What elements of the epic have been parodied in Canto 3 of Alexander Pope's The Rape of the Lock?

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Michael Ugulini eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The elements of the epic that have been parodied in Canto 3 of Alexander Pope's “The Rape of the Lock” include:

A heightened writing style

“Epic" literature employs a heightened or elevated writing style. This style is flowery, not plain and unadorned. A heightened writing style is more formal and stately. It is not what one would typically encounter in everyday speech. An example from the “Rape of the Lock” is:

From silver spouts the grateful liquors glide,

While China's earth receives the smoking tide.

This writing style infuses the poem with a sense of majesty and importance. The atmosphere of the poem is more than "matter-of-fact." It is enhanced drama because of the way the writer carefully employs words and phrases. In addition, a heightened writing style can have hyperbole (overstatement or exaggeration) as one of its elements as well.

A formal poetic style

Many great epic works have an underlying structure to them and in this case (this parody of epics) it is the convention of iambic pentameter. Rhymed iambic pentameter is used in “The Rape of the Lock” as opposed to blank verse, which is unrhymed iambic pentameter. This underlying structure of iambic pentameter achieves the same result as the aforementioned heightened writing style. It gives the poem a regal quality because of the strict meter and the rhyme scheme.

The poem does not read as regular daily conversation or speech. Iambic pentameter, which consists of a line ten syllables long with unaccented and accented syllables, makes the poem sound almost ceremonial and distinguished. It is parodied here because this noble structure is being employed in a poem that is mocking true epic poetry. The subject matter of the poem is not what one would typically see in serious epic poetry.

Impressive Settings

The epic often has grand settings of a worldly and/or other worldly kind. In the “Rape of the Lock” the setting includes the Thames River and a majestic palace, as well as the underworld “Cave of Spleen.” Therefore, the reader experiences a waterway, a grandiose abode, and the dark netherworld all in one mock-epic poem that lampoons the more serious epics.

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The Rape of the Lock

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