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1. Pope’s The Rape of the Lock is the most famous comic poem in the English language. Its only possible rival is Pope’s own longer poem, The Dunciad – an Iliad of dunces (idiots). Both poems are parodies of the great epic poems in the European tradition and contain a continual ironic dialogue with the Iliad, the Odyssey, Virgil’s Aeneid, and Milton’s Paradise Lost. However, The Rape of the Lock is more complex in the sense that it also parodies other authors and other genres including romance and tragedy. This starts even with the title which is a parody of Shakespeare’s tragic-heroical narrative poem The Rape of Lucrece, based on an ancient Roman story of a virtuous Roman wife who refuses to consent to the sexual advances of a Roman soldier, a friend of her husband, and commits suicide after he has assaulted her. In Pope’s poem, the central character is by contrast a beautiful, rather vain, teen girl – think of an Alpha teen supermodel – and the “lock” referred to is a lock of hair. Yet the subtlety of Pope’s poem is that it manages to be both funny, satirical, and deeply insightful into a dangerous culture for young, beautiful women who are temptations for powerful men and targets for envious, malicious rivals and older women. Canto 1 (a canto is a section or chapter division) begins with an invocation to the Muse in imitation of all the major epic poems. After that, we are taken into Belinda’s bedroom sometime in the late morning during a dream of a handsome young man whispering in her ear. Review lines 12 – 26 (“Sol thro’ white Curtains…And thus in Whispers said, or seem’d to say). What impression do you get from the language as to the aura surrounding her that Pope is creating?

2. What Belinda takes for a dream is really, we learn, the voice of a faery later named Ariel (like Shakespeare’s faery in The Tempest) who is speaking into her ear. This is her “Guardian Sylph” (meaning guardian spirit). The sylph proceeds to reveal to Belinda how an innumerable army of faeries like him are continually at work protecting her night and day. With this delightful comic premise, Pope captures the literal and figurative “dream world” of a privileged and beautiful teenaged aristocrat. Review the opening section of the sylph’s speech to Belinda in lines 27 – 66 (“Fairest of Mortals…And sport and flutter in the Fields of Air”). What impression of Belinda’s character do you get from this passage? Point to specific wording.

3. The sylph moves on in this long speech to describe the world in which beautiful young girls like Belinda move – a world of “Courtly Balls and Midnight Masquerades”. Review lines 67 – 114 (“Know father yet…Beware of all, but most beware of Man!”). Putting aside the comedy of this passage, point to where this passage engages more “serious” content about the world of the poem – the world that Belinda is now beginning to move in and the risks that exist in it.

4. After the sylph’s speech ends, Belinda is woken by her dog named Shock (think of Elle Woods’ dog Bruiser in Legally Blonde) licking her face. She proceeds to her “Toilet” (the word for dressing table) where she is prepared by her maidservant for her big day – as today she is invited to Hampton Court Palace (still a royal home) where she might meet a 20-year old Prince Harry before he meets Meghan Markle. The description of Belinda’s toilette (hair and make-up preparations) as it is called is one of the high points of the poem for its comedy, satire, and subtle social insights. Review lines 120 – 148 (“And now, unveil’d…And Betty’s prais’d for Labours not her own”). Try to find one short sequence of lines where you see at least two things happening simultaneously – that is, where you see humor but also serious implications. Explain your reasoning.