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Thread: Comparison and Contrast between ‘ The Rape of the Lock’ and Paradise Lost

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    Comparison and Contrast between ‘ The Rape of the Lock’ and Paradise Lost

    Comparison and Contrast
    between ‘ The Rape of the Lock’
    and
    Paradise Lost
    (Book I, IX)

    Prof. Niamat Ali
    Depatment of English
    Govt. Islamia College, Kasur
    Pakistan

    Once epics enjoyed a high status in the realm of literature. Poets wrote them with extra ordinary skill and people read them with penetrating attention. A common man could afford long hours to read or listen to the epic sung or narrated. With the passage of time, political ideas under went a sea change, social trends were also metamorphosed with the revolutionary changes, people’s bent towards literature also turned over a new leaf and epic was replaced by other genre of literature like novel, short-story. The present climate is not suitable for the old tree of epic to flourish, rather it is dwindling with the fastness of the wheel of society. In the following passages an effort is made to present the comparison and contrast between two famous epics in the English literature: The Rape of the Lock and the ‘Paradise Lost’ (Book I, IX).
    The Paradise Lost by John Milton is a traditional epic where as the Rape of the Lock is a mock epic.
    An epic is a narrative poem in which the poet describes a series of adventures made by the dignified hero. Language is sublime and often Goodness gets victory over Evil. Discussing the vast scope of Paradise Lost, F.E. Hutchinson says: “It ranges over all time and space and even beyond them both it depicts heaven and earth and chaos, the imagined utterances of super natural beings, events before the emergence of man upon earth, the history of man from the creation and by prophecy, to the end of time, and his eternal destiny.” Dr. Johnson remarks: “Milton considered creation in its whole extent, and his descriptions are therefore learned.”
    The mock epic can be defined as a poetic form written in the epic structure and its subject is ridiculously trivial. It mainly aims at satirizing socially vulnerable points. The writer makes every possible effort to make it charming so that those who are laughed at may not be annoyed. Pope himself says about this genre of literature: “It is using a vast force to lift a feather.” The rape of the lock is a mock-epic in the best sense of the term. Hazlitt has called the poem “The perfection of the mock-epic.”
    In the beginning of an epic, the poet makes an invocation to the Muse or the Holy Spirit to help him write some thing praiseworthy and everlasting. He, with all his ability and store of thoughts and vocabulary, cannot do so without that supernatural assistance. Following this tradition, and keeping his religion in his mind, Milton entreats the Holy Spirit:
    O spirit, that dost prefer
    Before all temples the upright hart and pure,
    Instruct me what in me is dark illumine,
    What is low raise and support.
    The poet also tells the purpose of his adventure:
    I may assert eternal providence
    And justify the ways of God to man.
    Alexander Pope in his mock-epic The Rape of the Lock has followed the tradition of the commencement and also the purpose:
    Say what strange motive, Goddess; could compel
    A well bred lord to assault a gentle belle?
    I sing this verse to Caryll, Muse is due
    This even Belinda may vouchsafe to view
    The purpose of the poem is expressed thus:
    Slight is the subject but not so the praise
    If she inspire and he approve my lays.
    An epic is specified with a great task; the hero and other main characters are involved in some Herculean problem. Long journeys, fatal fights blood curdling harassment, wars, etc., work like pillars to maintain the high canopy of the epic’s tent. In Paradise Lost, there is a grand battle between the limitless forces of God, and those of Satan. Such a great war has never been fought in the history of man. The great thunder that followed the rebel angels to the hell makes the reader stunned. Then in book IX, there is the expulsion of man from heaven. The greatest tragic event in the history of man.
    In his first speech, Satan remarks about his battle:
    (i) And hazard in the glorious enterprise,
    Joinned with me once, now misery halh joined
    His utmost power with adverse power opposed.
    In dubious battle on the plains of Heaven, and shook his throne.
    The construction of a grand pandemonium is no boubt a great task:
    ………and blazing cressets, fed
    With naphtha and asphaltus, yielded light
    As from the sky.
    The grreat tragedy of man occurs in book IX when Eve eats the forbidden fruit:
    So saying, her rash hand in evil hour
    Forth reaching to the fruit, she plucked, she ate.
    Earth felt the wound, and Nature from her seat
    Sighing through all her works gave signs of woe,
    That all was lost.
    Wearing the glasses of magnification, when we cast a glance at ‘The Rape of the Lock’, we are suddenly stunned to find the ‘great task’ of cutting the lock of hair unfairly of a fair damsel:
    The meeting point the sacred hair dissever
    From fair head, for ever, and for ever;
    The war of sexes is presented in a beautiful way:
    All side in parties and begin the attack;
    Fans clap, silks rustle, and touhg whalebones crack;
    Death spreads every where:
    One died in metaphor, and one in song.
    Trivial actions like this are happening :
    She smiled to see the doughty hero slain,
    But, at her smile, the Beau revived again.
    Great characters are a requirement for great action. In Paradise Lost, Satan’s character has been portrayed by Milton in a splendid way. His stature is suggested thus:
    Prone on the flood, extended long and large,
    Lay floating many a rood;
    His shield and spear are brought before us like this
    …………. His ponderous shield,
    Hung on his shoulders like the Moon,………………..
    His spear, to equal which the tallest pine
    Hewn on Norwegian hills, to be the Mast
    Of some great Ammiral, were but a wand.
    He has a great sympathy for his followers and is grieved to see them in that perdition. He encourages them like a brave leader and puts before them the plan of their life:
    Fallen Cherub, to be weak is miserable
    Doing or suffering.
    To so aught good never will be our task.
    Adam and Eve have the perfection of humanity; Adam’s strength of body and mind, and Eve’s charms have been beautifully described by the poet. Thus the epic can boast of grand characters.
    While in The Rape of Lock very timid characters have been created. The Baron is the mockery of bravery. The fop makes an adventure to get a lock of hair of a girl. Before coming to the Hyde Park, he bows before gods to heavenly powers to make bless him with the prize of the lock. This scene is enough to laugh at a youngman like the Baron.
    Then prostrate falls and begs with ardent eyes
    Soon to obtain and long possess the prize:
    Belinda behaves just like a delicate doll whose aim is only to attract others.
    This nymph, to the destruction of mankind
    Nourished two locks, which graceful hung behind
    The two characters are suitable for a mock-epic.
    Sir Plume also behaves in a ridiculous way:
    When bold Sir Plume had drawn Clarissa down,
    Cloe stepped in, and killed him with a frown;
    Clarissa and Thalestris are also coquetts Almost all the society has fallen into vices. Here the game of chess has been presented as a war in the battle field. Thus the action in a mock-epic is trivial as is required.
    A very prominent traditional quality of an epic is the proper use of machinery. In the Paradise Lost, very grand machinery has been employed. There are mighty angels like Gabriel, and fallen engels like Satan, Beelzbub; they are further explained as gods of various regions where they established their temples and large populations of human beings followed their evil teacings. Moloch, Chemos, Baalim and Ashtareth, Astarte, Thammuz, Dagon, Osiris, Isis, Orus, Belial, etc. make up the machinery of the epic. The major part is played by Satan himself. Almost all fallen angels engage in contructing the great Pandemonium. Then Satan’s adventure to enter paradise, the revolutions around the earth and then penertrating to a serpent makes the piece very attractive.
    Similarly machinery has been employed in ‘The Rape of the Lock’. There is Ariel, the head of all the spirits. Then there are four types of the spirits: salamanders, nymphs, gnomes, sylphs.
    These spirits play an active part in the overall action of the mock-epic. There is also Spleen that has a mood of her own and who spreads coquettery and Megrim in the world. Thus machinery in both the epics works like soul in the body.
    Riaz Hassan says:
    “A living poem should have a body, a soul and a mind. The body would be its form, the soul its inspiration, and the mind its message.”
    By using machinery, both the poets have fulfilled the qualities of a living poem.

    A brighter wash to curl their waving hairs
    Assist their blushes and inspire their airs.
    To fifty chosen sylphs of special note,
    We trust the important charge, the petticoat;
    Ariel himself shall e the grard of shock.
    Episodes are part and parcel of an epic. An epic is just like the tree of oak that spreads its branches in every direction. Episodes inerease the dimensions of a piece and the volume of the writing is also multiplied. Tradition is also satisfied. Milton has used a number of episodes in Paradise Lost Book I.The description of angelic gods is merely the addition of episodes, then the construction of the Assembly Hall etc . Are the episodes that make the main plot more attractive . Book IX has allusions to mythological characters like Dryad, Delia, Pomona, vertumnus, Ceres, Neptune, Juno that work like short episodes. Similarly in The Rape of the Lock, episodes have been given proper room and position. The first dream of Belinda, the game of chess, the adventure of the Umbriel all work like episodes. If these episodes are deleted from the main plot, the epics would look like logs not trees in the shade of which thoughs and passions can get some rest, peace and pleasure. Especially if episodes are removed form the Rape of the Lock, it would lose most of its charm. But the abundance of episodes can also mar the charm of a masterpiece. Style adopted by the poet is the most important thing in an epic. The whole edifice of the epic is supportd, embellished and dignified by the style of the writer. In this regard both Milton and Pope succeed in proving their skill. The first one adopted the Grand Style that became famous in the English literature. And the second one adopted the method of mockery that was suitable for his piece.
    The over all language is dignigied and effort has been made to sustain the level of the language. For the grand style, Milton used epic similes:

    Thick as Autumnal leaves that strow the brooks
    In Vallombrosa, where the Etrurian shades
    High over-arched embower; or scattered sedge
    Afloat, when with fierce winds Orion armed
    Hath vexed the Red-Sea coast……………….
    In shape and gesture proudly eminent,
    Stood like a tower
    William Henry Hudson remarks:
    “But often the influences which most profoundly affect literature are not literary ; they are influences which belong, not to book but scholarship, general life, politics, society.”
    We find that Milton fulfills all the demands.
    Milton’s style is replete with extreme terseness that not only pleases but also casts a spell on the reader:
    To do aught good never will be our task,
    But ever to do ill our sole delight.
    There is also verbal music in his words:
    She fair, divinely fair, fit love for gods,
    For the further variety in his style, Milton uses inverted constructions:
    Creator wise, danger tasted, intended wing depressed, fair colours mixed, etc.
    The style of The Rape of the Lock is also sublime but according to the need. The poet cemploys a great force to lift up a feather. Try has been made to extend similes to make them epic like:
    Bright like the sun, her eyes the gazers strike,
    And, like the sun, she shines on all alike.
    Exaggeration is also a part of style, note the exaggeration of the line:
    Belinda smiled, and all the world was gay,
    And at the same time it reminds us that we are reading a mock-epic.
    In epics references to mythology are made:
    Whether the nymph shall break Diana’s law,
    Or some frail China jar receive a flaw:
    Than mythological character like Pallas Mars,Latona, Hermes, are mentioned in the rape of the lock.
    In an epic, the poet has his intermissions where he shows his presence. In Paradise Lost, we find:
    So spake the patriarch of mankind but Eve
    Persisted; yet submiss though last, replied:
    Similarly in The Rape of the Lock, we find Pope saying:
    O thoughtless mortalls; ever blind to fate,
    Too soon dejected, and too soon elate.
    In an epic there are speeches of characters. We find in Paradise Lost the speeches of Satan and Beelzbub in book 1, then in book IX, there are speeches of Adam, Eve and Satan. The same method has been used by Alexander Pope in the Rape of the Lock. Belinda, Clarissa, Thalestris, the Baron, Ariel, all have their speeches. These speeches increase interest in the piece and also help us understand the inner feelings of the characters.
    The titles of the epics are also attractive, Paradise Lost is a universal topic and every human being can be interested in it. While “The Rape of the Lock” is a ridiculous topic. The grave sense of ‘rape’ has been connected with a lock. Thus the titles fulfill their relevant needs.
    An epic has a good sized length and breadth. Everything is explained with full satisfaction. Paradise Lost with its twelve books leaves no aspect unexplained. While The Rape of the Lock has only seven hundred and ninety lines. Its brevity multiplies its charm and a compact pleasure is enjoyed by the reader.
    In epics, characters have grand passions according to their position. As in Paradise Lost, Satan is full of grand passions. Though infane, his task to over throw God is no doubt a great passion. Then he burns in the fire of revenge and enters paradise against God’s orders and succeeds in bringing about man’s fall. His great passion is a force for his great adventures. Milton’s Satan proves a mighty mountain of courage. Standing in the burning ground, he doesn’t fall into the quagmire of dispair. He utters very boldly:
    Farewell, happy fields,
    Where joy for ever dwellls: Hail, horrors, hail,
    Infernal world, and thou profoundest Hell,
    Reveive thy new possesser: one who brings
    A mind not to be changed by place or time.
    The mind is its own place, and in itself.
    Can make a Heaven of Hell, a Hell of Heaven.
    But in a moke-epic passions are also trivial, the young men want to entrap girls and vice versa. Belinda says:
    Oh hadst thou, cruel! been content to seize
    Hairs less in sight, or any hair but these!
    The whole piece brings before us social vices along with personal drawbacks.
    Kalimuddin Ahmad asserts:
    “It is only a realization of truth that gives life its meaning –and art its significance.”
    The Rape of the Lock gives us the realization of the English society of the Eighteenth century.
    Thus the two epics have a large number of aspects where they compare and contrast with each other. But each of them has its own worth and quality. With respect to grandeur, Paradise Lost impresses us very much but with respect to humour and pleasure, The Rape of the Lock brings us a glass of laughter.
    William Henrry An Outline History of English Literature
    (G.Bell and Sons LTD
    London) (1963)
    Riaz Hassan Practical Criticism and Some Aspects of Aristotle’s Poetics
    (The Imperial Book Depot
    The Mall Lahore.)
    Kalimuddin Ahmad Psycho –Analysis and Literary Criticism
    (National Book Foundation Islamabad
    Pakistan )

  2. #2
    Voice of Chaos & Anarchy
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    "compare and contrast" assignments are supposed to be for works of the same type, but "The Rape of the Lock" is satire and "Paradise Lost" is serious epic. They were both written in English, but there isn't much beyond that that they have in common. I didn't read what you wrote, because it can't be good. I can't remember a single joke in "Paradise Lost".

    I hope that you will survive that course and never see that professor again.

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