Friday, 24 June 2011

"Mock-Epic" Literature

The mock-epic literary genre was especially prominent in 18th century literature. Central literary figures like Alexander Pope and Jonathan Swift used the mock-epic, also known as the mock-heroic, for satirical purposes. The use of Classical forms, doctrines and imagery either to emphasise or deliberately blow trivial events out of proportion offered an efficient method for satirising and elaborating on the object of their critique. THis could by illustrated by the quite similar excerpts from The Rape of the Lock by Pope (1712), Swift's The Lady's Dressing Room (1714) and Description of a City Shower (1710).

The Rape of the Lock and The Lady's Dressing Room both describe aspects of the ladies' toilet by using Classical myths and literal methodology. Where Pope draws parallels between the rites of beauty and the rites of mass, Swift uses imagery from Greek and Roman mythology (such as the myth of Celia and Strephon and the myth of Pandora's box). While Pope draws further parallels between Belinda's toilet and the Classical armor of a hero, the entire mock-epic satirically expands the petty squabble of two Catholic families into an epic struggle in the manner of the Iliad.

Swift's Description of a City Shower evokes biblical, diluvian imagery to rain scorn upon what he considers to be a corrupt and doomed city. Political conflict, which was slowly tipping in Swift's disfavour, prompted him to make use of imagery from the Aeneid, drawing parallels between Aeneas and Dido and Tories and Whigs sheltering from the weather. Also, the use of biblical references, such as describing dust (the biblical material for the first man) as evil further marks this out as a mock-epic.

The Norton Anthology of English Literature, Volume C: The Restoration and the Eighteenth Century, 8th edition, New York and London: Norton, 2006
Goring, Paul: Eighteenth-Century Literature and Culture, London: Continuum, 2008

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