In "An Essay on Criticism," Alexander Pope defines the use of wit, stating that a poet should use plain language and restrict the use of metaphor.
Discuss why Pope does not apply this definition of this definition of wit to "The Rape of the Lock."
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In Alexander Pope's "The Rape of the Lock," the "rules," as he describes them in "An Essay on Criticism," would not apply at all because "The Rape of the Lock" is not serious, but lightly satirical and humorous; the brilliance of the piece comes directly from Pope's choice regarding how to handle a strong disagreement between two families because a young man stole a lock of a young woman's hair. Plain language is used to convey ideas in a serious manner. People feuding over a snip of hair is ridiculous, and the topic begs for a playful hand, so much more in keeping with satire than plain language, and Pope provides this.
While the use of heroic-couplets is a serious and worthwhile tool of the poet, Pope's "The Rape of the Lock" uses something different. The word "mock," of course, sheds light upon Pope's attitude in writing this piece.
Modern critics consider The Rape of the Lock to be the supreme example of mock-heroic verse in the English language.
Although the two parties involved took the situation very seriously, Pope was encouraged to write the piece to restore goodwill between both families; he decided he would point out the silliness of the argument in a gentle way and have some fun with it. The blending of "heroic" and "comedy" allows the true nature of Pope's intent to shine through from the start. And structuring it as a great epic— comparing the simple act of snipping a lock of hair to the great epics of the past—allows one to gauge the true severity—or lack thereof—of this insignificant act.
The poem was intended to restore harmonious relations between the estranged families. Subtitled “an heroi-comical poem,” The Rape of the Lock treats the petty matter in full-blown epic style, which results in a great deal of humor.
While Alexander Pope's intent in using wit by employing plain language would create a more serious note in a written piece— especially where metaphors were not employed (therefore the writing would stand on its own merit without the artistry that metaphors allow)—the intent and subject of "The Rape of the Lock" could not possibly be written in plain language without sacrificing the satirical tone of the writing.
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