Themes and Meanings (Masterplots II: Poetry, Revised Edition)
Epistle to Dr. Arbuthnot shares the theme common to satirists since the days of the Roman poets Horace and Juvenal: the constant struggle of “good” writers to maintain their standards of artistic achievement and integrity in a world dominated by “bad” writers and their corrupt patrons and sycophants. Pope imaginatively realizes this struggle by guiding readers through a kind of “rogue’s gallery”: Codrus is a supremely bad writer, Sporus a monster of duplicity and deceit, and Bufo a “patron of the arts” with absolutely no genuine interest in art and artists beyond his own self-aggrandizement.
For Pope, however, more lies at stake than art. For art, though a supremely important means of expressing human value and meaning, is merely one aspect of civilization as a whole. Its “diseased” condition is only a symptom, an indicator of a problem that runs much deeper. This problem (Pope refers to it as a “Plague”) is not so much “bad writing” as it is “bad thinking” and, by extension, “bad living.” What has created this problem? For Pope, nothing more or less than a fundamental distortion in human values. A world, after all, in which creatures such as Bufo and Sporus can prosper is a world whose values have been turned topsy-turvy. It is a “sick” world badly in need of a doctor’s curative abilities.
Arbuthnot is that doctor, and Pope is his assistant. Just as Arbuthnot’s medicinal skills had helped...
(The entire section is 371 words.)
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