Alexander Pope (1688-1744) was one of the most prolific writers in the early eighteenth-century. In addition to several major poems--Essay on Man, Essay on Criticism, The Rape of the Lock, The Dunciad, Windsor Forest--Pope translated Homer's Iliad and Odyssey into English. He is considered among the...
Alexander Pope (1688-1744) was one of the most prolific writers in the early eighteenth-century. In addition to several major poems--Essay on Man, Essay on Criticism, The Rape of the Lock, The Dunciad, Windsor Forest--Pope translated Homer's Iliad and Odyssey into English. He is considered among the greatest satirists in English literature, and his two great satires, The Rape of the Lock and The Dunciad, are considered the best in the eighteenth century and illustrate his skills admirably.
The Rape of the Lock (1712, 1714) is widely-considered the best mock-heroic (mock-epic) poem in all of English literature. Pope took as his subject an actual affair in which Lord Petre snipped off a lock of Miss Arabella Fermor's hair, which caused such a dispute within a small niche of upper-class English society, that Pope created was able to convert a completely inconsequential occurrence into an epic.
Pope satire succeeds because he demonstrates the gulph between the foolishness of the "rape" of hair and the very real consternation it caused in the upper-class participants and, in the end, the readers are forced to conclude, while laughing, that both the incident itself and the people involved are absurd.
Another of Pope's mock-heroic poems, The Dunciad (1728), unlike The Rape, takes a much more serious subject as the target of satire: Pope's intent is to attack unskilled writers whose writing he feels poses a threat to true literature and the integrity of education. The poem particularly focuses its satire on the intellectual descendants of a well-known medieval philosopher named Duns Scotus, who engaged in minute, tortuous interpretation of texts that impressed many listeners but failed to truly enlighten or educate.
Unfortunately, at the end of The Dunciad, the character Dulness reigns supreme and "universal darkness covers all."