the rape of the lock opera


     The occasion for the poem was an incident that took place some time in 1711 when Robert Lord Petre cut a love-lock from the head of Miss Arabella Fermor, a distant relation.  The incident cause a rift between the two prominent Roman Catholic families (Catholics were a persecuted minority in England at the time) which Pope, who was also Catholic, was asked to attempt to compose by writing a poem.  "The Rape of the Lock" was intended to "laugh them together again."

     The original version of the poem in two Cantos was published in 1712.  Pope expanded the poem to five cantos in 1714 chiefly by adding Belinda's dream, the game of Ombre, the Cave of Spleen, and the Rosicrucian machinery to which he refers in the "Dedication."  This machinery of spirits, who watch over Belinda, is the boudoir or parlor equivalent of the gods who supervise the field of battle in classical epics.  They are appropriate to the rococo spirit of the poem in being delicate and ephemeral.   

     Pope's Belinda is defined by her role in a sensitively observed social situation in which lap-dogs and coiffures connote social values.  She is also defined by the ways in which her activities parallel or diverge from those of such literary models as Achilles, Aeneas, and Eve.

     What dire Offence from am'rous Causes springs,

What mighty Contests rise from trivial Things,

I sing—This Verse to Caryll*, Muse is due;

This, ev'n Belinda may vouchsafe to view:

Slight is the Subject, but not so the Praise,             5

If She inspire, and He approve my Lays.

    Say what strange Motive, Goddess! cou'd compel

A well bred Lord t'assault a gentle Belle?

Oh say what stranger Cause, yet unexplor'd,

Cou'd make a gentle Belle reject a Lord?                10

In tasks so bold, can Little Men engage,

And in soft Bosoms dwells such mighty Rage?

     In the invocation Pope announces the subject of his poem, just as Homer had announced that the subject of the Iliad was to be Achilles' wrath and as Milton had announced that Paradise Lost concerned the consequences of mankind's disobedience.

     Pope announces that his subject will be the psychology of relations between the sexes.  Throughout the poem his subject is two–fold; he will investigate the differing motives of both men and women and will explore the consequences of the distortion of those motives. 

                                          SUNY Potsdam


by Mark Coleman



The young Lords and Ladies were having coffee and playing cards at Hampton Court Palace during the reign of Queen Anne.