An Essay on Criticism Questions and Answers
by Alexander Pope

Start Your Free Trial

What is Alexander Pope's definition of wit in "An Essay on Criticism"? Does he apply his definition of wit in "The Rape of the Lock"?

Expert Answers info

huntress eNotes educator | Certified Educator

calendarEducator since 2015

write373 answers

starTop subjects are Literature and Law and Politics

To clarify: "The Rape of the Lock" is extremely witty, but he does it by breaking the very rules he establishes in "An Essay on Criticism."

check Approved by eNotes Editorial

huntress eNotes educator | Certified Educator

calendarEducator since 2015

write373 answers

starTop subjects are Literature and Law and Politics

In "An Essay on Criticism," Pope's notion of "Wit" is difficult to pin down in a few words, not unlike attempting to explain the Japanese notion of "zen." We generally understand "wit" to refer to the quality of being clever, or funny. Pope no doubt includes this definition (as he liberally applies it himself), but his definition of the word is considerably broader. Let's begin with his most quoted lines on wit: 

True Wit is Nature to Advantage drest,
What oft was Thought, but ne'er so well Exprest,
Something, whose Truth convinc'd at Sight we find,
That gives us back the Image of our Mind:
As Shades more sweetly recommend the Light,
So modest Plainness sets off sprightly Wit:
For Works may have more Wit than does 'em good,
As Bodies perish through Excess of Blood.

In short, "wit" begins with observing truth in Nature (human affairs, generally),...

(The entire section contains 2 answers and 811 words.)

Unlock This Answer Now


















check Approved by eNotes Editorial