Explain these lines in The Rape of the Lock:  One speaks the Glory of the British Queen And one describes a charming Indian Screen.

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Karen P.L. Hardison eNotes educator| Certified Educator

These lines occur in Cant III of Pope's The Rape of the Lock. In these lines, Pope is speaking satirically with significant irony and something of mocking ridicule. The setting Pope is describing is where "the Heroes and the Nymphs" gather to "taste awhile the Pleasures" of the Queen's court, a court where she does "sometimes Counsel take--and sometimes Tea." Incidentally, this last quote underscores the irony and slightly mocking ridicule as a Queen is said to take either counsel on important matters of state or "Tea" to ease her appetite.

Pope goes on to say that the gathered heroes and nymphs talked about “instructive” things while in "Talk th' instructive Hours they past," such as, for example, "Who gave a Ball, or paid the Visit last." This line is replete with satirical irony: there is nothing instructive about gossip about who gave a ball or about who was the last to visit the Queen. The next two lines, the quote of your excerpt, tell what other "instructive" things the heroes and nymphs at court talked about.

One speaks the Glory of the British Queen,
And one describes a charming Indian Screen;

These topics prove to be as empty and idle as the other "instructive" topics. One--probably one of the heroes--talks about the "Glory" of their Queen, which is lovely and all, but certainly not noteworthy. The other talks abut the features of a "charming Indian Screen," an upright piece of wooden furniture made in India with fabric panels and folding hinges used to separate parts of a room from other parts. Pope is satirically ridiculing the ironic level of thought and insight that is revealed by the speakers' conversation.

thanatassa eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The quotation is from Canto III lines 13-14 of Alexander Pope's mock epic poem, "The Rape of the Lock."

"Rape" is used in the title in its original Latin sense meaning to "seize" or "plunder." For Pope, it would not have had the sexual connotation it has acquired in modern English.

The mock-epic form satirizes the triviality of English court life of the period by applying to it the grand narrative structure and vocabulary of the Homeric poems. Much of the humour in this canto derives from the application of stylistic devices associated with real campaigns and battles to a game of cards and the eventual siezure, not of Troy, but of a few strands of hair.

Pope achieves this comic effect by manipulation of the heroic couplet, a verse form used in the serious epics of Dryden and his own translation of Homer (which the distinguished scholar, Richard Bentley, described on its publication as "a very pretty poem, but it is not Homer"). The first line of the couplet sets up conventional epic expectations of royal granduer and important themes ("the glory of the British queen") but that grandeur is punctuated in the second line which describes a decorative feature of the room. The larger point is that even the British Empire, and conquest of India, seen through the lens of the court, is reduced to commerce in trivial bits of decoration, rather than some high moral or martial purpose.

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The Rape of the Lock

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