Supernatural Machinery Used in the Rape of the Lock

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Supernatural Machinery Used in the Rape of the Lock

By | Feb. 2011
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Alexander Pope had used the Rosicrucian philosophy as the supernatural machinery of his mock-heroic poem Rape of the Lock. As for the supernatural machinery, which neoclassical criticism considers indispensable for an epic, Pope reveals remarkable inventiveness. The sylphs of "The Rape of the Lock" are Pope’s mocking recreation of the gods who watch over the heroes of epics and guide their fortune. It is nicely fitting that Pope’s supernatural beings, who are supposed to imitate Homer’s deities and Milton’s angels, are tiny, frail and powerless. Although they are an amalgam of epic machinery, Rosicrucian lore, an English tale…, they are essentially Pope’s inventions. While Pope's technique of employing supernatural machinery allows him to critique this situation, it also helps to keep the satire light and to exonerate individual women from too severe a judgment. If Belinda has all the typical female foibles, Pope wants us to recognize that it is partly because she has been educated and trained to act in this way. The society as a whole is as much to blame as she is. Mock-heroic poems often include epic devices like the supernatural machinery to add to their satire. Homer and Virgil had much relied on Olympian deities, still Milton made use of the angelic hierarchy. In The Rape of the Lock, Sylphs play this role, and exhibit how the witty poet mocks the limitations of his society with a greater irony. In a letter to Arabella Fermor, on whom the protagonist Belinda is based on, Pope mentions – "The Machinery, is a term invented by the critics to signify that part which Deities, Angels or Daemons are made to act in a Poem." He admits that he had introduced it later, borrowing his idea from a French writing, Le Conte de Galealis. This original French text of Rosicrucian Philosophy had represented the supernatural entities in four categories – Sylphs, Gnomes, Nymphs and Salamanders. Pope nevertheless had interpreted them as female spiritual incarnations, satirizing...

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