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What are the features of a mock epic?

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The features of mock epic include the invocation of a deity, lengthy speeches, battles, and the regular irruption of supernatural elements, all for comic effect.

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Mock epic is a poetic genre derived from the epic, a genre invented by Homer that sought to immortalise the deeds of heroes and gods through poetry. However, where traditional epics like Homer's Iliad or Milton's Paradise Lost cover consequential themes like the nature of heroism, the human condition, and the relationship between the mortal and the divine, mock epic treats trivial subjects and themes with similar gravity.

Due to this, there is significant overlap between the features of an epic and a mock epic, with the principle difference lying not in their execution but in their intended effect. For example, most mock epics will begin with an innovation of the Muse (a poetic tradition beginning with Homer) and include other tropes such as supernatural interference in the plot, prolonged battle sequences, lengthy speeches, and formal or highly verbose diction—all of which commonly appear in traditional epic. However, one distinct feature of mock epic is the widespread use of bathos, or anticlimax. Thus, where a traditional epic will end with an invocation to pathos after the emotional climax, a mock epic will end with a reminder to the reader that the entire substance of the poem is of little consequence.

In this way, while tradition epics are often an exploration of themes important to the author's society, mock epics are far less confined in range and have been used to comment on a variety of farcical aspects of society from Ancient Greece to eighteenth-century England to revolutionary America.

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As the name would suggest, mock epic involves a mockery of epic and its conventions. Mock epic parodies the many elements of the genre for comic effect, bringing those elements to bear on a subject that's either humorous, trivial, or both.

A prime example of mock epic would be Pope's The Rape of the Lock. Here we have a lengthy poem built around the most trivial of events: the theft of a lock of hair from a lady of quality. The poem is constructed in such a way to mimic the great epics of the past such as Virgil's Aeneid and Homer's Odyssey. The big difference, of course, is that Pope's mock epic is meant to be humorous.

A number of formal elements from epic can be observed in Pope's comic tale. For instance, we have a battle, something quite common in ancient epic, most notably in Homer's Iliad, which deals with the Trojan War.

In The Rape of the Lock, the battle concerned doesn't involve armed warriors hacking each other to pieces but rather a game of cards between aristocrats. In keeping with the mock-epic style, Pope presents this game of Ombre as if it were an epic battle, with kings, queens, and members of the nobility fighting each other as if their lives depended on it.

Of course, it's just a game of cards. But in using the inflated language of epic to describe it, Pope is emphasizing once more how seriously the decadent upper-classes take such trivial things.

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Mock epic poetry is a genre of poetry that sought to satirize serious epic poetry. It not only lampooned this genre of poetry, but also mocked heroic subjects and themes to caustically address a plethora of other grand themes. Mock epic poetry does not strictly adhere to the conventions of serious epic poetry. It takes liberties to make its point and observations in a sardonic manner. Mock epic poetry was written during a period when serious epic was in a stale and stagnating state.

The main features of Mock epic include:

a)  A sarcastic (mocking) tone.

b)  The heightened or elevated style and form of the serious epic poem.

c)  Ridiculing a trivial or inconsequential subject.

d)  The use of invocation (prayer and supplication elements), battles, and epic similies.

e) The use of “deus ex machina” or “ex-machina”.

Ex-machina is an ancient theatre convention whereby a plotted (contrived) character is introduced into a play to miraculously rescue the hero. This convention was also used to solve a plotline that was complex. Therefore, Mock epic poetry borrowed this convention and made it a part of this type of writing as it sought to satirize different subjects and themes.

The power of Mock poetry is the contrast of an unimportant or insignificant subject with the elevated style and form employed to present the trivial subject to the reader. This lends to Mock epic poetry a certain humor or comic relief.

Examples of Mock epic poetry include “The Rape of the Lock” by Alexander Pope as well as his poem The Dunciad (1743), and “Mack Flecknoe” by John Dryden.

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Epic poetry is an ancient form and centers on a hero but one of significant importance whose actions are often beyond measure, remarkable and life-altering. Matters of great importance are decided and the subject matter is accordingly usually serious and most often involves a journey of some description. There is a lot of ceremony in epic poetry and the gods are lauded and are an integral part of the story, affecting the plot development. Examples include The Odyssey  and The Iliad, both by Homer.

Mock-epic poetry often satirizes the serious and elevated situations in which mankind finds himself as he strives to be or pretends to be something that he is not. Satire sets out to expose stupidity and human failings and sometimes established conventions which exist purely because they are ingrained and accepted without question. The Rape of the Lock by Alexander Pope is a good example of a mock-epic poem. Pope was asked to write the poem in an attempt to mend a rift between families in a light-hearted manner but, for Pope, it was an opportunity to draw attention to the fickle nature of people and comment on, "What mighty contests rise from trivial things."

By using burlesque and imitating a serious artistic form to express seemingly flippant occurrences, Pope is able to use a style usually preserved for classical, serious pieces and his heroic couplets (pairs of rhymed iambic pentameter lines), belie the true nature of his work. The ability to take the trivial things in life and express them in this time-honored way, is what gives mock-epic its place. 

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