Alexander Pope as a Satirist

Alexander Pope as a Satirist OR Satire in The Rpe of the Lock OR Use of Satire in The Rape of the Lock

Dryden is of the opinion, “The true end of satire is the amendment of vices by correction.” Most of people also agree that satire is a “criticism of life, an exposure of human weaknesses, follies, absurdities and shortcomings.”The true objective of a good satire is cynical. It amends the vices by castigation. Dryden says: “The satirist is no more an enemy to the offender than the physician to the patient when he prescribes harsh remedies to an inveterate disease.”A satirist uses humour, wit, mockery, ridicule, innuendo and irony to achieve a moral end. His moral purpose gives him the standard of dealing with which he ridicules the deviation of society.

We have witnessed two great satirists in the world of Roman literature. They were Juvenal and Horace. Juvenal’s satire is sharp, bitter, pointed and savage. That’s why, most of the times he is compared with Swift in English literature for Swift was also bitter in his attitude as a satirist. However, Horace’s irony is graceful and easy. He is never sharp in his attitude as a satirist because he likes to chide with a smile on his face. That’s why, sometimes he is compared with Chaucer who is also a lover of mankind and can never be called a satirist because he is without any prejudice and misanthropy. In Elizabethan age, a number of writers appeared in the world of English literature and wrote different poetical satires but they could not make great impression because their works lacked vigour. In 17th century, Dryden appeared on the scene and wrote satires on political, personal and religious topics. To some extent, Pope’s satire has great resemblance with that of Dryden because Pope’s satire has same function. Satire is a distinguishing point in Pope’s works. The Rape of the Lock, The Dunciad, Moral Essays, Satires and Epistles of Horace Imitated are the best known pieces of satire from Pope. One thing is worth mentioning that the individuals were the nucleus of his satire. However, The Rape of the Lock is the only piece of satire in which Pope does not attack an individual rather he attacks the follies and vanities of men and women in general.  When he first started writing this poem, his purpose was to conciliate two quarrelling families. But as the poem progressed, he forgot his original idea and started to satirize female follies and coquetry. Belinda is not Arbella Fermor; she is the representative of all the women.

First, Pope satirizes the habit of the late rising of women. Belinda would remain in bed till late in the day.

Now Lap-dogs give themselves the rousing shake,

And sleepless lovers, just at twelve, awake.

But, when she woke up, her eyes first opened to a love letter. In the letter, the writer has spoken of, “wounds, charms, and ardours.”Here the double satire is very obvious. The poet not only jeers at a fashionable woman’s habit of late rising and her desire to receive love letters but also at the conventional vocabulary of such love letters. Then, he satirizes women’s excessive attention to decoration. The fair sex knew no other employment. The toilet table was their great scene of action and drudgery. Belinda’s table was adorned with articles of make-up. They were very expensive and were gathered from all parts of the world.

 “This casket of India’ glowing gems unlocks,

And all Arabia breaths from yonder box.”

In a passage, Belinda is described as offering prayer to “Cosmetic Powers”, to start making her up.

                                      “Puffs, powders, patches, Bibles, billet-doux,

                                       Now awful beauty puts-on all its arms.”

The truth of this representation can be verified by Addison in “The Spectator.” “The Toilet is their great scene of business, and the right adjustment of their hair, and the principal employment of their lives.”

            Then, the poet satirizes the attitude of women towards morality. The women of that time gave no consideration to moral values. Their main purpose to decorate themselves was to attract the attention of onlookers i.e. dukes and lords and allure them with their gestures. They easily flirted with men.  Belinda’s journey to Hampton Court is the best example of it. She sailed up the Thames surrounded by a group of philanderers and admirers. Here she was the centre of their attention.

“Favours to none, to all the smiles extends,

                                      Often she rejects: but never once she offends.” 

            Moreover, these fashionable ladies were beautiful and charming in their outer appearance but a glimpse into their inner appearance shows that they were morally corrupt, frivolous, empty, prick-teasers and prank having no sense of wisdom and sagacity. At one moment, they were attracted by one lover but at the other moment they were attracted by some other lover. The toy shops of their heart kept on moving if one lover had a well varnished coach and promised of a joy ride round the ring and the other had an attractive sword-knot.

“With varying vanities, from every part

They shift the moving toy shop of their heart;

Where wigs, with wigs, with sword knots, sword knots strive,

Beaux banish beaux, and coaches coaches drive.”

            Pope further satirizes the moral bankruptcy of these fashionable women. He says that reputation for these ladies was of greater significance than their chastity. Thalestris pointed out the need for losing everything even chastity for the sake of maintaining good reputation.  To lose virtue was nothing but not to lose a good name was their main concern.

“Honour forbid! At whose unrivalled shrine

Ease, pleasure, virtue, all our sex resign.”

            Pope also satirizes these fashionable aristocratic women for their “Levity” because it was the hall mark of those women. Their manners and behaviours were artificial. They knew the art of how to lisp, hang their heads aside, faint into airs and to languish with pride. They sank on their rich quilts and pretended sickness so that the young gallant should come to inquire after their health and in this way also see their costly gowns. They gathered at Hampton Court, a resort of fashion where even Queen Anne, “Dost sometimes council take, and sometimes lea.”

            Pope also satirizes women for their fondness for different games at some party. He gives us a vivid account of the popular card-game, ombre, Quadrille, Lao and Whist, etc. Those ladies gave as much importance to the lap-dogs as to their husbands, as much importance to a China jar as to their honour, and as much to a religion as to dances and masquerades. It means “Honour” was a word with little meanings for them.

 “Whether the nymphs shall break Diana’s law

Or some frail China jar receive a flaw

Or stain her honour, or her new brocade

Forget her prayers or miss a masquerade

Or lose her heart, or necklace at a ball

                          Or whether Heaven has doomed that Shock must fall.

When Belinda’s lock was severed by the Baron, Lord Peter, she cried hysterically because she could not bear the loss of that particular lock because she thought that it was the lock that added charm to her beauty. She would not have been much hurt if Baron had stolen any other hair.

 “Oh, hadst thou, cruel, been content to seize

Hairs less in sight, or any hair, but these.

Pope also satirizes women for their haste in adopting ways to be sorrowful and grieved. When Umbriel went to the Cave of Spleen and brought bag, it was full of sighs, sorrows, melting grief and flowering tears.

Then, Pope satirizes the shallowness and superficiality of his time. They are also clear from the gossip that was made at the court. “At every word a reputation dies.” There were pauses in conversation. This conversation contained snuff-taking, fan-swinging, or “singing, laughing, ogling and all that.” “Coffee drinking” was another diversion of that time. It was coffee that gave rise to a clever device in Baron’s brain to obtain possession of a lock of Belinda’s hair. It was coffee that “made the people wise.

He further points out and satirizes the evil passion of jealousy among the ladies of his time. It is a passion which has always been a characteristic of most of the women since the time immemorial. Clarissa was jealousy of Belinda’s beauty and fame. We can say that it was her jealousy that forced Clarissa to add fuel to the fire. She stealthily provided a pair of scissors to the Baron in order to pamper him in his vicious plan.

One thing is worth mentioning here. Pope not only criticizes women for their weaknesses but also men for their manners. Like the ladies of aristocratic class, the young men of that time also had no moral sense. The representatives of these young men are Florio and Demon. They tried to outdo one another to win the hearts of the ladies. They were fond of reading French Romances. In the poem, Lord Peter kept an eye on Belinda’s lock to attain his end. He was also building an altar of love and setting fire to it with his amorous sighs and with tender love letters. He also prayed to the god of love.

“But chiefly Love to Love an alter built of,

Twelve vast French Romances neatly guilt,

There lay three garters, half a pair of gloves

And all the trophies of his former loves.”

Sir Plume is also satirized for his affections for his amber snuff-box. He is a laughing stock for his “unthinking face” and his habit of excessive swearing. The victories of these men “without any brains or higher ideals”are victories over the hearts of the young ladies and the “various trophies which they win from them.” These men played cards and enjoyed theaters. To have a clear view of men’s emptiness and folly, analyze the speech of  Sir plume to Lord Peter.

“My Lord, why, what the devils?

                       Zounds, damn the lock!God, you must be devil!

Plague on it is past-a jest—-nay, prithe, box!

Give her the hair.” He spoke and rapped his box.”

The poet also jeers at two gallants like Dapperwit and Fopling. The poet says:

One died in metaphor, and one in song.”

Pope does not spare the politicians, judges, jury men and merchants of his time. He says that the judges worked for material interests. In their greed, they made hasty decisions without caring any justice.

“The hungry judges soon the sentence sign

And wretches hang that jurymen may dine.

The Rape of the Lock is a comic assault on a society marked with superficiality, artificiality, levity, jealousy, artifice, perfidiousness, japery and amorous affairs found in the young men and young women of Pope’s time. No doubt, element of cynicism in satire cannot be overlooked but on the whole satire is of genial variety. However, a critic finds too much bitterness and harshness in Pope’s satire on feminine frivolity. According to that critic, Pope appears before us as a merciless artist in his attitude towards his society. He believes, “Under Pope’s courtesy there lurks، contempt, and his smile has a disagreeable likeness to a sneer. Pope suggests the brilliant wit whose contempt has a keener edge from his resentment (against fine ladies blinded to his genius by his personal deformity.”

            To sum up the discussion, we can say that The Rape of the Lock is a satire on aristocratic manners and society in general and on fashionable women in particular. It ridicules the laziness, idleness, frivolities, vanities, follies, shallowness, superficiality, prudery, hypocrisy, false ideas of honour, and excessive interest in self-embellishment of the aristocratic ladies of the 18thcentury. It also ridicules the foppery, amorous tendencies, bravado, snuff-taking and affections of the aristocratic gentlemen of the time. Weapons of assault used by Pope to satirize all these are humour, innuendo, persiflage and insinuations. An occasional touch of obscenity makes the satire spicy. We fully agree with the remarks of a critic who observes: “The artificial tone of the age, the frivolous aspect of femininity is nowhere exquisitely pictured than in The Rape of the Lock.”               (Words: 2002)