The Rape of the Lock
Alexander Pope’s The Rape of the Lock is a satirical epic poem, first published in 1712, and then revised and expanded in 1714. Alexander Pope is one of the foremost English poets of the 18th century, having translated Homer and moving in the same literary circles as Jonathan Swift. Pope, however, suffered from Pott’s disease, which left him stunted and hunchback. Despite this disability, works such as The Rape of the Lock have made him second only to Shakespeare in the annals of English poets.
The Rape of the Lock is supposedly based on a real incident which Pope compares to the world inhabited by the gods. In the poem, the Baron seeks a lock of Belinda’s hair, hoping to place it on an altar of trophies he collects. In using classical structure and form, Pope satirizes what was essentially a minor disagreement, comparing the abduction of Helen of Troy to a suitor cutting off a lock of hair. Called high burlesque, the literary legacy of the poem is such that three of Uranus’ moons—Belinda, Umbriel, and Ariel—are named after characters in The Rape of the Lock.
The poem was originally published anonymously in May 1712, but after extensive revision appeared under Pope’s name two years later. Pope himself claimed that the work sold over three thousand copies in just the first four days. Pope also published A Key to the Lock in 1714 under the penname Esdras Barnivelt, a humorous piece that warns against anyone taking The Rape of the Lock seriously.