"The Rape of the Lock"

Alexander Pope's "The Rape of the Lock" is a mock-epic (or mock-heroic) poem in which mundane, everyday events
are blown up to epic proportions for comedic & satiric effect. Below, each canto is summarized, and the mock-heroic
elements are discussed. We performed abridged cantos in class on Tuesday and Wednesday, April 29-30, 2008; the photos are from our performances.

Canto I

Canto II

Belinda is wearing a beautiful cross around her neck. She is wearing her hair in two beautiful locks. The baron spots Belinda, he admires her curls. He thinks about stealing one of her locks. The baron thinks about the treasures of his former loves. Ariel senses danger and summons more sylphs to protect Belinda. Commands each sylph to guard a certain part of Belinda, and tells each sylph if they fail at their job, horrible things will happen to them. The army of sylphs lay in wait.

Mock Heroics
  1. The sun rising in the morning.
    1. “Not with more Glories, in th’ Ethereal Plain, The Sun first rises o’er the purpled Main, Than issuing forth, the Rival of his Beams, Launch’d on the Bosom of the Silver Thames.”
  2. The Fates granting the wish of the baron.
    1. “Then Prostate falls, and begs with ardent Eyes, Soon to obtain, and long possess the Prize: The Pow’rs gave Ear, and granted half his Pray’r, The rest, the Winds dispers’d in empty Air.”
  3. When Ariel summons his troops.
    1. “He summons straight his Denizens of Air; The lucid Squadrons round the Sails repair: Soft o’er the Shrouds Aerial Whispers breath, That seem’d but Zephyrs to the Train beneath.”
  4. Ariel warning the sylphs not to fail.
    1. “Whatever Spirit, careless of his Charge, His Post neglects, or leaves the Fair at large, Shall feel sharp Vengeance soon o’ertake his Sins, Be stop’d in Vials, or transfixt with Pins; Or plung’d in Lakes of bitter Washes lie, Or wedg’d whole Ages in a Bodkin’s Eye:”

All of these are examples of mock heroic. Pope blows up the smallest details of the story and makes them into big and epic actions for comedic effect.

Canto III

Belinda, the Baron, and the Nymphs are on a boat headed to the court. On the house boat on the River Thames there is a very social and friendly atmosphere. A group of people including Belinda and the Baron, start up a game of bridges. During the game there is a passing back and forth of the upper hand, but in the end Belinda won. After the game everyone goes back to socializing and drinking. While he was drinking the Baron comes up with the idea to cut of Belinda’s favorite lock. The Nymph protecting Belinda realized this and tried to block the Baron who was given scissors by Clarissa. The Baron succeeds in cutting off the lock and for the rest on the canto Belinda morns the loss of her hair.

Mock Heroism is a stylistic device that uses epic language to describe trivial or mundane events. In Canto III there were examples of mock heroism in the scene when Belinda and the Baron were playing Bridge. This is a very verbose way of describing a trivial event. Such as when it takes an entire stanza to say that the Baron has scissors in his hand.


Four knaves in Garbs succinct, a trusty Band;
Caps on their heads, and Halberds in their hand;
And particolour’d Troops, a shining Train,
Draw forth to combat on the Velvet Plain.

*They are setting up the card game on a velvet covered table.

Just then, Clarissa drew with tempting grace
A two-edg'd weapon from her shining case;
So ladies in romance assist their knight
Present the spear, and arm him for the fight.
He takes the gift with rev'rence, and extends
The little engine on his fingers' ends;

*The Baron gets scissors from Clarissa.

This just behind Belinda's neck he spread,
As o'er the fragrant steams she bends her head.
Swift to the lock a thousand sprites repair,
A thousand wings, by turns, blow back the hair,
And thrice they twitch'd the diamond in her ear,
Thrice she look'd back, and thrice the foe drew near.
Just in that instant, anxious Ariel sought
The close recesses of the virgin's thought;
As on the nosegay in her breast reclin'd,
He watch'd th' ideas rising in her mind,
Sudden he view'd, in spite of all her art,
An earthly lover lurking at her heart.
Amaz'd, confus'd, he found his pow'r expir'd,
Resign'd to fate, and with a sigh retir'd.

*The Baron cuts off Belinda’s lock

Canto IV


Belinda is in her room, upset about the loss of her lock of hair. A gnome named Umbriel is trying to upset her even more, so he goes to search in the Cave of Spleen. Meanwhile, Belinda, “sinks with becoming Woe, Wrapt in a Gown, for Sickness and for Show,” so upset that she begins to display physical symptoms. In the Cave of Spleen, Umbriel requests that the Queen help him bring sadness to Belinda.

She grants his wish, giving him a bag filled with, “the Force of Female Lungs, Sighs, Sobs, and Passions, and the War of Tongues.” She also gives him a Vial filled with “fainting Fears, Soft Sorrows, melting Griefs, and flowing Tears.” Umbriel journeys back to Belinda’s room and finds her being comforted by her friend Thalestris.

Belinda then pleads with her friend Sir Plume to talk to the Baron and ask him to give the hair back. Sir Plume makes a half hearted attempt to get the hair back. The Baron refuses, “but by this Lock, this sacred Lock I swear, which never more shall join its parted hair, which never more its honors shall renew clipped from the lovely head where it late grew” Umbriel then breaks his vial of tears and Belinda, “her eyes half languishing half drowned in tears on her heavy bosom hung her drooping head” Belinda then goes off on a rant of how upset she is with the loss of her beloved hair.

Mock Heriosm:

Canto IV has several examples of mock heroism. The most obvious is the sorrow that Belinda feels over the loss of her lock of hair. The poem says that no one “E’er felt such Rage, Resentment, and Despair, As Thou, sad Virgin! For thy ravish’d Hair.” The amount of sorrow she felt described in the canto wasn’t proportional to what had happened to her. A normal person wouldn’t be so dramatic as much as she was portrayed. Another example of mock heroism is when one of the maids pours Belinda tea. The canto described that “Here living Teapots stand, one arm held out, one bent; the Handle this, and that Spout.” A paragraph was dedicated to making the act of pouring tea sound dramatic. Even though it was a simple, mundane action, it sounded like a heroic act. Also, the explanation of the queen is mock heroic because it describes her in a verbose manner. When the gnome is going to see the queen he begins to list what the queen does, “who ruled the sex from fifty to fifteen, parent of Vapors and of Female Wit, who give th’ Hysteric or Poetic Fit.”

Canto V

Canto V summary
The nymph Clarissa gives a speech saying that everyone is making too big a deal about the lost lock of hair. She says, “frail Beauty must decay,/ Curl’d or uncurl’d, since Locks will turn to grey;”, claiming that the beauty of the locks would have gone away eventually anyway, and that losing the lock wasn’t that big of a deal. However, the speech does not go over well, and the nymphs begin to fight each other using dirty looks, in a battle during which “Heav’n trembles all around”. Belinda attacks the Baron, first by throwing snuff in his face, then by taking out a pin and threatening him, yelling at him to restore the lock. At some point during the fight, the lock is dropped and is lost. Everyone scrambles to find it, but a muse claims to see it ascend into the sky and to take its place in the stars as a constellation.
Mock Heroism in Canto V
An example of mock heroism in this canto is the description of Belinda throwing snuff in the baron’s face, where “A charge of snuff the wily Virgin threw;/ The gnomes direct, to ev’ry Atome just,/ The pungent grains of titillating Dust,” These lines could be easily shortened to ‘she threw snuff in his face’ and not lose any of its meaning. Alexander Pope here uses many words to describe what is a very simple action.
A second example of mock heroism is later on in the struggle between Belinda and the baron. To try and get her hair back, Belinda “drew a deadly Bodkin from her Side./(The same, his ancient Personage to deck,/Her great great Grandsire wore about his Neck/In three Seal-Rings; which after melted down,/Form’d a vast Buckle for his Widow’s Gown:/Her infant Grandame’s Whistle next it grew,/The Bells she gingles, and the Whistle blew;/Then in a Bodkin grac’d her Mother’s hairs,/Which long she wrote, and now Belinda wears.)” Here Pope uses an entire stanza to describe a small pin.