What techniques did Alexander Pope, John Dryden and Jonathan Swift use to write satire in the 18th century?
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One way in which these writers and others in the 18th century used to write satire was through the mock heroic form of poetry. This is where the author deliberately uses the conventions and style of an epic poem such as Homer's The Odyssey but uses them to describe an event that is not at all important. This was something that Pope used to great effect in his masterful poem, The Rape of the Lock, which he wrote as a mock-epic to satirise the society of his time and in particular the great scandal that was created when a member of high society had a lock of her hair cut from her head without her permission. Note how this is highlighted in the following quote from this poem:
What dire offence from amorous causes springs,
What mighty contests rise from trivial things...
Pope deliberately announces that his poem is about the way that such "trivial things" can create such hardship and toil. Note how the grief of Belinda is described after the "rape of the lock":
Not youthful kings in battle seized alive,
Not scornful virgins who their charms survive,
Not ardent lovers robbed of all their bliss,
Not ancient ladies when refused a kiss,
Nor tyrants fierce that unrepenting die,
Not Cynthia when her manteau’s pinned awry,
E’er felt such rage, resentment, and despair,
As thou, sad virgin! for thy ravished hair.
Note the elevated language and formal tone that clearly pokes fun at Belinda and at a society where so much importance can be given to such a trivial act. Pope and other authors like him deliberately used the conventions of epic poetry but to describe events that were not "epic" in any way, shape or form, and did so to satirise their society and the culture of their times. This is one way that writers such as Dryden, Pope and Swift used to satirise their society and poke fun at their own times.
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