The Augustan Satire: exemplified on Alexander Pope’s "The Rape of the Lock"

Term Paper 2012 10 Pages

English Language and Literature Studies - Literature


Table of Contents:

1. Introduction

2. The Satire

2.1. Defining the term Satire – Motives and Features
2.2. The Mock-Heroic in Augustan Satire

3. The Rape of the Lock

4. Conclusion

1. Introduction

“Pope is the standout poet of the eighteenth century. A master of form and register, a maestro of metre, and a doyden of wit, Pope will remain among the most read and most imitated writers in the English language.”[1]

Alexander Pope is often referred to as one of the greatest critics of all times. He is a great author and his poems are commonly known in the world of Literature. His satirical style is brilliant and exemplified in many of his poems.

In the following, I am going to analyze the Augustan poem “The Rape of the Lock”, specifically in terms of its satirical elements. Therefore, I want to start with a look at a few definitions of the Satire. Next, I will go into more detail by defining the Augustan Satire as a subgenre of Satire. After validating these two term’s definitions, there will be the actual analysis. Due to limitations of space, however, I cannot consider all of the satirical elements of the poem, and have decided to put my main focus on the role of Belinda.

2. The Satire

2.1. Defining the term Satire – Motives and Features

Probably all of us have a certain understanding of what a satire is. But even though a term might seem to be clear, defining its actual meaning remains important. Therefore, I want to use some entries of different Literary Dictionaries, compare them and figure out what exactly it is that Satire means.

While Childs and Fowler, in their Dictionary of Literary Terms, define it as a genre that can be only identified by having a look at “its inner form”[2], and Baldick refers to it as a “mode of writing”[3], Myers and Wukash state, that a satire can be a “style, tone, or technique” to diminish different kinds of subjects.[4] Hence, a satire cannot be easily be identified by having a look at its outer form. The satire’s overall tone is what mainly distinguishes it from other poetry containing only very few satirical elements. Unlike other poetry, there is not just one harmonical tone, but many tones overlapping and conflicting.

“They can be crude and vulgar, coarse and brutal, refined and elegant, witty and urbane, relaxed and informal, morally committed and didactic, contemptuous and indignant, amused and cynical.“[5]

Myers and Wukash furthermore reference the actual word roots of the term Satire in their definition. It is a Latin loanword, deriving from “satura, a dish containing mixed fruit or other ingredients, related to satis, for enough”.[6] This means, that a satire can consist of any social, political, or interpersonal failings. The satirist’s chief aim is to critically reduce someone’s or something’s status by publishing a satire. “The satirist does this by arousing ridicule, amusement, contempt, hatred, anger, scorn, disgust or other hostile emotions.”[7] Besides, he is very sensitive of people that do not seem to act the way they are supposed to, or things that are just not handled correctly. Hence, satires can be about anything concerning mankind.[8]

The increased use of satires mainly developed during the Augustan Age of literature.

2.2. The Mock-Heroic in Augustan Satire

“The first half of the eighteenth Century is also called, in literary study, the Augustan Age”[9] and Alexander Pope, who lived during that time, largely influenced the satirical mode of writing at the time. Other important Augustan satirists were Jonathan Swift and Samuel Johnson. They also made a big contribution to this century becoming “the great age of satire in English literature”.[10] They “emulated the decorum, capacity for sharp judgment, and firmly shaped urbanity of the Roman authors.”[11] In the actual Augustan Age, under “the reign of the Roman Emperor Augustus […] Latin literature, led by the poets Virgil, Horace, and Ovid, reached great heights”[12] Ian Jack devoted an entire book to the Augustan Satire. He limited the time in which this specific kind of satire has been written to the years between 1660 and 1750.[13]

It was the Formal Satire that was mainly used in the Augustan age. The authors in this “satiric age” inherited this “mode” from “classical poets, especially Juvenal and Horace.”[14]

Formal s. is a direct attack in which the satirist, represented by an "I" point of view, addresses the adversarius whose failings are the object of attack and whose technical function is to steer the speaker's comments. The Horatian s. presents a worldly and amused speaker whose speech is informal and whose attitude is generous toward the folly he speaks of (...). The Juvenalian s. presents a grave speaker who views folly as a serious threat, and thus hopes to elicit serious reaction from his readers.[15]

Because of that explanation, I would classify Pope’s The Rape of the Lock to be a Horatian Satire. He tries to portray severe issues using more playful mood. The Rape of the Lock has a serious background, namely the quarrel between two families, but Pope still seems a bit amused by it, which is evident since he draws a lot of comical comparisons and exaggerates unimportant things. We may even make a deeper classification and specify this poem as a Mock-Heroic satire.


[1] qtd. in Budge, 2009, p.54.

[2] qtd. in Childs and Fowler, 2006, p. 211.

[3] qtd. in Baldick, 1990, p. 198.

[4] qtd. in Myers and Wukash, 2003, p. 322.

[5] qtd. in Murray, 1978, p.139.

[6] qtd. in Myers and Wukash, 2003, p.322.

[7] qtd. in Murray, 1978, p.139.

[8] cf. ibid., p.139.

[9] qtd. in Mikics, 2007,p.29.

[10] ibid., p.272.

[11] ibid., p.29.

[12] qtd. in Myers and Wukasch, 2003, p.29.

[13] cf. Jack, 1970

[14] qtd. in Smallwood, 2009, p.132.

[15] qtd. in Myers and Wukash, 2003, p.322f.


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augustan satire alexander pope’s rape lock




Title: The Augustan Satire: exemplified on Alexander Pope’s "The Rape of the Lock"