In this article, we are going to discuss in detail that if the addition of supernatural machinery has enhanced the poetic value of The Rape of The Lock.
“The Rape of the Lock” basically consisted of two cantos, which described the main incident of the game of cards and the cutting of the lock and ensuring battle as its consequence, between the two families, the Fermors and the Peters. This humorous piece was to be read by selected people of the two families. Later on, Pope expanded it into a mock-heroic poem. This could only be done by adding into the body of the poem, supernatural elements like the sylph and the gnomes who become the guiding force behind the central action of the poem.
Pope had read a book by a French author, which contains an account of the Rosicrucian doctrine of spirits. This gave him the idea that he could expand his poem by incorporating this mythology. Pope also claims while dedicating the poem that “Human persons in the poem are as fictitious as the Airy ones Belinda for that purpose was Arbella Fermor and the Baron was Lord Peter.”. By adding this fictitious machinery Pope made the Rape of the lock impersonal.
Pope had taken the name of Arial from Shakespeare’s Tempest, the sylphs from a French book, which gives an account of the Rosicrucian mythology of spirits. The sylphs dwell in the air, while gnomes live on the earth. Similarly, nymphs belong to the water and salamanders to the fire.
Each aerial spirit has its function, which it performs in the Rape of the Lock. Aerial, who commands these Spirit assign various duties to the spirits. One is given the duty to guard Belinda’s fan. Another was to take care of her earrings. The third was to look after her watch and the fourth was assigned an important duty of guarding her lock of hair. Another important duty of guarding the petticoat was given to the fifty most responsible types of the sylph. Arial warns all of them that they would be heavily punished if they fail in discharging their duties. In spite of all this warning and close vigilance of Aerial and the sylphs, the Baron becomes successful in raping the lock. The incident is described heroically as under:
The peer now spread the glittering forfex wide,
To enclose the lock; now joins it to divide,
Even then before the fatal engine closed,
A wretched sylph too fondly, interposed
These spirits perform very important functions and thus enhance the satirical nature of the poem. Pope included the supernatural machinery by which he can satirize the vanity and fickleness of the ladies of his time.
“T is these early taint the female soul,
Instruct the yes of young conquests to roll
Teach infant-cheeks a hidden blush to know
And little hearts to flutter at a beau.
Pope presents the supernatural machinery to portrait a very crucial situation in the play. The sylphs are presented in the boat when Belinda travels to Hampton Court. All of them have been fairly warned to be vigilant. They keep on hovering around her when she is busy playing Hombre. This light militia of the lower sky only withdraws when Aril sees around her “an earthly lover lurking at her heart”. The entire machinery of the poem is kept constant for the reader’s view up to the last.
Pope, by adding the supernatural machinery has indirectly provided the myth of the sylphs in order to symbolize the polite conventions, which govern the conduct of maidens. The way Pope has used the sylphs to enhance the poetic value of The Rape of the Lock, allows him to develop his whole attitude toward Belinda and the special world she graces with her presence in the boat as well Hampton Court.
The addition of the supernatural machinery of sylphs and gnomes enhances the mock-heroic effect of the poem. If we compare it with Homer’s lliad and Miltons’ Paradise Lost, we find that in place of gods and goddesses of Homer, we find in the role of the Lock alight militia of the lower sky a band of tiny spirits which:
“In the fields of purest other play
And bask and whiten in the blaze of the day”
There is a great difference between the pigmy spirits of Pople and goddesses of HOmer and the angels of Milton. But the selection of the light militia of the lower sky made by Pope is very appropriate in the Rape of the Lock. His election could help to unveil the follies and the vanities of the fashionable ladies of the time.
“In the sylphs”, says Cunningham, “We witness a delightful downscaling of the epic machines.”
Similarly, Wilson Knight points out that machinery increases dramatic suspense and therefore story depth since they foreknow and warn of the central disaster. They help to universalize semi humorously by the whole action, forming indeed, the binding symbolism of the entire drama.
They reflect the implied belief that humanity and its sensible word do not exhaust the total of the comprehensive statement. They are also spirits of the dead, acting as guardian angels of the living.
However, Pople succeeded eminently in his design of introducing this element, which has enhanced the poetic values of the Rape of the Lock.