression of dark. “Glance” and “whisper,” each potentially furtive forms of communication, play off one another, as well. Ariel is continuing in this couplet his explanation that he and the other sylphs protect “the purity of melting maids” (Pope 1.71) when their virtue is threatened by a flirtatious beau. Such circumstances are, indeed, moments of passionate confusion for young women, knowing in their heads how they should act; feeling with their hormones how they would like to act. The contrasts in this couplet capture that dissonance, the idea that something can be good and bad, light and dark, desired and undesirable all at the same time.

End rhyme may also be a source of tension when the two rhyming words are two different parts of speech. These oppositions are much more subtle than the techniques we have discussed thus far. They, nonetheless, contribute to recurring rhetorical strain in the poem. Take, for example, the passage just as Belinda’s hair is snipped from her head.

The meeting points the sacred hair dissever From the fair head, for ever, and for ever! Then flashed the living lightning from her eyes And screams of horror rend th’ affrighted skies. Not louder shrieks to pitying heaven are cast, When husbands, or when lapdogs breathe their last, Or when rich china vessels, fallen from high, In glittering dust, and pointed fragments lie! (3.153-160)

Three of the four couplets featured in the passage end in rhymes that pair two different parts of speech. Primarily, this technique keeps the poem from falling into a pattern of predictable, flat rhyme scheme. However, there is also a more intricate counter-balancing of ideas at play here. The lock takes on the character of a relic when it is described as sacred. To be dissevered is to end its reign as a beatific adornment. The scissors have caused it to rule no more. Yet, the finality of “dissever,” a verb meaning to remove and implicating to end, is paired with “for ever,” an adjectival phrase indicating permanence, eternity. Belinda may have hoped her youthful physical beauty would have been ceaseless, but now it is the end of her beauty that the poem indicates will be everlasting. The complexity of a notion such as this one is astonishing, all the more so as it serves a perfect example of the powerful tension that can be conveyed in a single couplet. The tensions extant in couplets such as these work against one another to form a tensile strength that serves as a strong support structure for any further, more explicit or over-arching meaning (Liggett 19). Hunter acknowledges this strain within couplets and argues that this formal tension serves to encourage “the preservation and acceptance of difference rather than a working out or modification or compromise” (266). After all, whether in terms of scholarship or entertainment, are not two passions played off one another in a perpetual state of tension far more interesting than the inevitable watered down reality of resolution? Though it is natural for the human ear, the human mind, to desire solution, it is just as natural to viscerally enjoy the discordant journey one takes to find it.

The last couplet in the above passage is one in which the antithetical rhyme actually crafts a visual impression of opposites. It is not the first time in the poem that the idea of precious china being broken is grounds for deep despair. Here, “rich china vessels” may fall “from high” – from a high shelf, perhaps, from a dining table top; or could the implication be that prized china sits in an even more reverent elevated location? The ultimate in material things may have origins in the divine. The narrator is suggesting that their demise would warrant the same amount of grief as the death of a husband. We see lofty attention paid to so material an object as the couplet paints the picture of a delicate specimen falling from an abnormally high place only to end up in fragments, lying decimated in the lowest possible position. Where it once had been acted upon, set in a place described particularly has “high,” the vessel now engenders the verb “lie,” and is strewn, ruined, in bits, much as Belinda believes her reputation and herself to be.

Even over the course of five cantos, the recurrence of certain rhyme pairs and line endings is not accidental. On three separate occasions, Pope rhymes “rage” with “engage.” Near the beginning of the poem, we read:

In tasks so bold, can little men engage, And in soft bosoms dwells such mighty rage? (1.11-12)

Soft bosoms would be the last place one might expect rage to harbored. The image is dissonant and continues the inter-textual tensions of the poem. When we find this rhyme pair again in Canto Three, we have a different set of players – no longer “little men” nor those with soft bosoms:

The rebel knave, who dares his prince engage Proves the just victim of his royal rage. (3.59-60)

In this couplet, we encounter rage in a locale more appropriate than a soft bosom. Additionally, we have moved away from “little men” and into the realm of princes. In Canto Five, when we see the rhyme pair for the final time, our combatants have been elevated even further, from princes to gods.

So when bold Homer makes the gods engage, And heavenly breasts with human passions rage; (5.45-46)

The metaphor of “bosoms” returns, but this time in the form of “heavenly breasts” raging with a passion perhaps, by this point, at home there. Through threads such as these, Pope’s metaphor progresses from a single couplet of somewhat illogical irony to a series culminating in divine reference and more appropriate emotion. The relevance for us exists in the fact that despite the repetition, despite the evolution of the metaphor, nothing is resolved. In this context, neither gods nor little men seem capable of bringing about a resolution. By Canto Five, the rage is still neither abated nor satisfied.

The ironies, tensions, and antitheses in the poem discussed thus far leave no doubt the fact that Pope found fault with the behavior and priorities of those about whom he was writing. Their misaligned concerns and elevation of material objects and outward appearance to positions more important than character are evident even if one does not know Pope’s personal situation. The resounding messaging in the formal language is clear. The more one knows about the poet, however, the more insight may be gained into the motives of the messaging and though not pertinent to the power of form in the poem, the poet himself is worth a brief mention. It is fair, I believe, to consider the facts of his life as a background for the tensions we find in the poem.

Pope was torn between the society upon which he was casting a satirical eye and a perspective outside of it. There were many ways in which he was at odds with the world to which he was born. A decidedly middle-class, physically malformed Catholic in eighteenth century England, he maintained a complicated relationship with the society that he admired. While his intellect and industrious nature obtained for him a comfortable existence, his accession to the upper class would never be possible. Much of Pope’s life and work, in fact, embodied this tense relationship. For example, he was recusant, that is, a person who refused to convert to the Church of England. However, his devotion to Catholicism could have been categorized as tepid at best. One can truly only speculate about in what ways Pope may have been torn, about the divides that may have existed between where he was in society and where he wanted to be, between what he thought of society and what he admired about it. We cannot, then, assign these speculations as the source or motive for his use of form to construct competing, unresolved tensions, but to consider them enriches one’s appreciation of the forces at play.

The narrative tension in The Rape of the Lock is not resolved. The lock is not recovered and Belinda is left with the lofty idea that the poem itself will serve as a far more enduring testament to her beauty than any physical adornment could have proven (Chico 263). Words can endure, yes, so this promise by the poet is possible, but not guaranteed. The mere fact that the poem is written does not ensure its longevity. Flat words composing easily resolved ideas may be fine for a moment’s entertainment, but do not have the strength to endure. The ironies and competing ideas pushing against one another in this poem form a lasting foundation for Pope’s ideas and critiques the likes of which are applicable in any age. The formal techniques available to him were the steel threads he used to craft tension upon which he was able to frame his narrative, articulate his argument, and ensure that we would still be excavating meaning from the poem today.

Works Cited

Chico, Tita. “Couplets and Curls: A Theory of Form.” Philological Quarterly 86.3 (Summer 2007): 251-268. EBSCO Host. Web. 30 October 2012.

Cohen, Ralph. “Transformation in The Rape of the Lock.” Eighteenth-Century Studies 3.3 (1969): 205-224. JSTOR. Web. 12 September 2012.

Crehan, Stewart. “The Rape of the Lock and the Economy of ‘Trivial Things.’” Eighteenth- Century Studies 31.1 (1997): 45-68. JSTOR. Web. 12 October 2012

Cunningham, J. S. “Appendix C: The Heroic Couplet.” The Rape of the Lock. By Alexander Pope. Ed. Cunningham. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1971. 103-107. Print.

Gosselink, R.N. “The ‘Dissolving Antithesis’: Technique in The Rape of the Lock.” Humanities Association Review/La Revue de l’Association des Humanites 24 (1973): 191-96. Print.

Hunter, J. Paul. “Form as Meaning: Pope and the Ideology of the Couplet.” Eighteenth Century: Theory and Interpretation 37.3 (1996): 257-270. Print.

Liggett, Pamela Slate. “Pope’s Phonetic Triangles: The Heroic Couplet in The Rape of the Lock.” New Orleans Review 15.4 (Winter 1988): 17-22. Print.

Markley, Robert. “Beyond Consensus: The Rape of the Lock and the Fate of Reading Eighteenth- Century Literature.” Critical Essays on Alexander Pope. Ed. W. Jackson and R. P. Yoder. New York: Hall, 1993. 69-83. Print.

Nicholson, Colin. “The Mercantile Bard: Commerce and Conflict in Pope.” Studies in the Literary Imagination 38.1 (2005): 77-94. EBSCO Host. Web. 12 October 2012.

Norris, Christopher. “Pope Among the Formalists: Textual Politics and The Rape of the Lock.” Ed. Richard Machin and Christopher Norris. Post-Structuralist Readings of English Poetry. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1987. 134-61. Print.

Pollak, Ellen. “The Rape of the Lock: A Reification of the Myth of Passive Womanhood.” Poetics of Sexual Myth: Gender and Ideology in the Verse of Swift and Pope. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1985. 77-107. Print.

Wimsatt Jr., W.K. “One Relation of Rhyme to Reason: Alexander Pope.” Modern Language Quarterly 5.3 (1944): 323-339. Print.

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